“She has the same passion for acting as she does for music. Doing impersonations is something she likes. Her voice is pure honey. The degree she obtained helped her to be more focused as a musician and songwriter. Maya also teaches music to the young and old. Having lived in several countries in the world has made her a truly global citizen who is influenced by the music of the world”
Singer and songwriter Maya Spector does not really think she fits 100% completely into any genre, but has been told she is sort of soul/jazz singer. “Someone once described the sound I have as acoustic soul mixed with a splash of comedy”, she told Jazz It Out. She believes she is a jazzy singing girl that likes to find comedy in the seriousness of life and lives to tell the story. Maya is also a total foodie, a sucker for home décor and is obsessed with cats.
The second daughter to Ruth and Brooks Spector was born on a US naval base close to Yokohama in Japan. Her mother is originally from the Westrand in Johannesburg and works as a classical singer and music educator. Her father is a retired US Diplomat, currently a journalist and political analyst, who is originally from Philadelphia in the USA. Her elder sister is a music teacher and fine artist living in Washington D.C. by the name of Sinta. Maya is a mother to two adorable fur-babies, her kitty cats, Lilu and Lala.
Because of her father’s previous occupation as a diplomat, her family travelled extensively. Her family has lived in Japan, Swaziland, America and South Africa. “I had the priviledge to grow up in very different parts of the world and experience new cultures as part of my upbringing”, recalling her early childhood. She has both South African and American citizenship. Maya is from a culturally diverse family. Her mom is a “Coloured” and her father is a Caucasian Jewish – American (mostly by culture and not really religiously). “I often get labelled as being racially ambiguous”, she added.
At school, Maya loved to socialize and get to know new people which is something she still loves to do. Breaktime was her favourite extramural, but besides that she always loved drama, art, social studies, world religion, biology, swimming, photography, language classes and anything that had music in it. Choir and ensemble were her favourite. “I grew up listening to lots of classical music, Motown oldies, musical theatre show tunes and good old South African jazz. My parents made sure that both my sister and I had a very global ear”, she told Jazz It Out.
She also loves and always loved a bit of drama and storytelling. “I gravitated towards show tunes (Broadway style tunes), vocal jazz and Disney sing-a-long music”, she said. Maya really loved singers like Nat and Natalie Cole, Bobby McFerrin, The Temptations, Dusty Springfield, Ella Fitzgerald and Diana Ross. Her mom has always been a super positive influence in her musical journey. “My mom has literally been there every step of the way, taking me to dance, singing and acting classes. She made sure she was up-skilling me”, she added.
How does she manage to focus on both singing and acting? “I always had a natural desire to be on stage. Anytime I had a chance to jump on stage, I never hesitated. Honestly, it never felt like work. I loved any time I could let loose with either singing or acting”, Maya said. Her very memorable experience for her was when she was ten or twelve years old in the US. She sang in a showcase choir backing the Jim Henson Muppets (Kermit and Miss Piggy) and actress/singer Phylicia Rashad (best known for her role on The Cosby Show), where they sang “Rainbow Connection” for a UNICEF fundraiser at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C.
Maya thinks that acting is something that comes naturally for her. “I think I have a sort of natural affinity to acting. As a child I was always playing around putting on different accents and pretending I was someone else”, with a chuckle. If it was not for the music, she would have been a marine biologist, an interior decorator or a psychologist. “I was also going to study music therapy at one point”, she added. She recalls one incident while at high school in Tokyo where she got to see Natalie Cole perform live at the Blue Note. That sterling performance completely blew her away.
After completing high school, Maya enrolled for a Bachelor of Music Degree at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. The curriculum she received at the institution exposed the side of a musician and songwriter in her. She also did a lot of networking and recalls the gigs she performed at with her peers and other musicians. Her close friends included Thulile Zama, Renae Soobiah, Llewelyn Chetty, Burton Naidoo, Thabani Gapara, Donald Chifamba, Vanessa Moodley, Lindi Ngonelo, Dane Francis and Shem Mahabeer. “I remember I sang in few different vocal jazz ensemble groups, as well as student showcases that performed all over the province and at different events connected with the school itself”, she told Jazz It Out.
Even though she has not been acting for a while, her last most exciting experience she had was about a year ago at The Fugard Theatre in Cape Town as an understudy in David Kramer’s Langarm. When the lead actress was sick, Maya was asked to do a few hours of rehearsing before the curtain went up. Her performance impressed the directors and she ended doing five show nights which was a great supportive cast. “Six months of pay for five shows, what more could a jazz singer want”, she said.
Her debut album is expected to be released this year, and has just released the single “Eyes for You” from her soon to be released album (see inserted video). “It is getting pressed and polished as we speak”, with excitement. She will have hard copies of the album in her hands and will also make it available on the digital platforms. Maya hopes to do more stage work in the future and record more music, striking a perfect balance between her two favourite artforms. “I want to focus on marrying the two worlds, music and theatre. I also want to start writing a show using my music and writing my story”, she said.
Eyes for You – Maya Spector
Maya’s favourite local jazz vocalists are her songbird friends from UKZN, whom she loves watching in action and has huge respect for. Other than that, she also loves Melody Gardot, Marcela Mangabeira, Laura Mvula, Esperanza Spalding, Gregory Porter, Kurt Elling, Lianne La Havas (not really jazz but she loves her) and many more. She lives in the same neighbourhood with Zolani Mohola (formerly with Freshlyground) and she predicts a successful solo career for a musician who was known as an actress before joining the highly acclaimed group as its lead vocalist.
The well-travelled artist is teacher-by-day and singer-by-night kind of musician. She teaches people from age six all the way to sixty years old. “I really enjoy teaching because I get to learn more about myself as a singer with every lesson”, she told Jazz It Out. She enjoys very dramatic and serious movies. “I don’t really go for comedies or rom-coms”, she added. She like the stories to be real or complete fantasy. Arb and arty is her vibe. Maya also believes jazz is changing and so is the identity of what is called ‘Jazz’.
She loves spending time eating at new foodie places. “Cape Town has amazing places to eat and I am spoilt for choice”, she said. Living in the Mother City has exposed her to so much beauty and outdoor activities. Maya loves to go hiking and hanging out on the beach. At least once a week, she must go to a gig or the art gallery. Like her Facebook page which is Maya Spector Artist and follow her on Instagram @mayapapayaspector