They Call Her "the Cuban Adele," but Yoli Mayor Has a Talent All Her Own

If the title “the Cuban Adele” sounds like a big deal, it’s because it is. To be dubbed as such means to be in the company of one of the most talented vocalists on the planet. “It’s an honor,” says Yoli Mayor, a 20-year-old who's been given the nickname by both the Miami Herald and Huffington Post. But there's a tinge of hesitation from her. Upon hearing the doubt in her voice, I interrupt her and ask, maybe a bit out of line, “Don’t you find that reductive? I think it puts you in a box.”

A second of silence, and then she laughs. “Thank you! You aren’t the first person to say that... I appreciate you!”

What Yoli Mayor the artist wants to be is honest. She wants to hole herself up in a dark, dingy corner of the afterlife, let her audience light cigarettes indoors, and use her vocal cords to transport them to a more transparent time, when the voice was the purveyor of vulnerability and the most powerful instrument.

“I want that smoky-room feel," she says. "I want that cigar-bar environment surrounding me. I want my music to create a sense of clarity and peace.”

Her laugh is deep-throated and expansive and sounds like a children’s choir. Her attitude is one you'd expect from a dynamic and candid artist. But she's yet to produce any original music. Most videos of her performing online come from shaky, amateur cell phones. She's currently the in-house talent at Brickell's El Tucán, a throwback to the great Havana cabarets of yesteryear. 

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“As soon as I finish the tour with José José, I’ll release my first EP or album. Let’s see what I decide. But I’m definitely releasing something.”

Wait, did she just say José José? As in the José José, the Mexican singer who's just a tad too famous to be touring with a 20-year-old kid with no original music to her name?

“Yup!" Mayor says. "I mean, I only know one singer who goes by his name twice.”

As with most artists, Mayor’s path to touring with a legend was half talent, half luck. “I had been working at American Eagle for like seven months with this girl. We had become good friends, and I guess she heard me sing or mumble the songs that they’d play at the store. That girl was his daughter.”

That’s the start to a really dope Wikipedia page. Mayor knows that, but she also recognizes that a good part of why this opportunity was there for her taking is because she worked damned hard to be able to get it. She’s tenacious and has an active artistic mind. She loves poetry, and at the age of 16, she wrote her first play at Coconut Grove's Academy of Arts and Minds. Mayor wants to emulate the greats who she says are closer to what she actually sounds like than Adele. “I want to be a new-school version of a really old idea," she says as she effortlessly, and damned impressively, breaks into Ella Fitzgerald’s "Cry Me a River."

And at that moment, it makes sense why she’s been this hyped-up. At just 20 years old, she’s going on tour with a master like José José. She’s being interviewed by large-scale publications, and yet she’s released absolutely no original music. But what she does possess is something far more rare and exciting. She’s got a voice so far beyond her years, a deep, ragged baritone of life etched into her vocal cords, that makes her every lyric sound drenched in sentiment.

“If you’re writing from a genuine place, you’re going to run into gloom and sin, but that’s OK," Mayor says. "If it’s real, then that kind of reality is always applicable. It’s timeless. That’s why we keep coming back to Etta James and Ella Fitzgerald.”

Don't forget Nina Simone.

“That was one bad bitch,” she responds, real serious as she says it too. Mayor isn't old enough to have ever seen these legends in the flesh, but she has been singing their songs since she was 2 years old. “You’re an old soul,” I say. “Yes! Yes, I am,” she shouts back. “That’s the title of the interview. Put that as the title: 'Old Soul.' I love it.”

Rooftop Unplugged Sessions with Yoli Mayor. 7 p.m. Wednesday, June 22, at the Filling Station Lofts, 1657 N Miami Ave., Miami. Admission is free; RSVP via eventbrite.com.

Yoli Mayor. 8:30 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. Every Thursday through Saturday night at El Tucán, 1111 SW 1st Ave., Miami; 305-535-0065; eltucanmiami.com. Starting February 23, Yoli Mayor will sing at every Tuesday at 10 p.m. at Kilma, 210 23rd St., Miami Beach; 786-453-2779; klimamiami.com.

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