Ayo Awosika’s New Single A Love Song To Nigeria
The rising popularity of Afrobeat is no news these days as mainstream American (and European) music industries have caught on. But more and more, artists are finding new and creative ways to reinvent and remix
The rising popularity of Afrobeat is no news these days as mainstream American (and European) music industries have caught on. But more and more, artists are finding new and creative ways to reinvent and remix the sounds from that part of the world.
Meet Ayo Awosika – singer, songwriter, and self-producer. Awosika, born to a Nigerian father and American mother, has had a long and impressive career in music. You may have seen her sharing stages with artists like Coldplay’s Chris Martin, The Chainsmokers, or Seun Kuti. More recently, she has been touring the world as a backup singer for Miley Cyrus and performing on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. But even more notable is her extraordinary music — a mix of sultry vocals reminiscent of Alice Smith laid over a variety of tunes from pop to jazz — a combination that leave fans wanting more. While her debut album, produced by Grammy Award-winning Scott Jacoby (who has worked with John Legend, Sia, and more), was released in 2015, this week Awosika drops her latest single “You are the One,” an ode to Nigeria.
Applause caught-up with the up-and-coming songstress to find out more about her eclectic past and her promising future.
How would you describe your music? What would you say is the inspiration behind it all?
I describe my music as evolving and always soulful. Regardless of how it is categorized or what genre it’s considered, I think that any music I make has soul at it’s essence. By soul, I don’t mean the genre — but more like does it feel honest and down to earth? Does it move people and make them feel something at all?
I’ve written music that is more jazzy, pop-y, or folky at times. I try to write what I feel in the moment. Over the last year or so, I’ve been trying my hand at producing my own music — working on all components from the beginning of the process to the end, programming, playing, and singing everything you hear on the track. This really gives me the freedom to play around with all kinds of sounds and textures that haven’t been present in my music before.
But recently, I’ve been incorporating more rhythmically African elements, (talking drum, etc) which you hear in my new single. It’s more Afro-pop/World music, combining edgy American pop production with African elements and beats. The chorus is in Yoruba and has a very organic feel.
The inspiration behind it is to always speak my truth, but also to uplift. Hopefully my listeners will find something in the music that they can relate to.
What was your musical journey like – how did you begin your career? How long have you been pursuing your talent?
Music has been a cornerstone in my life for as long as I can remember. I grew up taking music lessons, singing, and performing in talent shows and musicals. Even as a young kid, I always said I wanted to be a “star”… to be a famous singer! So my pursuit of music has always been constant for me. My parents are music lovers too and exposed my sister and I to a variety of artists and genres including going to all kinds of concerts growing up —that was something my parents always said yes to. One of my first musical experiences was seeing Michael Jackson perform live when I was about 7, followed by seeing The Phantom of the Opera at the Kennedy Center a few years later. So I think that these were pretty transformative moments for me as a young person wanting to pursue music and getting to see such excellence firsthand.
I started writing music at a young age as well and was ALWAYS singing! I attended several music schools for college and studied opera, jazz, vocal performance, and all contemporary music genres. I have been pursuing music my whole life, and don’t plan to stop any time soon!
What are some challenges or obstacles you’ve faced in pursuing your musical career?
Oh gosh! A big challenge early on was to really make the music I wanted without fear of what others would think. I remember being terrified of judgement and in the past that has really limited me and slowed me down.
People don’t really realize how much work it is to be an independent artist. When it’s just you and you’re working for yourself, you wear all the hats. I’ve been doing that for years and I’ve learned so much, but it can be really hard and there are real discouraging moments. On my last release, which was actually my first full length album I really learned so much — not only about the recording process, but also about how to work well with other creatives. I also figured out what works and doesn’t work in getting your music out into the world.
Honestly, there were so many things that went wrong, and that’s not usually something you’re forthcoming about with your fans because you want them to have this kind of perfect experience interacting with you and your music. But I started to realize that what I love most about my favorite artists is they are not only talented and make incredible music, but they are also just human beings who love, hurt, cry, get mad, and are honest about that. I think that’s what my fans want from me too. So that realization has given me some freedom now to be more honest about what I’m going through as a person and an artist, even if things are a little messy and not how I would like them to be. My fans at least get a glimpse of who I am and what’s going on in my life. I think that’s really the whole point.
What is your favorite thing about performing or being on stage?
It’s the best feeling and such a crazy rush! Singing and playing is such a form of expression for me, it just feels like one of the most special ways to share music with people. Regardless of the number of people in the room, or how big the stage is, it still feels so intimate and personal. There’s always this moment of anticipation right before I go out on stage, like, “what will this audience be like?” “How will they receive me?” “What kind of magic can we make together?” Because for me, a big part of performing is also the energy I get back from the audience. I love performing by myself, but I also love performing with my band. There are these transcendent moments that happen when you’re making live music with people, especially people you have a great deal of love and respect for like I do with my band. You’re creating something completely new in that moment. So I’m always grateful for the chance to share my music with people in this way. There isn’t anything like it.
You write a lot of the material for your songs – what is that creative process like?
It varies! I have hundreds of voice memos on my phone from ideas that have come to me at random times. I could be driving or out with friends or on a train – anywhere really- and if a song idea, melody, or lyric comes to me, I have to record it right away so I can revisit it later and flush it out more. It may or may not become a song right away. Sometimes I revisit ideas from a year before and it’s great because they are fresh again.
I also really enjoy writing with other people, and have been doing that more and more. But the most magical moments are what I like to call divine downloads, which happens when I sit down and a full song seems to just falls out of me all at once. Lyrics, melody, chords, everything just comes as if it was already written, and just gifted to me. Those moments are super special. I have a couple of songs like that.
You have worked with some heavy hitters in music, have you learned anything for your own musical aspirations from these experiences?
Yes, I have had the opportunity to work with a lot of incredible musicians and artists, and I know that I haven’t even scratched the surface yet. I absolutely love it! I have always loved singing harmonies and just singing with other people, so it was always a big dream to be a background singer for big artists. I’ve done a lot of that over the years and still am now, currently singing backgrounds for Miley Cyrus, which has been amazing! She’s so fun and SUPER talented. It’s been a joy to work with her.
But yes, of course I learn so much from working with seasoned artists and singers. I’m such a nerd about singing (I’m also a voice coach and teacher), and I really love making my voice blend with others to create a new sound. The voice is an instrument too. It’s really fun for me to sing with lots of different people in different contexts and genres to figure out how to align my voice with theirs. And these experiences have taken me around the world. I’m very grateful for the opportunity, and I can’t wait for more.
You describe “You’re The One”, your latest work, a love song to Nigeria. Why was it important for you to pay homage to your home-country now?
I’ve always listened to African music, growing up my parents were always playing Fela and other African artists around the house, so it was very familiar and I loved it. Although my father had been traveling back there a couple times a year for most of my life, I never went again after spending my first birthday there. But I started getting more curious as a young adult, realizing that there was something missing for me.
So I asked my dad to take me in 2014. He did and it changed everything. I was able to go back to where my father grew up and see my grandfather and grandmother’s house… go to the photo shop that my grandfather opened, walk down the same dirt road that my grandparents did so long ago. I met family in person that I had only seen photos of. It was really powerful for me. But I think the most magical part was that it felt so familiar, like I truly was coming back to a place I’d already known. On my subsequent trips back, I’ve been playing shows and collaborating with different musicians there, including a band called Bantu – they are so incredible. Getting to play with them has been a dream, and really awakened a desire to incorporate more of my roots into my music. My new single is really the overflow of my experience coming back to Nigeria as an adult, falling in love with and discovering more of it each time.
What role has your Nigerian heritage played in your music prior to “You’re The One” ?
I think the role that it’s taken previously is in the fact that I’m a musician at all. Music is such an important part of Nigerian culture, everyday life, and that’s how I was also raised even though I wasn’t raised there. Both of my parents love music so much, so I think that my love of music was just in my blood.
Outside of your music, you founded an organization that works with young Nigerian women in the areas of creativity and self-expression, what do you hope to accomplish through this organization?
I founded this organization, Naija Girl Tribe, with my friend Mary Akpa, an amazing music artist, who is also Nigerian and lives in NYC. She and I became friends in the last year and a half, and found a kinship around our love for working with youth— particularly young girls.
There are a lot of components, but our aim is to provide these young women with the additional tools and long term resources needed to foster next steps in reaching their creative and life goals; as well as to eventually match them with mentors who are successful women in their field of interest.
We went there last November to explore this more, doing several workshops at schools with girls ages 11 to 18+ and we just sat with them and listened. We did ask questions, but we mainly wanted to hear their stories and experiences: to hear about their struggles, dreams and goals so we could get a better idea of how to help.
Lastly, it’s fun to see what our favorite musicians listen to. If we checked your Spotify or phone who are the last three artists you listened to ?
Lianne La Havas
Check out Ayo Awosika’s new single, “You’re the One” available on most digital platforms.