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A woman's worth: after seven years away, soul hero Maxwell has crooned back onto the scene as one of the sexiest and most talented musicians alive. But can BLACKsummers night find him love?

all you ladies got your hair did," Maxwell says flirtatiously, addressing the crowd of nearly 3,000 gathered to watch his sold-out show at the Horseshoe Hammond casino and hotel in Hammond, Indiana, the second date on his BLACKsummers'night tour. "You shining from the Vaseline. I see you, baby!" The dolled-up females in the audience self-consciously pat their intricately braided updos or run their fingers through their flowing manes, adjust their curve-hugging cocktail dresses and flash their beaming smiles. Every woman in the crowd seems to think Maxwell is courting her, telling her that she's "the highest of the high," that she's the one with whom he wants to do a little sumthin' sumthin'.

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Completing the fantasy, Maxwell, too, is dressed like he's ready to do some serious wooing. On this stormy evening in mid-June, the Grammy-nominated singer, now 36, saunters around the Stage in snug black trousers, a well-tailored black shin, a dapper black blazer and white wing-tip shoes. Gone are his bouncy trademark Afro and the bohemian beaded necklaces he once wore so well; instead, his close cut and dress shirt give him a more polished, sophisticated look.

When the lights dim and the audience hears the lender, tinkling piano keys and ethereal falsetto notes introducing "This Woman's Work," the Kate Bush song Maxwell famously covered on his 1997 MTV Unplugged album, the crowd screams euphorically. Instantly, camera phones shoot up to the sky and groups of zealous revelers scurry closer to the stage for a better look. Then, just as quickly, the claiming, shouting and whistling subside, and a near-sacred bush envelops the spacious theater. The congregation is genuflecting inside the temple of romance, waiting for their shepherd to deliver ins message. Fittingly, as the song's lush melodies unravel. Maxwell kneels down near the edge of the stage, cupping the microphone between his hands, tilting his bead backward and looking toward the heavens. From most other performers, the dramatics would come across as over-the-top and inauthentic. But this is Maxwell, the well-mannered gentlemanly crooner with the soulful, Marvin Gave like spirit, and this moment is nothing other than sublime. When the song finally fades out and Maxwell rises to his feet, one can almost hear a collective call of "Amen."

His crowd in the palm of his familiar, velvety grip, Maxwell introduces some new material, moving to the down-and-out feel created by a simmering electric guitar, wailing trumpets and shimmering snares. He pulls the microphone stand toward him, then releases it with a forceful thrust, turning to face the live band behind hint. As the musicians go into a deep jam, Maxwell grooves accordingly, swaying his hips and smoothing his hand along the side of his head in one slow, controlled, seductive movement. He drops down to the door and lies on his side, gyrating his hips ever so slightly before popping back up to a standing position and closing out the song. As you might imagine, the sexual theatrics are a hit: As the evening unfolds, a fan throws a pair of lacy orange panties on the stage, while another bands Maxwell a champagne-colored stiletto signed in black marker, bearing a band-written note. If this is a religious experience, there will be call for a confessional later.

Flours earlier, in his tour bus, traveling from downtown Chicago to the venue, Maxwell describes the connectiveness of his live performance. "People can get [my album online], but you can't leak the show," he explained. "Yon can put your camera phone up [at the concert], but you can't replicate [that feeling]. Being there is being there. It's like watching a porno versus gelling some real shit. It's two different things."

Like Marvin Gaye said, "Ain't nothing like the real thing, baby."

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Women have swooned over Maxwell since he first stepped on the scene in 1996, with Maxwell's Urban Hang Suite. Thirteen years later, it's still not hard to see why. There are the deep-set, Cheshire Cat eyes and the intense, penetrating stare; the supple lips and wide, gracious smile. And then there's that voice. That sultry, silky voice that swathes your entire being and serves as the conduit for poetic, reverential lyrics that defer to the power of the almighty feminine mystique, that celebrate monogamy and convey an undying devotion to that oh-so-elusive, forever-type love. Even Maxwell's songs about lovemaking are imbued with a respectful chivalry; he asks for permission to seduce you; "If it's cool, I wanna rock with you/Slip you my mellow smooth/Rock you until we blue/Only, only if it's cool."

As humble as he is handsome, Maxwell still struggles to comprehend his sex-symbol status. "I appreciate it, but I don't completely understand it," he says. "I don't feel that way about myself, maybe because the way I came into the world was so dramatic and a little scandalous--not in terms of my career, but in terms of how I was born. I don't presume myself to be as great as that reaction."

Though he's fiercely protective of his privacy, choosing to remain tight-lipped about his personal life, today Maxwell feels compelled to open up. Silting on a plush leather seat in his tour bus's dining nook, digging into a salad, he speaks freely during the 45-minute ride from Chicago to Hammond.

Maxwell, originally his middle name, was horn in Brooklyn on May 23, 1973. His Pentecostal father was raised in Vieques, the island municipality located less than 10 miles east of tin; mainland of Puerto Rico. His mother grew up in a devout Baptist household in Haiti.

When his parents' relationship came to light, they faced harsh criticism from their respective families, both because of their strict religious backgrounds and because of the cross-cultural, interracial nature of the liaison. Subsequently, Maxwell's conception was a bit of a cause celebre. "It wasn't a planned pregnancy," he says. "[My mother's family] flew out' to New York while she was pregnant, and she had me out in Brooklyn so that no one would know, because there was shame in having me."

The tumult surrounding his entry into the world haunted Maxwell as a child. Because the subject wasn't often discussed, he internalized his feelings about the situation, letting them boil in his consciousness. "I fell guilty for being born and being alive," he intimates. "I fell like I kept my mother from her life. Looking back, I can definitely see how hard it was on my mom. It's tough for a black woman out here, and for her to have been left with a child."

Maxwell's mom looked to her own mother for assistance, and so Maxwell grew up mainly with his grandmother ("an angel sent from God") and his eight uncles. His father died in a plane crash when Maxwell was three.

"When one of the parents isn't around, it does something to the kids. Not having a dad growing up, I think I might [turn out to] be a better dad than I would have if I'd had a different situation," he says.

In the same way that not having a father figure colored how Maxwell views the manner in which he hopes to parent, watching his mother's interact ions with men over the years informed his own views on male-female dynamics. "I'm sure my mom fell like she lost out on something [by having me] and, in some ways, probably overcompensated with the men that she got involved with because maybe she was trying to catch up or something,"' he reflects.

As Maxwell describes his relationship with his mother, his grandmother's resolve, and the way both women were disappointed and mistreated by men, his song lyrics with their gallantry, tenderness and appreciation for women- take on a new significance. In a way, Maxwell's songs lay the blueprint for how women should be treated and, moreover, for how women like his mother and grandmother should have been treated.

in the music business, seven years is a lifetime. Many artists' entire careers don't last that long, so choosing to take such an extensive hiatus was a risky move for Maxwell, and yet it's a move he doesn't regret for a second.

"I remember feeling like life had slipped out. of my fingers."' Maxwell says about his decision to step out of the limelight. "What happens is, you have your dream and then the infrastructure that allows you to live out your dream ends up bleeding the life out of you."

Being surrounded by people with ulterior motives, meeting women who were interested in the public persona rather than the human being offstage and watching people in the industry behave in devious and calculating ways had jaded him.

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"I had to [ask myself],'Why are you making music?"" he says. 'I don't feel like I'm the kind of person that's on some fame shit. Fuck fame. Fame is a moment. Music, art--that's eternal. That's what's going to keep your heart content."

Ultimately, his self-imposed exile proved cathartic, even with regard to ins dealings with the fairer sex.. Maxwell is now more amenable to the once-terrifying idea of falling in love. "I'm healed up in terms of all my family shit and my love shit that I was fucked up about; I feel like all that shit is cool now," he says. "I don't have any chips on my shoulder when it comes to love. I feel like I can be more vulnerable and trusting than I used to he because I took some time away from being famous to know who I am as a person." In a perfect world, Maxwell hopes to settle down and have children within the next two years or so, before he releases the second installment of his new project, the BLACKSUMMERS WIGHT trilogy.

The first album, BLACKAsummers'neight, which was released in July, is comprised of tracks he calls "darker, more despondent," songs like the blues-flavored "Cold," about, a woman who withholds her loving; the funky "Bad Habits," with its brazen sense of yearning; and "Pretty Wings." the melancholic ballad about knowing when to say goodbye in a relationship. Maxwell describes the second album, blackSUUMERS'night, as a mix of soul, gospel and tropical-dipped songs reminiscent of Fela Kuti. The third album, blacksummers'NEIGHT, aims to feature a timeless, mind-blowing collection of slow jams. Upon the release of all three installments, Maxwell says he will likely vanish from the public eye for another seven or eight years.

Though all the songs on the trilogy's first installation are stamped with his signature sultriness and lovelorn lyrics, they also showcase Maxwell's growing musical palette. His heightened appreciation for rock music is evident on intricately arranged songs like "Love You," a mid-tempo cut on which he evokes Prince over a fast-paced, torn-heavy drum line that blends with joyous snare sprinkles, gospel-ready organs, pounding piano keys and celebratory trumpets.

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"I'm happy that people are responding to the new songs," Maxwell beams as the bus reaches the Hammond venue, "because I know I was away for a long time, and I know I'm not the same. I grow just like everybody else. You can't expect this time capsule in a man. Like, how am I supposed to write and reflect and make music dial hopefully makes you feel like I feel if I'm this porcelain wax figure from the nineties? But it's been awesome corning back. I think people can feel how warm the sound is."

When Maxwell takes the stage, these days, he does so with a renewed sense of purpose and a palpable feeling of enthusiasm. "I cherish my music a lot more now," Maxwell says. "It's even more precious to me than it was when I first, started. That's all I ever wanted--to remember what it felt like." [black star]

words

celia san miguel

photography

kenneth cappello
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Author:Miguel, Celia San
Publication:GIANT
Article Type:Interview
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2009
Words:1974
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