Biography


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

See also her biography from the FIAF 'World Nomades' press release


The family : what counts

Ayọ was born on 14. September 1980 (Chart: Sun in 21°44 Virgo, Moon in 16°17 Scorpio, Chinese Astrology: Metal Monkey, Numerology: Birthpath 5 [5]) as Joy Olasunmibo Ogunmakin in Frechen near Cologne, Germany to a Nigerian father from Ando State and a Romani mother from Romania. She is the youngest of four siblings, having the two older brothers Sascha and Dennis and one sister Eileen (Yinka). Her father is a mechanical engineer who came in the 1970s to Germany to study. He was mainly bringing up the children alone as Ayọs mother was becoming addicted to heroin when Ayọ was about five years old and also spent some time in jail. Ayọ never lost contact with her mother and described her as “a strong woman, despite all her shortcomings”. After her parents divorced she and her siblings spent periods in care and in foster homes where on one occassion her father kidnapped her back. [1] Ayọ is the niece of the late Richard Ogunmakin whom she dedicated her DVD Ayọ Live at the Olympia. Her mother lives now in Düssseldorf while Ayọ sold her flat in New York and stays in Paris.

While the name Joy Olasunmibo Ogunmakin is written in her German passport, her father and relatives in Nigeria used to call her Ayọ. Written this way (with a dot under or at least behind the o) it means 'joy' or 'joyful' in Yoruba (and indeed her parents mentioned that she never cried as a baby). The word Ayo without a dot is the name of a board game. Her second name Olasunmibo means "the one who has been born elsewhere but who will return full of prosperity". Ayọ explains: “In Nigeria it is said that the name which was given to you will guide you in every step of your life and you will become in your life what is expressed by your name". [6]

Ayọ's partner is Baba-Tunde (his parents gave him this name. which means in Yoruba "return of the father", because he was born on the same day his grandfather died), the German born reggae artist Patrice (they are not yet married, although it has been reported otherwise [7]), with whom she has a son, Nile Nesta Abiola, who was born in late 2005 about two months before she recorded her first album Joyful. On 27. July 2010 their daughter Billie-Eve [10] was born. Each of them follow their own musical career and Ayọ said in December 2011 in an interview: "Hmm, I don’t think so. We separate a lot of things, including music, and now we separate things more than ever before, so it is unlikely that we [will] record together." [11]


Early years : on two continents

Ayọ grew up in Frechen near Cologne. As toddler she was taken by her mother on women's rights marches. When Ayọ went back to visit her family in Nigeria as a very small child her paternal grandmother hid her because she wanted to keep her there in accordance with Nigerian traditions. But her father refused to follow this custom because he was worried about the political situation in Nigeria and took her, after living in Nigerria for more than a year, back to Europe. For that reason Ayọ never went back to Nigeria as a child. [8]

After her parents divorced when she was seven, her father battled for years with the German social services to regain back custody after he was declared unfit to raise his children as single parent. Ayọ recalls her biracial childhood in Germany: "Sometimes I lived in little villages with my Dad because we had to move with him, and there were all these old people looking at (me) like (I was) a monkey," [4]


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. A record contract was ready for her to sign and she was sent to England where a producer wanted her to record Stop That Train from Bob Marley. But Ayọ hated it and refused to become the next 'German Reggae Sensation' despite the fact that her manager has lent her some money in anticipation of her forecoming contract. [9]


London, Paris, New York : searching the world

At 19 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. Her best friend, a designer from Hamburg who has fled from Eritrea, 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] She played first in bars, than in bigger concert halls, in television shows and got very positive press coverage in the largest french culture magazine. While in Paris she recorded a demo with five tracks which was played by several local radio 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. After a big record label became aware of her she signed a license agreement with a friend who represented her. However, this arangement came to an end after he started to try to influence her song lyrics. She also became pregnant at that time and so the label contract nearly never happened. Ayọ solved the difficult situation by writing directly to the head of the record company who supported her fully. She signed the contract with the label and he became a good friend, even a father figure for the singer. [9]
Later she divided her time between Paris and New York City.


2008/2009

If she is not traveling around the world, Ayọ lives now full time in New York with Patrice and Nile but has also a flat in Paris. If she returns to Germany she comes back to Kerpen-Brüggen a small village near Cologne. There Patrice was born and has a house and Nile goes to the Kindergarten. Their plan is to build their own house in Jamaika. [9]


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