One thing about WXPN that I love is the way we support local musicians and artists. Platforms like The Local Show with Helen Leicht and John Vettese is a perfect example of how the radio introduces listeners to the talent that can be found in the Philadelphia region. So I wanted to contribute to this platform by welcoming dope local acts to the show on a new series called Welcome To The Locals…and the first person I wanted to welcome to the Local Show was singer Sinnia Brown aka Queen Maya.

If you frequently attend open mics in the city, such as the Juice Jam, then you’ve probably been blown a way by Queen Maya’s performances. Her voice is very soulful but her delivery has elements of hip-hop and jazz. According to Queen Maya, she really loves freestyling her lyrics because it allows her to focus on the beat and the cadence. This way of writing explains why she sounds so jazzy and why you can hear the queen from Philadelphia scatting on any track she’s a part of… including her recent collaboration with spoken word artist Evita Colon on the song “Free,” produced by The Funkitorium’s own N Dot. 

I was recently able to talk to Sinnia Brown about her early stages of singing, how legends like Nina Simone and Amy Whinehouse are her biggest jazz influences and what being free means to a queen. Listen to our full interview and read some excerpts below.

Welcome To The Locals – Queen Maya

…on her introduction to music as a young person.

“My mom is a singer, she was a choir director for probably the time period I was being incubated to about 8 or 9. So I was always, always at choir rehearsals, sitting there with my coloring book while she was directing.”

…on her writing process, and where improvisation and planning intersect.

“Sometimes I’m just walking around like ‘dang, those is lyrics,’ and I’ll write them down. And other times if I’m producing a track first, and I’m working around a beat, I’ll just freestyle, record whatever comes to my brain, and I’ll go back in and write down everything that made sense. I can figure out what cadences I want to use that way, because without the pressure of wanting to have the perfect lyrics, that freestyle allows me and my brain know what the beat is doing and what I can do in between it. So I’ll go back and clean it up, and figure out what words work.”

…on the impact jazz music has on her own creative output.

“Whenever I was with my uncle, he would just play jazz music in the car, and I’d be so annoyed. I wanted to hear whatever was popular in the moment, but that’s all he would play. Now I can really appreciate that, it helped to mold me in a way, opening up my ears and wanting to hear different styles of lyrics. … Jazz is just this beautiful freedom in it. You can do whatever you want to do in jazz, and make it ‘right.’ It’s an open place to just be free, and scatting is like, it’s just how I feel. ‘I don’t have no words, take these emotions, it’s what I’m giving you right now.'”

…on Nina Simone’s Let It All Out.

“That album is ridiculous. I don’t know how much of her story you know, how she just wanted to be a classical pianist, but it’s all evident within her work. At the time, I’m pretty sure she couldn’t see the genre she was creating. Yeah, she’s jazz, but the way she plays is classical. She’s giving you straight classical music…she’s giving you the first fusion. She makes it work around her voice, and she has a very unique voice, there’s not anything else like that.”

…on the song “Free” and what the concept of freedom means to her.

“It means to not be bound in everything I do. Like with Intertwined Entertainment. The reason I am Intertwined Entertainment is because I can’t, I could not, and I will not pick just one thing, because I’m not one thing. I’m a multitude of things. I’m abstract in all of them – my art is abstract, my voice, any way I express is abstract. Whenever I’m put into this mold I’m supposed to fit, I’m literally…I’m either super depressed or I’m like angry because I don’t feel like I can walk away. Freedom is everything to me because, one, we are not slaves. And two, who are you if you can’t do with you want? Doing what makes you happy, and not just doing what satisfies others.”

…on what qualities make her proud to be from Philly.

I take pride in the soul of a Philadelphian. There is something about this never-give-up, it’s-us-versus-them-forever…I don’t know what mind-state that is, or how we all happen to have it. But it’s evident whenever a Philly person leaves to further their craft, and you’re like “oh, you from Philly, ain’t you?” We’re somewhat a dangerous city but we’re full of love, and it’s shown.