NORTH ADAMS -- Award-winning singer Maya Azucena is anything but shy about the political and social messages woven into her music.
"Those messages have always been integrated into my music," the Brooklyn, N.Y., songstress said during a telephone interview Wednesday. "I use the microphone to uplift people and to support humanitarian rights. Being able to do that is such an important thing. It’s a power I see a lot of artists disown. That power, for me, is deeper than anything."
Azucena, who will headline the Friday evening show of the two-night eighth annual MCLA Blues & Funk Festival, recently launched the "Dance Revolution" song and music video for One Billion Rising, a global day of action to end violence against women and girls.
In addition, her dedication to causing social change through her music and her work as a motivational speaker and mentor has led to several music tours as a humanitarian ambassador. In October, she toured Russia at the invitation of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.
"Maya is just really inspiring," Shannon Costello, a recent MCLA graduate, said Tuesday. "There’s so much meaning behind her songs."
According to Jonathan Secor, MCLA’s director of special programs, Azucena appeared at the college during the 2008-2009 MCLA Presents! season.
"She’s just one of those people we fell in love with, but we really didn’t get to spend enough time with her then," he said.
Secor said audiences can anticipate a great performance from Azucena, who recently played to sold-out crowds at the Apollo Theater in Harlem.
"She’s a powerhouse," he said. "We just saw her perform at the Apollo with a group of students. She’s a strong, powerful woman -- vocally, politically and socially. She’s a diva in the best sense --she’s like Queen Latifah and Aretha Franklin. She also has the versatility of Tina Turner; she can go from a love ballad into a hip hop piece into a jazz-influenced piece."
On Saturday night, the New Orleans-based Khris Royal & Dark Matter will take the stage, with the Arthur Holmes Blues Band, out of Pittsfield, warming up the audience for them.
"Khris Royal is part of a younger group of artists coming out of New Orleans that is blending hip hop with funk and jazz," Secor said. "There’s a heavy funk beat to everything and it’s impossible not to dance to their music. We’re bringing in the local Arthur Holmes Blues Band as a nod to our blues purists."
Royal, who began playing the saxophone at the age of six, said audience members should be prepared to dance.
"We’re bringing a party," he said Wednesday in a telephone interview. "We’re going to party until they tell us we can’t party anymore. We’re in the midst of Mardi Gras and the Super Bowl right now in New Orleans."
In addition to playing the saxophone and several other instruments, Royal said he’ll be seen playing the EWI -- electric wind instrument.
"It’s looks like an electric recorder, the instrument you’re taught to play in music class as a child," he said. "It’s a really great instrument that I can make sound like a flute, a saxophone or a guitar. I also use it to control my vocals."
Having grown up in New Orleans and studied at Berklee College of Music in Boston, Royal said his music draws from many forms of inspiration.
"I use everything -- books, science and all different types of music," he said. "I let everything influence me and put it into a musical funnel of sorts. It’s still like a work in progress. I try to play the music I like to hear and hope people think its good. It comes from a very sensitive place. We can’t help playing from a place of honesty."
To reach Jennifer Huberdeau, email
What: 8th annual MCLA Blues & Funk Festival
When: Friday, Feb. 1 and Saturday, Feb. 2, 7:30 p.m.
Where: MCLA’s Venable Gym
Who: Friday: Maya Azucena headlines, with the award-winning MCLA step team, NEXXUS, opening.
Saturday: Khris Royal & Dark Matter headlines, with the Arthur Holmes Blues Band opening.
Desperado’s selling food Friday; Mad Jack’s Barbecue selling food Saturday. Activities and crafts by MCLA clubs on both nights.
Tickets: $15 festival pass for both nights; general admission $10; MCLA Alumni $8; MCLA faculty and non-MCLA students $5; MCLA students are free.