With the release of her first chart-topping single « Down on my knees » in 2006, Ayo’s fresh and powerful melody won right away the heart of the public. Born in Germany with Nigerian origins, Joy Olasumibo Ogunmakin was musically reborn in France, gaining instant fame as Ayo. While happily combining mixed legacies, with musical influences such as Bob Marley and Donny Hathaway, Ayo was immediately spotted as a one of a kind artist in the 21st century.
Ayo spent the first two years of her life in Nigeria, while her dad was trying to connect with his own roots. She was then brought back to be raised in Germany. Her mother faced addiction problems, forcing little Ayo to foster homes for several years. Nevertheless, she mainly recalls her childhood as a happy one and doesn’t feel she’s had to bear more than her share of scars.
She wrote her first songs at the age of thirteen, while she was supposed to be studying classical composition. Her talents were spotted by pop-music producers who hired her for a short-lived girls band. She left the group and moved to Hamburg in the early 2000. In Hamburg, she recorded with her best friend the first version of « Down on My Knees », using a cupboard as a sound studio… While recording, she tells her friend that some day, this song will be the first single of her album. In 2006 the prophecy came true, with the release of “Joyful”. Her first twelve track collection hit sales of more than 400.000 copies: amazing sales figures for an album wrapped up in only five days.
Ayo chose the Compass Point Studios in Nassau, Bahamas, to record her second album, “Gravity at Last”. Just as with the first album, she coproduced it with Jay Newland, with Larry Campbell playing guitar and Lucky Peterson playing keyboards. She says, ‘I went from light blue to dark blue. Jean-Philippe, who had signed me and has always believed in me, called me while I was traveling in the United States and said that the album had been number one of the sales from day one, even though a major French artist was launching his own album at that very same period. I was sitting in my hotel room watching my favorite movie, Forrest Gump, and burst out crying!’
Fame and recognition had been knocking at Ayo’s door and she certainly wasn’t one not to make the most of it. She didn’t buy a brand new Mercedes Benz. She became a Unicef ambassador.
For her long-awaited third album, Ayo took advantage of several months of touring to start writing on the road. But one day on a trip from Paris to Los Angeles, an ectopic pregnancy threatened her life. As she recovered, she felt quite fragile and considered retiring from the music business. She went back to Berlin, bought a piano there. ‘And then I went off for a two month holiday in Jamaica. When I came back, I was pregnant!’ Along with this good news, inspiration kicked back in, with a new CD to be named after her daughter, Billie-Eve. This album is more complex and richer than the first two, featuring powerfully emotional music highlighted by the talents of a few prestigious guests.
‘I had set my mind on recording in New York, and we had a choice between two studios, Avatar and Sear Sounds. I chose the latter, which is more comfortable and full of good vibes. I wanted a tight little team around me, for a back-to-the-roots feeling. I produced the songs myself, and invited in David Bowie’s bass player Gail-Ann Dorsey, Lenny Kravitz’s guitar player Craig Ross, and Flemming Lauritsen on drums, an old-school drummer with pretty much of a Band of the Gypsies sound. The recording in New York took five days, just like with my first two albums. Then I spent an additional four days in a Paris studio with two of my tour musicians to record four more tracks, among which “It hurts” and “Real Love”, with M on guitar.’
The album delivers varied musical styles, ranging from reggae to psychedelic rock through blues and the deepest kind of soul, all supported by the most powerful and intense lyrics she has ever written. Each track deals with deeply rooted emotions in a very open-hearted way. “Julia”, the true and heartbreaking story of a little girl suffering from a cancer that can’t be cured, is the emotional peak of an album traveling gracefully through a very wide array of human feelings. Poet Saul Williams, the only vocal guest, adds a very personal spoken word touch to the track “Believe”, with Ayo playing electric guitar. Whether she covers the Jackson Five’s “I want you back” or chants the feminine beauty in “I’m gonna dance”’, Ayo has a mesmerizing and unique way of enchanting words and setting them into tailor-made musical jewel-cases. Soul and magic. She says,
‘Each of us has a good reason to be on Earth, I believe that all is written. I was lucky enough to live my dream and to meet people who could help me do so. I may get misunderstood when I say that, but I always knew I was born to be an artist.’
The title “Billie-Eve” is a play on the word “Believe” and is also the name of her daughter. This new album conveys the earnest dancing grace of a musician whose main credo is constant evolution. Ayo explains, ‘This third album is more straight to the point, drier in a way, more simple. It has this rock feeling to it because of the electric guitars. As opposed to my previous two albums, I played very little acoustic guitar on this one. I know they often say that your first album is and will be the most important of all. To me it’s this one… Billie-Eve opened up new doors for me, I produced it myself, and am very proud of it.’
Far from any kind of trendy dictate, free from any featuring showbiz or diva attitude, Ayo stands out as a universal artist, an utterly sincere singer with a genuine heart.