Maya Azucena

Thursday

Maya Azucena

Prague, Thursday, March 13

The basement bar of Prague felt like a hidden Philly neo-soul den on Thursday with a small scattering of young hip-hop heads and the "grown and sexy" crowd there to check out Brooklyn, N.Y., songstress Maya Azucena. Rocking red pants and an eye-catching fro-hawk, Azucena milled around the room before stepping onstage for what had to be the most gorgeous soundcheck of the Festival. Flanked by a percussionist and acoustic guitarist charged mostly with staying out of the way, Azucena flexed the powerful pipes of her vocal instrument. The singer's earthy aesthetic recalls India.Arie, her voice every bit as powerful as Jill Scott when unchained on the soaring crescendo of "Set You Free." She introduced the title track to her 2007 release, Junkyard Jewel (Purpose), an earnest tune about the worth of the maligned, with a mild protest of the criminal justice system, but was mostly playful, enlisting an enthusiastic table of fans for harmonizing help on "Warriors." Azucena, who apprears on Stephen Marley's latest album, controlled the stage with an MC's swagger and cadence, finally revealing her hip-hop love affair by breaking down the funky "G-Hetto" into a Slick Rick verse.

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