AfroGipsy (2)

… is Ayọs favourite description of herself according to her interview on the Joyful album.



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Teenage years : good and bad times

When Ayọ was about six years old in the mid 1980s and lived with her father and her siblings she took to playing the violin for a short time, before turning to the piano between the ages of 10 and 14. Later she taught herself to play the 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. The first songs she wrote were about her mother as she reveals in an interview in St. Tropez with Jude Rogers from The Guardian: "My very first songs, when I was 15 or 16, were about my mother. They helped me cope. Before then, I'd keep all my feelings inside, the angry feelings that make you sick. You could say music became my medicine." [1]

Her father worked as DJ to earn extra money during his apprenticeship as a mechanic and so she had readily access to many of his records. Listening to Pink Floyd, Fela Kuti, the Soul Children, Donnie Hathaway, Jimmy Cliff and Bob Marley, the standards of Motown but also to Afrobeat like Fela, Ju Ju Music of Nigeria and King Sunny Adé shaped her taste in music: "When I think of my childhood, I have memories full with songs.”. She started to secretly record herself singing to tapes of Snoop Dogg, TLC and Genuwine. Her father had the foresight to let her drop out of school when he found one of her tapes. "He wouldn't believe the voice on them belonged to me. So I had to sing. I was too embarrassed, so I made him stand out in the yard while I sang with my friend in the kitchen." Three minutes later, he said: "If you don't want to study, you don't have to. Go for your music." So at the age of 16 her recording career started when her father took her to a studio to produce a demo.

Although she was still so young she know what kind of music she wanted to make and resisted external forces which wanted her to adopt a music style she wasn't comfortable with. "In my late teens, they wanted to make me the black Britney Spears in Cologne. Then Warner wanted me to be their girl reggae artist. But I didn't want that. My dad would say, 'Why don't you do this Britney Spears stuff now and do your own stuff later?' But there was no way. I didn't want my reputation compromised. I was always burning bridges."

With 18 Ayọ lived in Hamburg where a producer wanted her to record a commercial disc but she refuses.


London, Paris, New York : searching the world

At 21 Ayọ left Germany for London where a part of her family lived. The reason she decided to leave Hamburg was the breakup with her boyfriend. She was too proud to show how much she was hurt but a few month later wrote the song Down on your knees to express her feelings (although she herself never was on her knees in real life).[2] "It was an important period in my life - the first time I really expressed myself. I needed to leave Germany to find myself." [3] She bought herself as a parting gift a steel string guitar that she gave the name "Billy". "When I went to London, I didn't have friends but I had this guitar. It was like the guitar was talking to me. The chords gave me a sense of what I wanted to say." [4]

She stayed in London only one year, then she moved to Paris. A friend of her, a designer, asked her to play in her first fashion show in Paris. She agreed and did also the catwalk (she did modelling when she was younger, however she never liked doing it) but when people asked her if she could do more performances she decided to stay there.[2] While in Paris she recorded a demo with five tracks which was played by several local redia stations. "That's where I felt at home for the first time. I went to Paris and didn't speak the language, but I felt like this was a place for me. I was not the colored girl anymore." [4] The attention she gained gave her the opportunity to opening for neo-soul kindred spirits including Omar and Cody Chestnutt and lead to a sold-out show at the prestigious Olympia Theater. Later she divided her time between Paris and New York City.