Family background may not count for everything in the world of music, but that of Ayo is original to say the least. Judge for yourself, she was born near Cologne on 14 September 1980, the product of a union between a Nigerian father who had come to Germany to study in the 1970s and a Romanian mother who grew up in a gypsy community. And her rich cultural background stuck with her, leaving her partial to diversity and distrustful of purists and cliques. "I'm definitely somewhat Bohemian by nature, preferring a nomad lifestyle. Not having a home? That is freedom," Ayo says playfully. Her rather unusual name can be translated as "joy" in Yoruba. And this attractive musician of mixed-race, with delicate facial features set atop a slender body, is radiant with joy, as she invites her fans to listen to the world of music rather than the music of the world. "I was bottle-fed by my dad, who worked as a DJ from time to time. He had quite a collection of vinyl albums." As a young girl, Ayo grew up amidst Pink Floyd and Fela Kuti, the Soul Children and Bob Marley, and with Bunny Waiter, "a powerful flashback to my early years" and Prince Sunny Adé, "the hero of Juju music." Ayo refuses to choose a favourite of all the various types of music that she was surrounded with as a child.
To fully understand her music, we need to go back in time and take a look at her somewhat tumultuous life, which was marked by several moments of bad - and good - luck. Just a wee child, she left for Nigeria, a country that still inhabits her spirit and always will. "My grandmother wanted to keep me, but my father refused to follow custom. That's why I haven't been back since - my father is afraid he'll lose me." That was the first blow to her spirit. "But I know I'll go back one day. It's in my blood! Incidentally, my middle name - Olasunmibo- in Yoruba means: She who is born elsewhere, but who will come back full of prosperity." A few years later, her mother turned to drugs. A second bombshell. She was barely 6 years old and had to go live with her father, sister and two brothers. But she never lost contact with her mother, whom she describes as "a strong woman, despite all her shortcomings." It was during this period, in the mid 80s, when she took to playing the violin for a short time, before turning to the piano between the ages of 10 and 14. It wasn't long before she taught herself to play guitar. "I needed an instrument I could be at one with.It's more direct, more aggressive, and I mean that in a good way. But I've recently started composing songs for the piano again. I wrote "Neva Been," which is on the album."
She was trying to find her calling.and ended up in London, where part of her Nigerian family was living. She was 21 at the time. "It was an important period in my life - the first time I really expressed myself. I needed to leave Germany to find myself." This may be true, but once she left, Ayo was ready to pick up and move again. "Moving around the world has allowed me to develop who I am. I'll never be happy with being sedentary. I'm too spontaneous and I care too little about material things to plan the future. But I know I'm able to start from scratch wherever I end up."
That was how Ayo, an official resident of Germany, went to live between Paris and New York, two capitals that accurately sum up her musical identity. "New York is a genuine melting pot...It was there that I met the producer I was looking for, someone who was able to draw out the best in me." In the States, she held several sessions that lasted a few months and produced her first album. And in Paris, where she periodically set up house near Les Halles, she felt "at home." It was there that, in less than two years, news of her talent started to spread among experienced amateurs. Word got around fast, and she held initial solo concerts with her guitar, opened for Omar, the British "soul brother" and improvised alongside Cody Chesnutt, whom she jammed with on the stage of the Elysée-Montmartre. And she dreamed of doing the same with Stevie Wonder.
In the meantime, everyone was talking about her, and many people were sure she had already recorded. At the time she'd merely produced a few sketches, with a 5-track that circulated among well-informed and eager listeners. She took her time and gave birth to a beautiful baby boy. "Being a mother has opened up so many possibilities. For a long time, I saw music as a sort of therapy. It was my way of speaking to others about myself. Now I have my son I can confide in." Nile was born in late 2005 - Nile, a historic river, so symbolic for this young woman at the crossroads of different cultures and inspired by such diverse influences. Niles helped her grow. In early 2006, things started to speed up. She knew she needed to take the plunge. "We'd been talking about this album for a long time and in the end we recorded it really quickly. When I was pregnant, I learned to be patient. Now I know I'm ready." In just five days, it was a wrap. The entire album was recorded under live conditions. "I need to feel the musicians to really thrive.I feel at my best when I'm performing live. Whether you're solo or accompanied by a group, you can't lie."
The result is a collection of bittersweet songs, with twelve tracks filled with all her various experiences and the people she's encountered along the way. She cries, laughs and moves us with her simplicity. To accompany her, producer Jay Newland put together a group of musicians who are in tune with her goals. They are open-minded and, with a note on a B3 organ or a harmonica beat, with a stroke of slide guitar or a stream of percussion, they melodiously enter this unusual world, which is studded with a few words in Pidgin, the street language of Lagos, and unveils recollections of gypsy life. It's her way of paying tribute to her father, her "reference," and her mother, her "muse." Two other influences helped her set the tone of this album, which very well could have been recorded some 35 years ago. Firstly, there's mentor Donny Hathaway, "a singer who goes beyond words to really make you understand what he's singing. He held such a powerful emotional force! Such a deep spirit that it still makes me cry.It was written over thirty years ago, but it still rings true." This is surely why she wants to hear nothing of new soul: "it doesn't mean anything...And anyway, I prefer music from the sixties and seventies." Her other reference is Jimmy Cliff. "It has to do with my dad's vinyls. Whenever I hear "The Harder They Come," I think about him and his life." The Jamaican musician taught her the art of story-telling, the desire to share stories and spin tales without compromising her aesthetic demands...Because more than anything else, that's what Ayo speaks about with her music. She strives to naturally and sincerely share her stories and touch others, boosted solely by her life experience and her dreams. "Even if you've gone through the hardest time, it's important to remember how to enjoy life - don't lose track of what motivates you and keeps you going. You can survive on the outside and cry on the inside."