On the "A" w/Souleo: Singer Maysa Reflects on Music's Role Amid Turmoil in Baltimore

05/22/2015 05:30 am ET | Updated May 21, 2016

Veteran recording artist Maysa doesn't usually hesitate to sing about what's on her mind. But the recent Baltimore unrest following the death of Freddie Gray, led her to question the inclusion of the song "Tear it Up, Tear it Down," on her new album Back 2 Love.

"I was nervous about that song coming out when everything started happening, "she said. "We didn't post it or the title. The song is really about getting up and living out your dreams. Ironically that's what happened in Baltimore. People, especially those who are low-income and fighting every day, got tired of police brutality. So when you have a pressure cooker it will blow."


Maysa/Credit: Roy Cox

Maysa, a native of Baltimore, who still resides in her hometown, believes that music is a central component of the healing process. She's not alone. On Mother's Day, Prince performed in Baltimore for what was billed as a "Rally4Peace" and released a socially conscious song named after the city. And on May 20, local musicians held the "Be More Benefit" show to uplift the spirit of the community and raise funds for the Baltimore Community Foundation.

"In Baltimore and beyond I just want people to be happy. I know that sounds like pie in the sky but I believe in it," she said. "I know people are hungry and can't feed their kids. I understand that but I want people to understand there is a way to make things better. You have to think positive and speak positively. That's why on this album I have songs about positive thoughts like 'Miracles" and 'Heavenly voices.'"

Back 2 Love is available on May 26.

Brotherhood/Sister Sol considers national expansion in light of Baltimore strife

Baltimore was also on the minds of attendees at the Brotherhood/Sister Sol (Bro/Sis) annual VOICES benefit on May 14. The non-profit celebrated 20 years of providing support, guidance, and academic services to New York City area youth. As it looks back on its success the organization is also looking to the future, and considering replicating its model nationally to target underserved youth in Baltimore and similar disenfranchised areas.


L-R: Khary Lazarre-White, Michele Roberts, Rosario Dawson, Rashan Lindsay, Clara Markowitz/Credit: Johnny Nunez

"After 20 years we are looking at how we recreate this in Baltimore, Camden, Detroit, or Newark," said Rahsan-Rahsan Lindsay, a Baltimore native and board co-chair. "It's been a question of how much and how quickly do we expand to ensure integrity of the work. But we know it must go beyond our walls."


Charles Randolph-Wright, Lynn Nottage, Charles Blow, Khary Lazarre-White/Credit: Johnny Nunez

If it expands, the organization has the chance to be a formidable presence at the national level. Within New York City alone Bro/Sis has impacted systemic change. In 2013, a federal judge ruled that the New York Police Department's stop and frisk policies were unconstitutional. The decision was heavily influenced by Bro/Sis member (and now employee), Nicholas Peart. With the support of the organization he wrote and published a widely-praised New York Times op-ed on the issue and served as a plaintiff on the case.

For Lindsay, giving youth the tools and platform to become leaders on issues that matter to them will remain at the core of the organization's services, whether it expands its reach or not.

"It is youth who bring new issues to light. People will deal with issues affecting youth and won't have young people's voices be heard. Over the past 20 years we have been about helping youth take action and get their message out there whether it is through music, activism, or op-ed pieces."


The weekly column, On the "A" w/Souleo, covers the intersection of the arts, culture entertainment and philanthropy in Harlem and beyond and is written by Souleo, founder and president of event/media content production company Souleo Enterprises LLC.