Afrobella of the Week — Ayo

My appetite for new music is as insatiable as my appetite for makeup and hair products. Which is to say, I’m always on the lookout for the next big thing. I especially love female singers with spunk and sass and indisputable talent. Personality counts for a lot, and I admire a musician with style. But the kind of singers that steal my heart and become my instant new faves are more than just fresh and fly; they also radiate soul to the max. So in the vein of previous Afrobellas of the Week Chrisette Michele, Conya Doss, Janelle Monae, and the criminally slept-on Alice Smith, I present to you the enchanting pixie that is Ayo. She’s glowingly talented, and as refreshing as a glass of mint lemonade on a sweltering summer day. And she’s been making it big in Europe for a while now!

Ayo Olasunmibo Ogunmakin was born in Cologne, Germany, but she’s of Nigerian parentage — her father moved from Nigeria to Germany in the Seventies. Her mother is a gypsy. Her name means “joy” in Yoruba, and her debut album — the fittingly titled Joyful — went platinum in France in 2006. Ayo’s voice is sweetly nasal, kind of like a young Randy Crawford’s (OMG, love this song) , and her music can best be described in terms of her influences — she mentions Pink Floyd, Fela Kuti, Donnie Hathaway, Jimmy Cliff, and Bob Marley on her official MySpace page. I can definitely hear a bit of each of those artists in her music. She rides reggae-lite rhythms, upholds the lilting danceability of Fela Kuti, and often takes the Pink Floyd less-is-more spacey approach to her lyrics.

The first single from the album, Life is Real, is a breezy inspirational ditty that for some reason reminds me a bit of a modern-day Des’ree’s You Gotta Be. (it’s also an uptempo feel-good song that’s good for road tripping). The video’s filmed in Lagos, and features Ayo strumming her guitar all over the Nigerian countryside. These Days is a sad ballad that reminds me of Corinne Bailey Rae, and I love the soft, melancholy accordian break in How Many Times.

Help is Coming captures that island lilt, and her biggest hit, Down On My Knees, is built around a sweet and sad repeated refrain: “Down on my knees, I’m begging you. Please, please don’t leave me.” The theme of desperate abandoned love combined with the reggae bounce of the rhythm reminds me of Dawn Penn’s “No, No, No (You Don’t Love Me)”. If only “Down on My Knees” had a heavier bassline. (If you’re really feeling the track, enjoy this ten minute long live version).

Ayo’s adorable in every music video she’s released, but her personality just glows in her live performances. Her beautiful smile is infectious as she sings With A Little Help From My Friends in this live duet with Jude. And I love, love, love her live version of And It’s Supposed to Be Love, filmed in Athens over the summer. She’s one of those singers who sounds just as great live as she does in the studio — as evidenced by this live version of her song Only You. For those of you who would like to hear her sing a song you love, here’s her performance of Natural Woman, which is followed by an interview conducted mostly in French.

The video I’m about to share isn’t the best in terms of visual quality — you can see she’s gorgeous and wearing a beautiful dress, but there are no close-ups of Ayo and her pretty crown of natural curls in the video. I wanted to share it because of the message of the song. It’s dedicated to her father, who raised her and her siblings by himself when her mother became addicted to drugs. The song is just real and stark and stunning, in my opinion.

The lyrics speak from her soul: “You were always there for me. You are my best friend daddy, I know I was unfair sometimes. Now, with this song I apologize. Where would I be today without you being there for me all my life? What would I do today without you taking care of me all the time?” I am sorry that the video clip ends abruptly, but the song touched me enough to post it regardless.

In 2005, Ayo had a baby boy, and she named him Nile. His daddy is the amazingly talented and super-fine Afro-German reggae artist Patrice. She’s currently raising her baby, and touring around Europe.

I hope that she starts to get some more mainstream attention Stateside, I love a talented singer/songwriter who also plays guitar, and I know I’m not the only one! I’m feeling Ayo’s style, and I hope you do too. Congrats, Ayo! You’re Afrobella of the Week!

Big thanks and respect to regular reader and commenter NYC/Caribbean Ragazza for the intro to Ayo!

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Comments

  1. What a cutie! Thanks for the exposure, bella. I’d heard of her, but never had a chance to hear her music. I really like Down On My Knees. Her music makes me want to go to my local coffee house and grab a latte, she’s got that kind of vibe, I think.

  2. Isn’t she fabulous & adorable…we have her featured as well! I love the lyrics to “Help Is Coming”!

  3. You are welcome!

    I head about Ayo for the first time from one of my American friends who lives in Milan and anotherl friend of mine who spent three week in Florence last year. She said “Down On My Knees” was the song of that summer.

    I bought the CD via Amazon.com and play it constantly. I love her vibe and hope she does break Stateside at some point. Given the state of our music business, who knows what will happen.

    Her man is fine.

  4. Thanks for expanding my musical knowledge! I dig the girls style! She reminds me of myself.

  5. yeah! i’m feeling it. that’s music i need for breathing — you know that feeling? and such a chic artist. i hope she will keep strong — as well as vulnerable, gentle, chic, tender, gorgeous. we’ve seen other great singer break. i hope she is as wise as she is pretty.

  6. Once again you have given me a taste of something new…I am totally digging her sound! Time to spread the word to my friends.

  7. I agree totally with you people are missing some great funk Alice Smith. Her music is soulful rock someone put her in rotation. Amy winehouse can get some play and her best stuff isn’t even on the CD.

  8. this post is right on time. last night i sat at my pc in search of some worth while music to download onto my ipod and could think of NOTHING. i am totally digging Ayo & Alice Smith!! thanks bella

  9. ^^ i know right! she’s a breath of fresh air, and i loooove her hair.

  10. bella,

    i’ve heard of ayo, but haven’t listened to her music. thanks for continuing to profile lesser-known talent. there’s so much good music out there, particularly from non-western countries. i think you’d also enjoy cesaria evora, oliver mtukudzi, and salif keita.

  11. i’ve heard so much about her but never taken the time to really listen to her

  12. I never heard of her before, but I thank you Bella
    for exposing her to us. She is like fresh air! I love her natural looking make-up and her afro-glory. One thing i noticed is that she is not pretentious, she does not need to be half naked or singing lewd ridiculous words to have our attention. Thank you, we need more female singers who actually make you feel like if you play their songs, you can turn it up and not be afraid, something horrible might pop out at you. Thank you, thank you! I love Corrine Bailey too,
    i heard about her through you too! thanks so much.

  13. Wow. Thanks for the heads up. I found this blog while searching for positive sites for Black women. I am glad I found it. I am with you SusieQ, I love Corinne Bailey Rae and love music with substance. I just recently discovered Angelique Kidjo and Somi and have been rocking out ever since.

  14. My favorite song by her is What is Love? It’s a great chillaxing.

  15. She’s good! Thanks for the profile. This is the first time I’m seeing a name-sake so popular outside of Nigeria. Cool!

  16. I originally came to this site for hair and cosmetic info, but found so much more. I’m a fan of world music and I appreciate being turned onto artists I might miss. Co-signing with Iyan…Cesaria Evora is wonderful! Thanks Bell and keep up the fabulous work!

  17. Thanks for doing a profile on her. I have seen her picture numerous times all over the web, but had no idea she was a musician. I thought she was just a pretty model with an even more beautiful fro. I will definitely be checking out some more of her music.

  18. what a great artist.i love her songs especially the one in nigeria. it made me want to visit home again.she was so elegant in her african dresses.thank you bella for this post.

  19. She is one of the best artists out there. It is my dream that the American music industry turns around and celebrates people like Ayo.

  20. omg! I’m obsessed with her hair! It’s my dream fro. I love her style in general :)

  21. i really like alice smith and i will definitely give ayo a listen…

  22. Gracias Bella,

    For introducing me to this talented and adorable artist and celebrating ALL the facets of OUR beauty. Luv your site!!!!!!! Keep up the great and important work. It truly is appreciated.
    (I wish I had your blog to read when I was growing up as a little girl 20+ years ago! As the only black Caribbean girl in my neighbourhood….this would have been a godsend)

    Thandie from Canada

  23. love her hair & music!!!!

    she’s only half Nigerian, her mum’s Romanian.

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