Paula Maya is a Brazilian singer-songwriter living in Seattle, but you won't find her or her band doing covers of "Chove Chuva" or "Desafinado." Since 1999, Maya's taste for jazz, world, electronica, Latin, and classical has met with the blues-funk sensibility of her bandmates Ben Smith (drummer, formerly of Heart) and Pat Hewitt (guitarist, of the Rangehoods) to carve out a musical niche in an active, competitive city. Maya is skilled as a pianist, and her voice has been likened to an early Kate Bush—rich, slightly unusual, and affecting.
Best of Seattle 2006
World City Edition
Reader picks at a glance
Maya left her birthplace of Rio de Janeiro after college, first moving to Houston, then in the late '90s following a friend to Seattle, where she's built a career. While the winter's early sunsets get her down, she notes that Seattle is surrounded by mountains and water, like Rio—and while Mount Rainier is no Corcovado, it's majestic in its own way. The most remarkable difference between the two cities, she says, is Seattle's sleepy vibe. "There's so much energy in Rio—people are in the streets a lot, and there's music everywhere," Maya says. "Every time I go visit, when I come back it's really a shock, and I have to acclimate myself again."
Like many in the local music community, Maya considers the policing of it somewhat uptight, but she finds support among musicians. "It's very expensive to live in Rio. Here, you can have a part-time job—of course, if you don't have a family—and get by, but that's impossible in Brazil," Maya says of her decision to pursue her music career in Seattle. "Musically, for rock, [this is] a better place to be for connections and to be influenced. What keeps me here is the development of my music and the friends that I have," she says.
In addition to performing with her band, Maya has been co-hosting the KBCS-FM (91.3) radio show Raizes ("roots" in Portuguese) with Samia Panni since 1998. Panni launched the show nearly 20 years ago, but Maya's arrival brought Brazilian pop to the program, which confused listeners at first. "At the time, KBCS was a lot more folk. I started playing rock, and people were like, 'I thought this was a Brazilian show!' We said, 'Well, this is what the youth are listening to in Rio,'" Maya explains. Now, with Brazilian pop's visibility on the rise—psychedelic legends Os Mutantes were one of the most highly anticipated touring acts this summer—you might say that Raizes helped set the stage.
Maya isn't just interested in spreading knowledge of South American music; she also feels passionately about issues affecting immigrants. She notes that the Montgomery, Ala.–based nonprofit Southern Poverty Law Center recently reported a 33 percent increase in hate groups in the United States since 2000. "I was horrified," she says. "One reason is that people are being incited to be violent toward immigrants, even legal immigrants. [Other] people need to be aware of that."—Rachel Shimp
Paula Maya's Picks
BEST FESTIVAL/STREET PARTY: "The Fremont Fair is always fun—I was on the Brazilian float this year and had a blast."
BEST PUBLIC RADIO STATION: "If you travel the country and try to tune in, it can be a disaster, so we're very lucky to have good radio here." Mostly, she listens to KBCS and KEXP-FM (90.3). Having studied medieval music, she enjoys Derek Blackwell's Mostly Medieval on KBCS (Sundays at 6 p.m.).
BEST DINING DISTRICT: The International District. "You go to Chinatown, and pretty much every restaurant is great."
BEST SOUTH AMERICAN RESTAURANT: Tempero do Brasil (5628 University Way N.E.); she's also heard good things about Samba (6400 Roosevelt Way).
BEST LOCAL GETAWAY SPOT: "I'm so occupied with my work that I usually don't do that, but I have to say that with all the mountains and the islands, Seattle is just perfect. A one-hour drive can get you to beautiful places."