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Crosscurrents is our award-winning radio news magazine, broadcasting Mondays through Thursdays at 11 a.m. on 91.7 FM. We make joyful, informative stories that engage people across the economic, social, and cultural divides in our community. Listen to full episodes at kalw.org/crosscurrents

Enter the Portal on Peralta St: Maya’s Magic Shop

On the busy corner of Peralta and 14th street - there’s a doorbell. Ring it and you’ll enter another world.

A melody spills out into the sidewalk and Maya Songbird opens the door for me, welcoming me in. Beyond the door is a burst of blue; a mural of Maya frames the entrance. The smell of incense fills the air.

“It's just really a portal,” says Maya. “The community comes in and they’re just like I’m in a whole new world right now at the Magic Shop.”

Maya Songbird is many things – a singer-songwriter, artist, entrepreneur. And she’s the resident witch at Maya’s Magic Shop. She opened the Oakland location I’m visiting in 2020 and another one in San Francisco this year.

“It is a DIY botanica,” explains Maya. “All handmade witch supplies.”

Maya takes me on a tour of the space. “You got crystals, all types of rings, daggers, all kind of goodies.”

There’s everything from potions and lotions and magic hair grow to the funkiest sunglasses and clocks I’ve ever seen. There’s jewelry, pendulums, and altar kits with a collection of ceremonial items to help you connect with your spirit.

“And then you step over and you have all of my candles that all hold powerful magic.”

Lining the shelves are what must be hundreds of magic candles - in every shape and color you can imagine.

I see orange brains and green clamshells. Puzzle pieces that are brown and white and yellow. Penises and vulva in pinks and reds - each one of them, charmed with their own specific purpose.

Maya is famous for these candles. She makes them in-house, setting careful intentions for each pour of the wax.

Behind the register, Maya breaks up wax in her candle-making workshop. There are shelves full of different molds,and jars piled high. Maya’s work table is covered in a rainbow of splattered dry wax. On a burner that clicks, she melts some more.

Maya pours a glossy purple wax into a holographic glass jar and closes her eyes.

“So we're setting intentions for this candle,” says Maya. “The first layer is going to be intuition. We all need a good amount of intuition, especially as our world progresses into the madness that it is right now.”

Before she opened The Magic Shop, you could really only find these candles at the merch table of a Maya Songbird show. That’s where she would sing enchanting melodies and sell her magic candles on the side.

“My foundation is music,” explains Maya, “and I built a world around that.”

Maya began singing and playing clarinet as a young girl growing up in San Francisco.

“Born and raised. I lived in the historic Castro, Duboce Triangle Noe Valley for like 11 years of my life. I grew up there. So that in itself was magic and liberation. Like, I lived in a place where people were themselves and they were happy to be themselves.”

She spent her days, as a child, creating art.

“My grandma Frances would always show me how to make things with my hands. And she had a magic touch. She could create anything.”

And they always created together.

“Well, she did tell me when I was younger, I was a kid that she was a witch,” recalls Maya. “And I told my mom, grandma doesn’t go to church because she's a witch. You know, my mom said, don't say that. You can't say that.”

Eventually, though, her mother couldn’t deny the magical legacy that Maya inherited.

“My mom walked into my workspace one day and she just, like, gasped because she was like, this looks exactly like your great grandmother's shed in Georgia.”

Her Great Grandmother Mary Glen made concoctions out of the plants and herbs she grew.

“Back in the day, of course, blacks, we didn't have health care, we had each other, we had the healer. And my grandma was that - she had a whole shed full of potions to heal her community, and people came to her for healing.”

Maya wants to create a space for her community, too. In rapidly gentrifying cities like San Francisco and Oakland, D.I.Y spaces like the Magic shop are hard to keep open.

“Capitalism is very brutal,” says Maya. “I feel like who can you trust when people more so care about money than they care about each other. And that's really scary. So for me to exist, I'm keeping those integrity, those morals intact, you know, and that love for community in D.I.Y. spaces alive”

Maya’s shop is home to items from many local, queer artists. Her storefront allows them a space to showcase their work to the community.

“I always say, like, the truest power is to empower others,” says Maya.

And, in order to keep uplifting her community of artists, Maya’s also crafting up some big spells in her spare time.

“I'm getting really tired of capitalism so I’m trying to figure out the ultimate way to use my powers to banish it. So stay tuned if you start to see that capitalism’s fallen apart. when you see its ultra demise. Just know Maya did it.”

Until then, you can find Maya at one of her Magic Shops on either side of the Bay.

Maya’s Magic Shop Oakland

Maya’s Magic Shop SF

Maya Songbird’s music

Hanisha Harjani is in the KALW Summer Training Program and produces news stories for Crosscurrents