Singer-songwriter Mayyadda explores new sound and shows Black musicians ‘are not a monolith’

Two years ago, if you had told Mayyadda Munkunjae that she would be performing at Minneapolis’ Dakota Jazz Club, where the likes of Prince, Esperanza Spalding and Vusi Mahlesela have graced the stage, she would probably have scoffed. But this is exactly what happened last July when Mayyadda, a singer-songwriter and instrumentalist who performs by the stage name, Mayyadda Major, found herself on the club’s late night roster.

When I ask her about how she got the gig at the legendary Dakota, she told me, “It’s all about who you know,” and relays a series of events that begin at the Fourth Precinct occupation and end with her opening for Davina and the Vagabonds at the Lowertown Line. Impressed by Mayyadda’s voice, bandleader Davina Sowers asked if she had ever played at the Dakota. When Mayyadda said no, Davina got her name into the right ears at the Dakota, leading to her July 8 show last year.

Anyone in the music business knows it’s all about who you know, but having the right stuff goes a long way too. Don Strong, one of the three producers on Mayyadda’s upcoming EP, recounts the moment he heard her sing for the first time. “I was at Moto-i one evening Mayyadda was singing and I was kinda struck by her sound and vibe. I went to the bartender and said ‘who’s that?!’”

When Strong introduced himself he and Mayyadda struck up a conversation with ease. “Mayyadda is a very animated person, she talks with her hands and her eyes sparkle. There’s something sparkley about her personality,” attributing some of that upbeat energy to the high of just killing her stage performance, “she was extra on that evening.”

The two music buffs sat and talked candidly for what felt like hours. Strong was intrigued by Mayyadda’s musical aesthetic and unique sense of style which was somewhat explained by her choir days at Breck school. Strong frequents Twin Cities open mics a lot, but after meeting Mayyadda,“When I heard her, she inspired me,” he said.

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Above: Singer-songwriter Mayyadda Munkunjae brings all of herself to her music. Photo by Alexa Aretz.