Maya Belardo has been singing since she was two years old. So, it was no surprise that her first answer to the question, “Who are you?” was, “A girl who loves music.” Maya also considers herself to be a laid back person who likes to go with the flow. Although everyone around her views her as a protégé and a young role model, Maya considers herself to be a “regular teenager” who likes to hang out with her friends and read, especially during the summer.
Maya is humble, but with a little persuading, she probably would admit that she is not quite “regular.” She first heard jazz when she was around 11 years old. Maya was watching Moulin Rouge! when she heard the song “Nature Boy” by Nat King Cole. She fell in love with the song, and in true millennial generation fashion, searched YouTube for related songs and videos. She fell in love with the music of Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, and several others as she explored the genre.
Maya loves jazz because, “it’s more freeing than the other genres.” She says that there is “more room to do whatever you want with jazz, anything can happen.” Maya explains that with jazz, missing a note is not necessarily a bad thing. She loves that with this genre, unlike a lot of mainstream genres, the message is always meaningful and positive. While jazz is definitely her passion, Maya asserts that she “listens to everything” from hip hop to country, and that her playlist is more eclectic than people would like to believe.
That Maya has found her purpose at such a young age is beautiful. She has been singing at a variety of social and cultural events in her hometown, Wilmington, DE, since she was 10 years old. Her musical education at Kuumba Academy and then as a vocal major at Cab Calloway School of the Arts has also nurtured her development as a singer. In Middle School, Maya realized her ability to sing jazz after joining her school’s jazz group, “Jazz Chords”; she then traveled around singing at various venues and jazz competitions with the group. In 2013, she was honored to be a part of the American High School Honors Performance Choir that gave her the wonderful opportunity to perform at the prestigious Carnegie Hall in NYC. She vowed then to return as a headliner one day.
In order to achieve her dream, Maya has been working hard to develop and mature as a performer; she has been training with Ankh Ra, a vocal coach known for his role in the MTV series Making the Band. Through his training, Maya has learned how to create a context, or what she calls a “background” and “scene” for every song. She says that knowing who she is and what she is communicating before she sings “brings life to the song.” Maya says that working with Ankh Ra has “allowed me to be a performer.” Now, she “moves around” more; she is “interactive” and “shows feeling.”
So far, Maya says her biggest challenges have been self-criticism and stage fright. She admits that she is often hard on herself, and that although she has performed many times, she still gets nervous when she’s about to perform. The triumphs most certainly overshadow the challenges, however. Maya’s proudest accomplishments thus far have happened this year. On April 16, 2016, Maya had her own showcase at the Christiana Cultural Arts Center; she had never had her own show, and found the experience very rewarding. On June 21, 2016 Maya will be the opening headliner at the 28th annual Clifford Brown Jazz Festival at Rodney Square in Wilmington, DE. She is honored by the opportunity to grace the stage on which so many wonderful musicians have performed.
Maya believes that music heals people. She hopes that when she sings, her audience will “forget about what’s going on in their lives” and “just listen”. This is what Maya experiences herself when singing. “Music makes me happy” Maya says, it “makes me forget about me, and what’s going on in my life” or “my problems.”
I asked Maya to share some of the personality traits a singer should have to be successful. In response, she listed, “confident, outgoing, relatable, hard-working, and endurance” as the necessary behaviors and abilities that will bring success. I would imagine that these are the traits that Maya herself will be using to bring her the achievements she dreams of.
In ten years, Maya would like to see the younger generations know about and listen to jazz. When she talks to her peers about Ella Fitzgerald, they often respond, “Who’s that?” Laughingly, she adds that when she sings classic jazz covers, her friends often have no idea what song she is singing, or they even think that the song is new.
Maya wants to bring jazz to the mainstream. She hopes that jazz performances on will be aired on television, and that her music will be played on the radio. She believes that her youth gives her an advantage; she thinks that her peer group will be engaged if they see a young face associated with the genre.
Maya is 17 As a young adult living in the Age of Technology, she believed that there is so much opportunity. She thinks there is space and opportunity for young artists to share what they’re doing on Instagram and YouTube and other social media. She thinks that as a whole, her generation has been, “kinda revolutionary” because they are, “talking about the issues” and creating awareness via the internet. She noticed that a lot of people in her age group voted this year. She also notes that her generation used social media to start the Black Lives Matter movement. Maya is living in an exciting time.
Maya graduated from High School this year, and she will be attending The New School in Manhattan to study Jazz and Contemporary Music. She is looking forward to the opportunity to expand has an artist while living and studying in New York City.
Maya has always known what her passion is, so I asked her to share any thoughts or encouragement with those who may not have discovered their passion just yet. She said, “You have time. There’s no deadline. Keep trying different things…Find what makes you happy.” She added with calm conviction that, “you can change at any time.”
Maya wants the world to “stop the hate…just love and accept. We’re all humans.” Maya’s music, and the light and honest spirit she channels when singing, might work to do just that. We look forward to seeing what the Princess of Jazz will do in her reign!
Maya can be found on the following social media:
Jazz Fest Article