Ayọ made a splash on the musical scene with her first album ‘Joyful’ in 2006. She created a new standard for singer-songwriters with her perfect balance of folk, soul, reggae and pop. The German-Nigerian beauty is coming back to Brussels to present her fourth album ‘Ticket to the world’ on which she raps for the very first time. “Rap is a great way to talk about what’s going on in the world right now.”
‘Ayọ’s a warrior… although that’s hard to believe when you see her, so beautiful and frail with her guitar slung across her shoulder.’ These are the first words of the press release about her new album Ticket to the world but it’s not just promo blah-blah, as you will find out during this interview. Ayọ’s musical world is a delicate and acoustic mix of soul, pop, folk and reggae. “It’s all part of my musical background, everything I’ve been raised with,” says Joy Olasunmibo Ogunmakin, better know as Ayọ (with dot under the o), the Yoruba translation of her first name Joy. Ayọ was born near Cologne, Germany as the fourth child of a Nigerian father and a Romani mother from Romania, but it’s definitely her father had the biggest influenced her musical taste. “He played a lot of music. I call it good music. (laughs) Very versatile. I am a cosmopolitan, so logically my sound also is cosmopolitan. Everything I am is in the music.”
What is new compared to your former work?
Ayọ: I’ve never rapped on an album before. What people don’t know about me, it that I used to rap before I started singing. I didn’t play the guitar back then. I used to sing in the shower or in front of the mirror, but never in public. Rapping in front of an audience was easier. On this record I’m going back to my roots a bit as there’s a touch of hip-hop, even though it’s my interpretation of it, just like the rest of my music is my interpretation of reggae and soul.
What brings you back to rap?
Rap is a great tool, a way to talk about what’s going on in the world right now. I wanted to talk about more global, less personal things. Things that are important to me but also for the people. As a rapper, you can become the voice of the people.
The first single ‘Fire’ is a big hip-hop tune with the French-Congolese rapper Youssoupha. A protest against the fact that politicians don’t really care about the streets?
Exactly. I believe that politics is today’s cinema. It’s like an entertainment, like a hollywood movie. They make a lot of promises, but in the end it’s just a movie, they don’t keep their promises. Look around you, what’s going on with the youth. We’re moving in the wrong direction… My mother was a junkie, but I think I had a beautiful childhood. A child today has harder times than growing up in the eighties. Things have changed so much. Todays, kids want to be accepted and that’s only possible by wearing Nike, Puma, things that make them come across cool. If you don’t have it, you’re not accepted.
There’s too much fake things. Everything that is fake and not important, has a huge platform. Things that have a deeper meaning or really are important, are not heard. Look at what’s happening to music. I think music is a spiritual thing. People go to the club to make them feel better. It gives them a break, away of trouble, even if it’s for just a few minutes. It’s a powerful thing. Music is a way to educate people, but the same way you can miseducate them. That’s what’s happening with the music industry. The world is full of plastic things. Look at water. It used to be in glass bottles, now everything is in plastic. So is the music. Even the fashion world, it’s not about quality anymore, it’s about quantity.
Luckily there are artist who have something interesting to say, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Tom Waits, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Marley… They talk about real things. They can make people dream and inspire them.
That’s what you want to do, inspire people?
That’s what I’d love to do. I became and sill am musician as to me it’s a healing thing. It’s my therapy, it helps me become a better person, forget my past and move on. When I listen to music in general, it’s healing. I believe in the power of music to heal the soul.
You’ve been quoted says music as a weapon to fight injustice. Am I hearing Fela Kuti speak?
(laughs) Yes, Fela is another person who really inspired me. He is Africa’s Bob Marley. He had something to say, that’s why he played music. Party music, but his lyrics are very deep and powerful, also when he sings in Yoruba. He was very political, in the right way, but also very human: down to earth, talking to the people and not afraid to say the truth. The one thing I’ve promised to myself as an artist is to always be honest to myself. To do something honest and pure, it definitely is a weapon, the only weapon that won’t hurt you.
To escape from reality, people start drinking, taking crack or heroin, but music can do that too. It makes you travel and forget about things, but it won’t do any harm to your body. It will inspire you in the right way, that’s an important message for the youth. You can compare it to sports: my son is passionate about skating and I’m really happy about that as it’s going to keep him out of trouble. Kids should be encouraged to play music, to learn an instrument. It will keep them focused, they can put their energy in something positive instead of hanging on the streets and start smoking cigarettes.
Back to ‘Fire’. That’s a really cool hip-hop tune, I thought I was listening to Lauryn Hill!
Woow, to me it’s a great compliment. I love Lauryn Hill, I appreciate her so much as an artist. I was thirteen years old when I was listening to The Fugees, Wyclef, Lauryn Hill, Pras.
Is that your daughter I’m hearing in the background?
Yeah, she’s very funny. Sometimes out of the blue she says things. She came talking to me but she knows I can’t talk to her as I’m on the phone. And now she looks at me because she knows I’m talking about her. (laughs)
There’s quite a lot of love songs on the album. Like ‘Justice’…
(Ayọ interrupts) It’s not a love song, it’s really about the injustice in the world. But in a way, it’s also about love, about beautiful things in life despite all the trouble in the world. We look for love, express ourselves, want to receive love, be heard and share something with somebody.
‘Justice’ is a duet with Citizen Cope, who is also your support act in Brussels. Who is he?
Clarence (Greenwood) is an incredible artist, one of the greatest singer-songwriters I know. I hope people will come early to the show in Brussels, as I’d almost say the best part is the opening act. (laughs) If people don’t know him, it’s gonna be the nicest discovery of the year. They can start the new year with a new artist.
Your Christmas present for the people in Brussels?
Exactly (laughs). He is also a friend of mine, I’m happy really he’s gonna be there.
It’s country-folk. The combination of your worlds?
I asked him to write the song as I wanted to have his color on the album. Our universe is alike, but we’re very different in style. But I do love country music and folk. This song makes you feel good. When we play it live, it make us happy!
Title track ‘Ticket to the world’ has some strong committed lyrics. About what you would do if you’d be in charge of the world? Like a Robin Hood, you’d take money from the rich and give it to the poor.
Yes (laughs out loud). When I say the rich, I’m not talking about soccer players. I’m talking about the really rich/
Exactly. my aunt died a few months ago. I tried to get her over to France for a treatment, but she couldn’t come because of visa problems and passed away because of an illness that can be cured in France. I realized how crazy this world is. In 2013, it should not be like that anymore! Ticket to the world is being born with he good passport to be able to see the world and travel, born free while others are born prisoners. It’s just not fair! A friend of mine told me how he managed to come to France, I just couldn’t believe it. That’s when you realize the luxury of being born with right passport. You can be poor but you can work your way up or go to the Philippines, the UK or the US for work. Only if you are born with the right passport.
Interview // (c) Benjamin Tollet, Agenda Magazine
The shorter, original version of this interview was published in Agenda Magazine. You can read it here: http://www.agendamagazine.be/en/blog/ayos-ticket-world
CD-release concert on 4/12 at Ancienne Belgique, Brussels