Nowhere Else But Up
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Singer-songwriter Mayaeni sits on a bench, facing the sun, talking about her nomadic existence. “I just sublet apartments wherever,” she says casually. “I come home between time.” Her foundation, music, is with her wherever she goes. Her mother, a West African woman, had strong cultural roots while her father, Gary Strauss, is a successful and gifted guitar player who played with Sylvester, Carl Carlton and Jimmy Ruffin. A musical family, to say the least, she’s also the sister of D.Allie, one of Detroit’s favorite MCs. But she’s more than that; more than her background, more than what life currently holds for her. She’s open and honest, yet also enigmatic. Her music is clean, yet rustic, and her voice is worldly and timeless. Having released her self-titled debut album a little over three years ago, Mayaeni is on track to put out another this spring. Before then, this self-proclaimed gypsy will play a set of shows at Alvin’s.
Since she was little, Mayaeni has been around musical people. “I think it's kinda osmosis,” she says with a subtle laugh. “My dad always had the guys playing around the house and music all over. I didn’t start playing guitar until later, and then I picked it up really easily, so maybe it's from him.” Having moved to New York to pursue her dreams, Mayaeni worked as a dog walker to earn a living while playing gigs at night. She credits the strong musical atmosphere and the competitive nature of her peers as having helped her succeed, saying it keeps her more on her “hustle.” In fact, in the grind, she has thrived, becoming a mature woman who knows just what she wants: “I just love music and I just wanna play it.”
Contributing to her side-hustle mentality, Mayaeni has been chosen to be a part of Target’s “One Star” campaign with Converse. Along with six other models blessed with talent (ranging from potters to rooftop gardeners), Mayaeni represents those who are working hard for their dreams. In addition to “One Star,” she’s also involved in the Radio Heard Here “New Artist” program, produced by the National Association of Broadcasting, which chooses artists that they believe should get noticed. The New Artist program helped launch Mayaeni’s career, especially in Hawaii, her number-one market.
After crafting her first album independently, Mayaeni’s label deal fell through and she started getting more recognition in the music biz for her unique talent and drive. Talking to her now, she’ll say that working for herself is a part of her job that she rather fancies. Quoting Chris Rock, Mayaeni says, “When you have a job, there’s too many hours in the day, but when you have a career there’s not enough time.”
Listening to Mayaeni speak, it’s obvious that you’re talking to a girl who is doing what she loves. Jumping through all the hoops, smiling when she has to and the risk of playing to an empty room are workplace hazards, but she wouldn’t have it any other way. When asked what her alternative to music would be, she laughs before answering, “I’d be a homeless, depressed person. I’d be a crazy street musician that you see wearing this jacket and a few other layers.” Squinting in the sun with the wind on her face, we’re thinking Mayaeni’s a long way from the street. | RDW
Mayaeni w/ Zap Toro • 3/18, 7:30 p.m. • Alvin’s • 5756 Cass Ave., Detroit • 313.368.6300 • alvinsoncass.com • $5
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