Introducing Mayah, a soulful R&B artist whose riffs are as decorated as her musical career.
If you have not yet heard of Mayah Dyson, it’s simply a matter of time before you do. Mayah Dyson is an R&B artist from Atlanta, GA by way of Woodbridge, Virginia, and is a recent graduate of the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts. Mayah is no stranger to the spotlight. She got her first big break on Kelly Rowland’s first season of “Chasing Destiny” on BET. Shortly after she showcased her skills while performing with Solange Knowles on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live.” Mayah released her debut EP “Elevation” in November 2017, and it is available on all music streaming platforms. Mayah is currently singing background vocals for Grammy award winning singer India Arie.
Tell me about your background and where your love from music stemmed from.
I was born and raised in Woodbridge, Virginia into a family composed of different artists who inspire me daily. As a child, my main inspirations were India Arie, Lauryn Hill, and Erykah Badu. Music has been a focal point for me from the time I was very young; I started singing when I was 6 years old and would sing a lot in church. In high school, I became more serious about singing and found myself engulfed in various choirs such as jazz choir and women’s choir. I also found joy in musical theatre.
As a junior in high school, I attended governor’s school, which was a program that allowed academically inclined students the opportunity to take college courses. I studied performing arts and attended Radford University’s summer program and took music courses. During that program, it occurred to me that I could realistically study music in college.
I attended university at the Berklee College of Music and studied both Music Business and Performance. I wanted to study Music Business to help me understand the pragmatic landscape of the music industry such as how to read contracts and file taxes as a musician; essentially, I wanted to learn how to manage myself. My Performance degree was helpful in teaching me how to be an engaging performer. Throughout college I did ensembles, and attended numerous recitals and vocal classes. The environment also pushed me as a musician; a great aspect of Berklee was that each night someone would be hosting a show. Attending shows often inspired me to write my own music and put on my own performances. Overall, my experience at Berklee shaped me as not only a musician, but a person.
How did you get the opportunity to be featured in Kelly Rowland’s show, Chasing Destiny and what was your experience on the show?
I left school sophomore year to audition in New York for the show and flew to Los Angeles to film Chasing Destiny for three months. My audition was the first time I met Kelly Rowland. Luckily, I wasn’t starstruck in a way that prevented me from auditioning well because Berklee normalized celebrities for its students; they would host so many famous musicians and people who visited.
It was such a privilege for me to work with Kelly during college. I made top 5 on the show and by the time I left, I had great exposure and a budding platform. It turned out to be the perfect time to put out music, and that’s when I created and released my first single, “Don’t Cry.” The song was primarily written as a message to myself not to cry during the time that I was coming out of a relationship with my high school boyfriend.
What is your music creation process?
I want my music to inspire and resonate with people. My music creation process varies but I usually will start out with a melody and figure out what I want my main message to be. From there, I’ll visualize and outline the story. Sometimes I may feature my own story, but other times I’ll write about another person’s story. At that point, the words will usually flow and I’ll spend the rest of my time working out the details.
How do you plan your releases?
Oftentimes, I know how I want my work to align with a timeline. For my first EP, titled Elevation, each song represented a different time and place throughout my college experience. For example, the song “Don’t Cry” was released immediately after my time filming Chasing Destiny. The songs “Elevation” and “No Strings Attached,” I wrote within a single night in preparation to perform at Essence Festival because my professors suggested that I didn’t have enough upbeat songs in my repertoire. I wrote my single “Ready for You” shortly after I released “Don’t Cry” and my song “Dangerous,” as homework for a class, the song turned out to be really good so I decided to put it on the project.
While Elevation was a great EP, it didn’t receive the traction that I wanted so I am planning to be more strategic about my upcoming EP, which has been difficult because of Corona. All of the songs for the new EP have been written; I am in the process of recording it and filming my first music video. While Coronavirus has had a lot of consequences and sparked a lot of hard times, it’s at least allowed me to be stationary to plan out my future work since I had always been attending gigs outside of town.
How has Coronavirus affected your music career and how can people support you?
Coronavirus has affected my career in a big way, because the majority of my income depends on performance gigs. In Atlanta, I am a part of a corporate band that performs in weddings, corporate offices and private events. I was also singing background for India Arie and was set to tour with her for the rest of the year but now that’s cancelled, given that they announced all tours will be cancelled until 2021.
In the meantime, people can support me by listening to music that I do have out. Spotify also set up a fundraising donation link for artists so people can also support me by donating on my Spotify page. There aren’t any answers available, but I can at least use this time to plan and prepare myself for when it’s time to perform.
How did you land a spot as a background singer for India Arie?
I started singing for India Arie last year in April 2019. How it happened was that I attended a trip to Atlanta through Berklee to determine if I’d like to start my career there upon graduation. During the trip, my classmates and I attended an open mic at Apache Cafe and I conversed with a woman named Ametria Dock, who sang backup for India. I sang that night and over time we continued to stay in touch. A few months into my move to Atlanta after graduating, I reached out to her to ask if there were any opportunities. At the time there weren’t any but she told me that she’d keep me in mind. A little while later, I saw that India had released her “Worthy” album and so I reached out to her again asking if she needed singers. Luckily, she confessed that she did not want to go on tour and that I could sing in her place. Within a single day, she trained me on all of her parts and then they flew me to Nashville for rehearsal; I’ve loved every moment of it.
At what moment in your career did you feel at your lowest?
I felt my lowest after I was eliminated from Chasing Destiny and had to figure out what I wanted to do next. At the time, I had technically and temporarily dropped out of school to film with the show and so I couldn’t return to class in the middle of the semester. I didn’t enjoy Los Angeles but I also did not want to return home to Virginia, so I flew back to Boston. Upon returning, it was a weird environment because many people kept asking me what I did in LA and during that time; my contract with the show prohibited me from telling anyone about it.
After 2 months passed by, Kelly Rowland’s assistant reached out to me on Instagram requesting my number because Kelly had asked for it. She informed me that Kelly wanted my number so that she could recommend me to Solange for an SNL performance she was preparing for. After she asked me if I wanted to sing back up for Solange, I immediately said yes and didn’t look back. That was my first time singing back up! Shortly after, I got the opportunity to do my own solo artist shows in Paris and at Essence Festival 2017. While that time period was a low point for me, the experience led me to something wonderful.
What was your experience like in performing with Solange?
My experience singing alongside Solange was one of my favorite music moments. We rehearsed in New Orleans for a week around the clock, from 10:00 AM to 10:00 PM daily. From New Orleans, we flew to New York City for SNL. However, before the actual SNL show, we had a few dress rehearsal shows for Solange’s close friends and family. I met Beyonce, Jay-Z and Tina Knowles! I also got the opportunity to work with Raphael Saadiq and PJ Morton during this experience. Performing on SNL itself was memorable and goes down in the books for one of my favorite memories.
What is your proudest music moment?
My proudest music moment was one that includes Berklee. While I was on tour with India Arie, we performed at Berklee in Boston and that had been the first time I was at Berklee since graduation. It felt so amazing to perform with an icon in the very space I had been training. Having the opportunity to perform with India in front of my previous professors and friends who were still there was amazing.
What advice do you have for black emerging musicians trying to find their voice?
My advice is to figure out who you are as a person first. Once you do that, you can determine the kind of music you want to create and be associated with. In any aspect, it’s important to know who you are, what you’re okay with and what you’re not okay with. But, within the music industry, if you lack that confidence, you can be taken advantage of. While a lot of emerging musicians aspire to sign with a label, it’s more important to understand where your values lie first.
What’s something people don’t know about you?
Something that people don’t know about me is that I love to cook, it’s one of my favorite things to do outside of making music or performing. I enjoy finding new recipes and I can say that my cooking skills have definitely been thriving in quarantine. My favorite dishes to make are seafood dishes, such as crab cakes, and crab legs; I think my appreciation for seafood originated from my background growing up in the DMV. In addition to cooking being my meditation, I’ve started to enjoy yoga, working out, and creating space for myself to explore other interests.
What’s a guilty pleasure that you have?
Reality television has always been a guilty pleasure for me. I still watch “Love & Hip Hop” and enjoy it, even if I should have outgrown it. I also started watching Grey’s Anatomy from the beginning and I’m locked in; It’s such a long series and I never would have started had there not been a lockdown.
Are you becoming the artist you envisioned, and if not, what’s changed?
I am definitely becoming the artist and person that I’ve always envisioned; I consider myself an R&B artist and that’s exactly what I am becoming. Lately, I’ve been meditating over the exact angle and specifying the messages I want to portray. But I do know for sure that I’m committed to using my voice for liberation and love; I want to continue to inspire, and have my music stem from a place of peace.
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