Age: 38, Artist/Entrepreneur/Humanitarian
Maya Azucena, Brooklyn, N.Y.
Maya Azucena’s name is ethereal: Maya — a dream or illusion (Hindi); Azucena — a lily-like flower whose aroma is said to ward off evil (Spanish). But this singer-songwriter has no illusions about her talent and is fully in charge of guiding, and guarding, her path to success.
“So many independent artists are waiting for someone to come along and discover them. I try to encourage them to approach their art as a small-business owner, so they can be more successful,” says Azucena, whose awards include a 2008 Grammy for Best Reggae Album, as a featured artist on Stephen Marley’s Mind Control album, and one Croatian Grammy for her collaboration with Croatian singer Gibonni.
Growing up in Brooklyn, N.Y.,’s Flatbush community meant riding dirt bikes with her friends in Prospect Park while ducking gun shots from drug dealers. “Every now and then one of my friends would get hurt, but generally speaking, we were cool kids who had a lot of fun together,” she says.
She was an entrepreneur from the start and found creative ways to make money, from selling her handmade jewelry to coiffing her classmates’ hair at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, which she attended briefly. “I always wanted to be independent. Having to ask for money made me feel uncomfortable,” she says.
Although Azucena has shared the stage with such heavy hitters as Roberta Flack, Gladys Knight and John Legend, she shuns the glitter, choosing instead to use her talent as a platform for her many humanitarian efforts. These range from producing and singing at numerous awareness events to co-founding MDGFive.com, a global platform for improving maternal health. “I make music in the hopes of uplifting and inspiring the world to own their power to heal,” she says.
Favorite book: Manchild in the Promised Land by Claude Brown
Favorite charity: The Enough Project
What artist would you go on tour with: Stephen Marley
First job: Summer camp counselor
Favorite comedian: Katt Williams
Dish you cook best: Fish