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.
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!