maya raisha

Photo: Phyllicia Wang

In her song i’m bored (i’ll pass), Maya Raisha, a musical force hailing from Singapore, declares, “there’s nothing like me, babe”. Indeed, there is something intriguingly unique about this fresh-faced, unassuming young singer with the voice of a seasoned powerhouse. 

Raisha, 21, grew up in a musical household and has been performing professionally for the past eight years. Whether performing at Marina Bay Sands in Singapore or gracing Carnegie Hall in New York, Raisha has mesmerised global audiences with her undeniable vocal prowess and dynamic stage presence.

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Singing in both Malay and English, Raisha is known not only for her gorgeous voice but also for her ability to seamlessly weave a diverse spectrum of genres into her music. 

While her music is deeply rooted in jazz, her musical palette is enriched by the vibrant hues of soul, neo-soul, and R&B. She tells me that the luminaries who shape her artistic vision include revered figures such as Nina Simone, Ella Fitzgerald, and legendary classic Malay singers such as P Ramlee and Saloma. And like most young adults her age, she also draws inspiration from contemporary artists like Taylor Swift and Megan Thee Stallion.

Defying musical norms

Starting her musical journey with the classical piano at just four years old, Raisha’s strong classical background is evident in her remarkable vocal technique and profound technical knowledge. She was 12 when she took her last piano exam and began transitioning into jazz.  

Still, her young age did not deter her interest in the genre, which is often thought of as being for “older listeners”. While the term “jazz” may conjure old, smoky bar scenes thick with sultry rhythms, Raisha infuses it with an invigorating youthfulness.

“The thing about classical music is that it’s very structured and rigid,” Raisha explains. “It’s mainly about playing the notes on the page as beautifully as possible. I love creativity and experimentation, and jazz gave me that because it’s so spontaneous.” She adds, “Jazz is also so communal and dynamic; you really have to work with your band and communicate without words.”

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maya raisha
Photo: Phyllicia Wang

Shifting from classical to jazz music was tricky. “I needed to really let go of the standards I imposed upon myself. It took a lot of patience and compassion,” she says. 

Raisha acknowledges that younger listeners may find jazz less appealing compared to other genres. “Jazz really demands a lot of effort, focus, and some technical knowledge while listening,” she says. “Not everyone has the time or interest for that, which is totally valid.”

A journey through genres

When I ask Raisha what she feels is the downside of Singapore’s jazz scene, her response is quick and certain: “The Jazz scene is underfunded.” The appreciation for live music among Singaporeans also appears to be less pronounced compared to other bustling urban centres such as London. In her observations while in London, she noticed a distinct phenomenon: The general public willingly invests in live music, even if they aren’t exactly “into the arts”.

She also laments how difficult it is for Singaporean musicians to support themselves as full-time performers. “The market rate is abysmal, even for people who have years and years of experience — even for people who have Masters degrees in jazz.”

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However, amidst these challenges, Raisha acknowledges a resilient core within the jazz community, with a few stalwart pillars investing their time and resources to keep the scene vibrant. Noteworthy examples include the famed Blu Jaz, a cherished haven for jazz enthusiasts and celebrated figures like Rachma Lim and the legendary Jeremy Monteiro — Singaporean jazz luminaries dedicated to breathing life into the jazz landscape. 

A young singer’s vision

With regards to the broader jazz landscape in Singapore, Raisha envisions a prosperous future. Beyond her own artistry, she extends her aspirations to the well-being of jazz musicians overall. 

Imagining an environment where they can thrive as full-time artists, Raisha, along with her fellow young jazz vocalists, passionately advocates for increased investment in live music. Her efforts shape a future adorned with diverse jazz bars, thriving clubs, and artist-focused spaces. 

Ultimately, she hopes to craft a modern sonic identity that defies conventions and effortlessly blurs boundaries. “I don’t just envision myself as a live jazz singer in the traditional sense. The music I put out isn’t hardcore jazz; it’s more soul-R&B inspired by jazz. Even so, you know, I love pop; I love Taylor Swift and Megan Thee Stallion,” she says. “I don’t ever want to put myself in a box.”