checked in with singer/songwriter Maya Azucena for insights into her ESSENCE Festival performance on July 5, her latest album, Cry Love, and just how her music raises awareness about various societal issues. You’ve performed all over the world. What makes your upcoming ESSENCE Festival show so special?
Maya Azucena: My goal is to be dynamic as a musician and bring the energy, but it’s also about inspiration. People can expect to come to my show and feel uplifted. There’s also so much history in New Orleans and to perform there is honoring my ancestors in a way. I am looking forward to giving my all and celebrating music and culture. Are there any Festival performers you’re especially excited to see?

Azucena: I am a big fan of Jill Scott. She is one of the best live performers I have ever seen. Maxwell is also so great. Can you share about your latest CD, Cry Love?

Azucena: I’ve been touring as a live musician for nearly 10 years, so the sound is raw soul. Soul is the core sound, but there is a mixture of rock and hip-hop. I believe music is a powerful tool for human rights activism. It’s a tool for healing. In my lyrics, you’ll hear my observations about the world and issues within relationships. It’s a mixed bag of great music and lyrics that have a cultural message. You’re big on philanthropy. What are some of the causes most important to you?

Azucena: The philanthropic, activist work is all integrated with my music. I don’t consider them two separate things. When I tour, I’m often asked to engage with community organizations using music as my tool for raising awareness. Subjects that seem to be very relevant are women’s empowerment and domestic violence. I’m a survivor of a very psychotic, terrible relationship and now I’m such a defender when it comes to that subject.

Youth empowerment is another area that’s important to me. I really believe in our young people worldwide and I want them to know the power of their own voice and ideas. The U.S. Embassies has invited me and my band to perform and it’s been a beautiful way to see the world. What’s next for your career?

Azucena: I’m knee-deep into another project that I started recording in Paris. I’m just looking forward to doing more of what I’m doing, and I’m grateful that the ESSENCE Festival has granted me the stage to bring what I do to a wider audience. It’s really special for me.

Visit our “Get into the Groove” guide for fun entertainment facts related to the ESSENCE Festival.