2008.05.01 New York (press release)

French Institute Alliance Française presents Ayọ (press release)

French Institute Alliance Française
In Concert
Thursday, May 1 at 8pm
As part of
World Nomads
An Annual Series Exploring Transculturalism
May 2008 at the French Institute Alliance Française
Inaugural Series, Focusing on Africa, To Be Presented in Collaboration with
PEN World Voices, African Film Festival, Inc. and Trace
To open its inaugural World Nomads series, FIAF presents the well-traveled, satin strains of soul singer
Ay ọ , performing selections from her double platinum-selling (France) album, Joyful. Born in Germany to a
Nigerian father and a Roma mother, and ever keeping Paris as her spiritual home, Ay ọ ’s pedigree seeps
deep into bittersweet songs built from the world. Liquid organ riffs, acoustic guitars, and bongos punctuate
mellifluous vocals that float with ease over deep reggae beats, evoke the stages of the Elysée-Montmartre
in one moment, and the streets of Lagos in the next.
"Her voice is airily soulful … and she works against an acoustic backdrop that feels both
effortless and focused"—Nate Chinen, The New York Times
Tickets: $25; $20 Students with ID and FIAF Members
fiaf.org | 212 307 4100
Venue: FIAF - Florence Gould Hall; 55 East 59th Street
Info: fiaf.org | 212 355 6100
About Ayọ
“Everything I sing about is from my life,” explains 26-yr-old acoustic soul songstress Ayọ , “and I am always
writing. These stories are timeless because they are my life stories and my story continues each day-it has
not stopped.” Ayọ (pronounced EYE-OH) has enchanted fans worldwide with her honest, mostly
autobiographical songs, filled with emotions and events that have shaped her life, making her experiences
both universal and personal. Her willingness to sing from the heart has earned her many press accolades.
The London Mail on Sunday called Ayọ "a distinctive character…her candidness is an unstoppable
force." Ayọ frames these songs in soulful, reggae-flavored soul, R&B and folk rhythm. A gifted songwriter,
Ay ọ is also a skilled, self-taught musician who is adept at creating the sounds that frame her words, playing
guitar and piano.
The name of Ayọ ’s intoxicating, stirring Interscope Records debut is JOYFUL. The title is apt, since Ay ọ ’s
delicately determined songs speak to life’s joys and some of its disappointments- all presented with honesty
and grace. “My name is Yoruba for “joy,” a nickname my father gave me when I was young,” comments the
German-born beauty. “And my friends today always call me joyful. Even though you’ve gone through the
hardest time, it is important to remember how to enjoy life and find laughter. You can’t lose track of what
motivates you and keeps you going. You have to persevere even if sometimes you cry inside. Joyful is the
best way to describe myself.” These emotions emanate from Ay ọ ’s enchanting vocals throughout JOYFUL,
leading L’Express Magazine in France to recently write, “a deep, angelic voice. Sade meets Billie
Holiday." Those stunning vocals also inspired the Italian newspaper, Il Venerdi to exclaim, "Ayọ . Smooth
like Sade. Brilliant."
JOYFUL’s first single speaks to the times when you have to cry. Anchored with folk/reggae rhythms (Ay ọ
cites Bob Marley and fellow Wailer Bunny Wailer as inspirations). “Down On My Knees” is lovelorn, languid
and an almost naked plea to the one that walked away. This was the first song Ay ọ wrote upon her
departure from her home in Hamburg as she headed to London to forge her new music career, leaving
behind an experience that colored the song. As to the song’s passion, Ay ọ says, “I’m fine if people want to
listen to the songs and interpret something else that may be hidden between the lines. It’s one of those
songs that I think strikes a chord.”
A bit more up-tempo and down to earth is “Life Is Real.” With congas peppered throughout the undulating
groove, gospel keyboards and Ay ọ ’s jazzy vocals delivering lyrics like “some people say I’m too open, They
say it’s not good them know everything about me,” “Life Is Real” is an anthem to being true to yourself.
On “Help Is Coming,” Ayọ digs even deeper. With her vocals focused and straight ahead, and riding a
raga flavored mid tempo track, the message in “Help Is Coming” is to believe in oneself. “Help Is Coming”
is meant for all the people who struggle and are even sometimes blamed for their troubles. This is my way
of telling them to believe, in the face of all obstacles, because that’s the way to keep going. I know this
because I believe in the universe’ spiritual force. This song was inspired by my mother and is about how
change will only come when you truly believe it can happen and help.”
Ayọ has a good reason for those beliefs; despite a sometimes tumultuous life she found a way to rise above
and carry on. Many of the songs on JOYFUL were written as a form of therapy. Writing these songs was
the best way for me to make sense of what happened during my childhood,” says Ayọ . “Today I hope
people can see themselves inside of my music and find it as medicinal as it has been for me.”
On Ayọ ’s Caribbean-flavored version of the Abbey Lincoln song “And It’s Supposed to Be Love” (the one
cover song on the CD), Ay ọ elaborates further on how the including this song was a good way of summing
up the sentiment on her album. “I always liked the way Abbey’s song felt-there was an upbeat swing to it
but the lyrics were not happy. And that is a good description of my record. If you read the lyrics first, you
might feel sadness about some of the experiences, but when you hear the melodies, which are joyful and
optimistic, and it is a great way to get to know me better.”
To understand Ay ọ ’s music better, one must know where she came from. Ayọ was born near Cologne,
Germany, the daughter of a Nigerian father and a Roma mother. The mixture of backgrounds impacted Ay ọ
early. “I’m somewhat bohemian by nature, and prefer a nomadic lifestyle. To me, not having a home is
Turmoil came when Ayọ was just a toddler. After traveling to Nigeria to visit her father’s family, her
grandmother, as is the custom, wanted to keep the little girl there. Ay ọ ’s father bucked ancient traditions
and brought his daughter back to Germany. The schism between her family hit Ay ọ hard and was so
significant that to this day—owing to her father’s fear of losing her—Ay ọ has never returned to Nigeria.
Even so, she holds the country deep in her heart and senses its influence on her spirituality and music.
“Nigeria is in me, even in ways I can’t explain.”
The tender track, “Without You” is a testament to her father’s unwavering love and determination to keep
them together. “This song was written for my father,” explains Ay ọ . “When you listen to the song it is
exactly what I was trying to say for years. It was the first time I could say that I was aware of everything he
had done for me and my family and explains where I am from and the reason for who I am today.”
Ay ọ was hit by another family crisis when she was six. Her mother developed a drug habit, forcing Ay ọ to
live with her father (who was a part time DJ), an older a sister and two older brothers. Despite the troubles,
Ay ọ never severed ties to her mother who Ay ọ describes as ”strong, despite all her shortcomings.”
Looking for shelter from the storm, Ay ọ began soaking up her dad’s record collection. The young girl fell
under the spell of everything from Pink Floyd, Nigerian legends King Sunny Ade and the late Fela Kuti and
Bob Marley. The vintage soul and R&B of the 50s and 60s that she loved so much would later inform her
own compositions-she describes her sound now as ”soulreggafrofolk,” combining her love for that vintage
soul, reggae, funk and folk music.
Music became more than something she listened to, and by the time she was a pre teen, Ay ọ began to play
the violin and piano, and eventually taught herself the guitar, an instrument she was drawn to because it
was “more direct and aggressive in the best possible way.” Ay ọ ’s own unique rhythmic guitar skills are the
result of a kinship she forged with the instrument. “It is an extension of me, a way for me to communicate
with the outside world. I even have my own term for how I play-guitarology,” she says with a soft laugh.
After finishing school, Ay ọ moved to London with some of her dad’s family. She was 21 and needed to find
and express herself and knew that staying in Germany would impede her journey. Yet once she moved to
London wanderlust took over. “Moving around the world has allowed me to develop into who I am. I’ll never
be happy being sedentary, I’m too spontaneous and I know that I will always be able to start from scratch
wherever I end up.”
Following London, Ay ọ spent some time in New York City recording, and in 2004 went to Paris, where the
French-creative community embraced her. Accompanying herself on guitar, Ay ọ gigged often, opening up
for UK soul man Omar and American rock/soul singer Cody Chestnutt. She continued to play and record,
eventually ending up with an EP that made its way to numerous insiders and eventually was signed to
Polydor France and Universal records for the world. Despite signing a record deal, Ay ọ was dissatisfied
with the state of affairs in the music scene in Paris. However, in 2005, Ay ọ ’s life changed dramatically and
gave her cause to rethink her path. She became pregnant and later gave birth to a baby boy who she
named Nile.
During her pregnancy, Ay ọ sent an impassioned email to the head of Polydor France, Jean-Philippe Allard,
one of the legendary music figureheads in Europe, expressing her distress in the music business and how
she would rather give up her music and be a mother at that point in her life. Jean-Philippe Allard responded
immediately with words of support, giving Ay ọ the spark she needed to recharge and return to the studio.
Coupled with the birth of her son in 2006, Ay ọ felt invigorated. “Having my son opened me up to so many
possibilities. For a long time I saw music as a sort of therapy; a way of speaking to others, but now I also
have my son to confide in.”
After taking some time to be with her son, Ay ọ went back into the studio in 2006, and driven by a new surge
of creativity, she assembled a live band and completed and recorded JOYFUL in a scant 5 days. “I gave
birth to my son, and then, when he was two months old, I went into the studio and gave birth to my album.
His Yoruba name is Abiola, which means luck—and he has brought me a lot of luck,” explains Ayọ . “I wrote
“Never Been” for my son (the only song she wrote on piano) —he song is about the force he gave me to
accomplish what I needed to and is a strong reason why this record got finished. I had begun this album
before he was born, but after his birth, I returned to NYC and my intuition said the timing and vibe were
Ayọ ’s debut CD JOYFUL on Interscope Records was released in the United States in November 2007.
Vibe Magazine praised JOYFUL a “a gorgeous collection of billowy ballads.” PBS aired her 90-minute
concert special, Ay ọ Live In Monte Carlo, on affiliates nationwide during its pledge week in December
Ayọ ’s official website
Ayọ ’s MySpace page
Ayọ ’s YouTube video