Modern Day Gypsy: Melissa Flavia of Stop and Listen LA
Melissa Flavia is as unassuming a warrior as ever. She is calm, poised, ethereal and approachable, but not in a way in which one can assume that she is complacent or boring. On this night she is gearing up to perform in front of a sort of “meals on wheels” operation. The venue is ‘Leo’s Taco Truck’, simply named for what it is, a food truck parked on a corner in Pasadena, CA that sells, well, tacos. Flavia gives a sweet hello to my partners and I, takes out her guitar and begins to play. Customers of Leo’s at first seem skeptical about Flavia’s presence but quickly become appreciative—she is by all means, captivating. One by one, the once reluctant passerbys fill Flavia’s version of the street performer’s hat: take out Chinese food boxes. It quickly becomes apparent that there is nothing to dislike about this girl. A cross between Adele and Corrine Bailey Rae, Flavia’s voice is mature and calm, comforting even. She keeps a steady pace rocking like a folk singer twice her age while maintaining a youthful grunt or two—a glimpse of soul in a gypsy.
So, why is she here? Performing on what is certainly not a street buzzing with A&Rs waiting with contracts to sign the next alternative music superstar, Flavia’s passion says otherwise. She is here for her organization, Stop and Listen, LA which she created less than a year ago. “Discovering new music (or artist) should be natural and organic…music was never meant to be a competition it’s an expression of truth”, she says before going on to explain that Stop and Listen is her attempt to give the underdogs a chance. In a world consumed by talent competitions, audition tapes on the internet and ridiculously expensive venue costs for live performers; Flavia gives herself and the other artists she has joined with, freedom to have their voices heard by whoever happens to be standing around and willing to slow down, listen and be moved. “After going to so many open mics and hearing so many amazing artists there, who you don’t even hear about…there was a lot of frustration for the underdogs, you didn’t create your art for the pockets of venues” Flavia says, in a tone nothing at all reminiscent of her sweet demeanor, in this part of her vision she is matter of fact, blunt even. When I ask her why she chose the name, her fairy-like ethereal-ness returns, “Stop and Listen, LA” she says, “was aligned with what I believe it takes to truly be happy—following your passion, gratitude and recognizing the subtle things that add to your happiness”. But Flavia adds a chuckle when she admits to first thinking that it would just be a social experiment (she majored in Sociology at UCLA), “I was gonna just stop by random places and see if people would actually stop”. Her intensity returns as she continues “ overall it’s all about being more mindful in your life and slowing down in order to appreciate what’s right in front of you”, the very thing she has demanded people to do on this chilly night in LA.
Patrons of the taco truck already having received their meals stay mesmerized by Flavia’s beautiful tone and pleasant nature, a feat that shows one that she has far surpassed the realms of a more serious Sasha Baren Cohen movie. As I stand and watch, a looker-on says to me (noticing my pen fast at work), “it takes a lot of guts to do that”, I look up, “yeah” I say as the boy walks over to his father and later returns with a handful of dollars for Melissa. “She’s really good” he says. Flavia chuckles when I recount the story for her and exclaims “Really?”. With her eyes all lit up she says “I just hope that it lights up their day. There’s always something around you, you just have to see it” she continues, “I hope it adds to their happiness, it gives them an opportunity to think about how we live life so quickly, so blindly”. So why the taco trucks? Flavia again turns serious saying, “in LA we’re always following trends and there is so much happening underneath it all. I wanted to insert us in a trend of something that had been around longer and was in a way some people’s livelihood”. But why Leo’s specifically? The ethereal-ness returns as she simply answers “it’s my favorite”. She continues, “at the end of the day all I wanted to do was sing, it was a part of my basic civil liberties to perform wherever I could be heard, and I thought other artist could do it too”.
To watch her speak of Stop and Listen, LA is to have a total experience of another human being, she is transparent and beautifully honest. She is quite simply that teacher who didn’t ever raise her voice but who you never thought to talk over. When I finally get her to just talk about herself she very articulately says, “ I’m a simple girl who likes to sing. I want to be free. I don’t want to be tied down to a venue or confined…so I sing on the street”. As one would guess, Flavia names “life” as her biggest inspiration stating, “life itself. Everything is an art. People that I meet, the experiences I’ve had, knowing that my sensitivity and my emotions are a stength…all of it.” She smiles gently and finishes “my ultimate satisfaction comes in knowing that I’m continuing what I love to do”. And in that simple sentence lies Melissa Flavia, a girl living for what she loves and believes in…fighting for her creative license and singing for her happiness.
Written By: Iman Milner
Photos By: Ashley B. Nguyen