One of the exciting things about our job here at Ladybrille is to be a part of an artist, designer etc.’s career in its early stages and years down the road, see them flourish and make it in the way they hoped to. Ayo is one such person. Since her exclusive USA debut on our platform in October 2007, Ayo has shot a campaign for Banana Republic, conducted a USA media tour and overall is now a recognizable face/name in the States. We are particularly thrilled with her new hit single ‘I’m Gonna Dance’ that shows she continues to celebrate life, despite the challenges thrown her way. Read her exclusive USA debut with Ladybrille below and check out her latest music video.
Ayo [which means Joy] Olasunmibo Ogunmakin is real, very real. Her music cuts deep into the soul massaging it with her soothing voice and powerful lyrics to release honesty, cleansing, healing, happiness, relaxation and hope. Born in Cologne Germany to a Nigerian father and a gypsy Romanian mother, Ayo learnt quite early how cruel life could be. As a toddler, she visited Nigeria and her battle started when her paternal grandmother insisted, pursuant to tradition, that she remain in Nigeria. Her father went against tradition by taking his daughter back to Germany.
In Germany, Ayo later wrestled identity/cultural issues of being African and European. In the midst of sorting out her identity, Ayo’s mom developed a heroin habit which saw her in and out of Germany’s prison system. Needless to say, this had a devastating impact on Ayo. Ayo, through music, chose to acknowlegde the cards life had dealt her but stay positive. Today, unlike most, especially celebrities who give the façade of perfection, Ayo is real; choosing to share her life experiences through music by keeping it as real as real gets both on a personal and universal level.
Recently signed with Jimmy Lovine’s Interscope record label in the USA, the label behind Fergie, 50Cents, Eminem, Black eyed Peas, Robin Thicke, Pharell Williams, Timbaland, Daddy Yankee, U2, Dr. Dre, Sheryl Crow, Mary J. Blige, Gwen Stefani, among many popular artists, Ayo prepares, on November 20th 2007, to take the USA by storm. LADYBRILLE.com is indeed honored to be the platform for this exclusive and indepth interview to the USA fans, which we conducted via phone and IM, as Ayo opens up about everything including her music, family and life. We present to you, AYO!
LADYBRILLE.com: Ayo, I listened to your album and I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE all 12 tracks! I am now a FAN because it resonates with me and I am sure will resonate with millions in the USA, come [N]ovember, as it already is around the globe.
LADYBRILLE.com: I want to start off talking about four popular tracks on your album but before we do, how would you describe your music and what is the message you want it to convey to your fans?
Ayo: I came up with a name for my music because it is so mixed just like I am.I call it Soregafrofolk. I put together the word from soul-reggae-afro-folk. My music is very personal and very healing to me. For me, it is like a self therapy and hopefully it will be the same for other people. I would never compare myself to any other artists because usually artists do not like that. [Smiles] But, if people want to compare it maybe the closest it gets would be Tracy Chapman because she is a storyteller that goes under the surface and I feel I do to.
LADYBRILLE.com: Speaking of self therapy, your album is all about keeping it very real. Let’s talk about track #10 “Life is Real.” What strikes me is how you sing about not hiding things and keeping it real. Most of us have been programmed from a very early age to be emotionally dishonest and repress our feelings. How is it that you feel so comfortable breaking the walls of silence?
Ayo: When I was a child, I had to tell lies in order to protect my mother and my family.I had to hide basically everything in my life that was real. It took me a long time before I could open up and talk about it, actually I sang about it first…like I said self therapy.I believe that we all need to express our true feelings someday, somehow otherwise we are going to loose ourselves or we may never find out who we really are!
LADYBRILLE.com:Very true. But, did you get actual therapy to allow you to begin talking about your pain, especially since you were raised by a Nigerian father? I find that Nigeria and African [culture in general] do not encourage being as open with your feelings. How does your father feel about you expressing yourself?
Ayo: I never got professional therapy except once when I used to be a bed-wetter. [Smiles].
Ayo: [she continues]When I was a teenager and started playing music my father was the one telling me not to talk about my mother and her sickness because people could use it against me. In the beginning, I followed his advice but then I couldn’t anymore because I couldn’t pretend anymore and I had a strong need to talk about it so I wouldn’t be embarrassed about where I’m from.
“Down on My Knees”
LADYBRILLE.com: I will come back to that. [B]ut, let me ask you this, Track #1 “Down on my Knees.” Now that is a heart wrenching track. I think that track strikes a chord with your many fans in Europe and I know it will here [USA]; because most of us have been in situations where we are begging a parent, spouse, sibling, lover and/or friend not to leave us, not only from a relationship angle but also death/loss. What was the inspiration behind “Down on My Knees” and have you been able to get past begging that someone not to leave you?
Ayo: The thing with Down on my knees is that I never been down on my knees because I was too proud to really tell how I really felt back then. I was just acting cool and not hurt at all and after, I wrote this song to express my true feelings. This song was actually the beginning of me telling the truth and the beginning of this whole journey because right after, I left Germany to go to London.
LADYBRILLE.com: Who are you [down on your knees] begging? Your mother or lover?
Ayo:It was a lover…I was young. [Smiles]
LADYBRILLE:[Smiles] Got it! [M]ost of us can relate to that on some level. [laughs]
Ayo: But, he never left me for another girl. She could be anyone.
LADYBRILLE.com: If he never left you, why sing down on my knees?
Ayo: He did leave me, just not for another girl. This girl that I’m singing about could be a sister, mother, cousin, or anybody.
LADYBRILLE.com: Got it. Why did you move from Germany to London?
Ayo:Because I was tired of Germany at the time and I didn’t feel I could fully unfold myself and express my true feelings…
Help is Coming
LADYBRILLE.com: Let me switch your attention to a different track. I like that you do not do pity parties. “Help is Coming” track #8 is a real cool, funky and upbeat positive track. But, when I heard about the addiction your mother had with heroin I could not help but truly feel for you. As part of my job, I get a chance, almost on a daily basis, to work in the criminal realm with adults and juveniles.
Some of the cases I have had to litigate involve adults with drug issues that were very hard to break. Their children see their parents go in and out of rehab and prisons and it has a huge psychological and emotional effect on these children. Typically, it takes social workers, mental health officials, among many professionals, to get these children to begin releasing the emotional grief and talking about the emotional wounds they experience because of their parents’ dramas. Where did “help [c]ome” for you so that you are now at a place where you can comfortably discuss your mom’s heroin addiction?
Ayo:I believe that this was first of all God, and then my father and then of course the music that helped me to open up. It had me work things out on my own and through the music. I had to go for 2 years to visit my mother in prison, and see her in and out rehab. But what was even harder and the hardest for all the kids that experience similar things are the lies and the empty promises that you can’t even trust your own mother.
LADYBRILLE.com:How was that experience of visiting your mom in the prison and how is your mom’s situation now?
Ayo: My mom is still addicted to heroin after 22 years. I was 11 when I visited my mom in prison. In the beginning, I was happy that she went there because then we knew at least where she was. But then it was painful to have to leave her behind after all the visits. I always wanted to stay there with her. At that time, we wrote each other a lot of letters, and I used to draw her paintings so she could keep it and keep it in her room.
LADYBRILLE.com: That is so tough. So basically you have now learned to cope with it.
Ayo:Yes. I have learned how to deal with separation because of that time. And at that time we were all separated. My father was alone fighting to get us back from foster house and my mother was in prison.
LADYBRILLE.com:How did the family get back together? How did you deal with separation?
Ayo: Foster house after foster house, foster family and then foster house again, I turned 14 and escaped from the foster house for the first time in almost 4 years; and that is when we could stay home because they said we were old enough when I got home! I deal with separation because I always felt close to my parents even if I was not actually with them and thank God that I had my [bi]g brother and sister with me.
LADYBRILLE.com: Phew! Beautiful woman, you are so strong!
LADYBRILLE.com: Let me transition to a different track. One of the things that you do is give tribute to the parent who stayed to love you, track #2 “Without You.” Most children who are raised in single parent homes spend years and sometimes their whole life chasing after the love of the absent parent. You instead pay tribute to the one that was present. That is HUGE on the emotional maturity that you display. How did you develop such maturity?
Ayo:It was not difficult to develop because it was always clear. My father was there, always! When you are a teenager you are not always easy [smiles] but fortunately my father is VERY patient.
LADYBRILLE.com:Ayo, you have said, “even though you’ve gone through the hardest time, it’s important to remember how to enjoy life.” Share with us how you have been able to enjoy life?
Ayo: It is easy to enjoy life if you remember where you were yesterday. It even makes you laugh at things because when bad things happen you have been through so much so it is almost not important. Just to be alive is a blessing.
strong>LADYBRILLE.com: [Blessings hmmm . . . ], I understand you are blessed with a beautiful son, Nile, with your husband who is also a talented artist Patrice Bart-Williams. How easy was it for you to open up to be loved? How old is Nile now?
Ayo:We have known each other for a long time and one thing that is not difficult for me is to love and open up to be loved. We are very happy very proud of our 2 year old son! I think it is normal because even after a hard childhood, or a hard time in life we all want to be loved at the end of the day.
LADYBRILLE.com:True. Congratulations sistah. Your insights are so deep! Let’s switch to a much, much lighter note! [laughs] Let’s talk about your album launch.
LADYBRILLE.com: Your album has gone platinum in France and Poland and gold in Italy. How successful do you anticipate you will be in the USA?
Ayo: . . . double platinum [Smiles]
LADYBRILLE.com: Confidence, great!
Ayo:I have no expectations. All I’m hoping for is that there will be people listening to my music and it will help them just as it helped me!
LADYBRILLE.com:You have been dividing your time in New York, Paris and London. What projects are you working on in Paris and London?
Ayo:Same as everywhere, my first record, but in France I play a lot new songs because the record has been out there for a while now.
LADYBRILLE.com:You speak what 4 langauges? What are they?
Ayo:German, English, French and still working on my Yoruba!
LADYBRILLE.com:[Laughs ] [Y]oruba?
LADYBRILLE.com:You will have to teach us some Yoruba words before we are done!
Ayo: I would love to!
LADYBRILLE.com:You are signed to Interscope records, how did that come about?
Ayo:I met Jimmy Lovine at a restaurant in Paris, he asked me to play a song, I did it and he decided to work my record! Jimmy requested at my French record label, Universal, that we should meet, and after, we met at the restaurant!
LADYBRILLE.com:That is a miracle how that happened because Jimmy has worked with the best [a]rtists. Any American artist you would like to work with? What about African?
Ayo:I would LOVE to work with 2 Face Idibia and with MOS DEF
LADYBRILLE.com:That would be an awesome collabo!
LADYBRILLE.com:Speaking of 2 Face, Nigeria, in particular, has been expanding its musical wings. Any planned performances there or any of the African countries in the nearest future?
Ayo:Yes. We are planning an African tour, not decided yet when. But I would love to as soon as possible!
LADYBRILLE.com:I understand you visited Nigeria last year. That must have been HUGE for you! What was that like?
Ayo:It was emotionally my highest experience because I saw my father become a child again in the arms of my grandmother, beautiful!
LADYBRILLE.com:[Smiling] Is that where you picked up some Yoruba words to share with us, besides the curse words [laughed]. I noticed the pidgin in “Life is real” “Me I be Ayo”. [I am Ayo].
Ayo:Yes, that is where I picked up Yoruba [smiles]. I like Pidgin English because it is very melodic!
LADYBRILLE.com:Teach us one or two words.
Ayo:Waitin na de [smiles]
LADYBRILLE.com:[laughs] do you mean wetin dey happen? [What’s happening?]
LADYBRILLE.com:[laughs] [N]othing o! Body dey inside cloth. I dey full ground! [laughs]
LADYBRILLE.com:Do you know “Kilonshele?” A Yoruba word?
LADYBRILLE.com:It means “What’s up?” Are you online now?
Ayo: [gets on line] Yes.
LADYBRILLE.com:Check out You Tube and type in JJC & 419. They have this song called “Kilonshele. ”
Ayo:[Follows cue] Interesting. . . I think I heard it at the wedding I went to.
LADYBRILLE.com:What about “nothing spoil?”
Ayo:What does that mean?
LADYBRILLE.com:It is Pidgin. It means everything is cool/okay.
Ayo: I like that! I will note that down.
Ayo:[Jokes that her Yoruba sounds more like Japanese but continues by giving us some Yoruba words]
Ayo:Se alafia ni [Is everything fine/okay]
LADYBRILLE.com:Aaaaaaaah! Alafia ni [mo] wa o! [Be] ni mo dupe. [All is well. I am grateful.]
Ayo:Bawoni? [How are you doing?] Mo se onje to dara [I make food that’s good].
LADYBRILLE.com:[laughs] Bawoni! Onje ti o se [the food you cooked], let’s talk about it. I heard you can throw down with some wonderful Nigerian delicacies like egusi, fufu, jellof rice. How come?
Ayo:Well, that’s my aunt and my dad showing me.
LADYBRILLE.com: [laughs] I’ll have to come over so you can throw down for me. [laughs]
Ayo: [laughs] Sure. My husband is actually the better cook.
LADYBRILLE.com:I noticed that you have some African outfits in your “Life is Real” video which you shot in Nigeria. I also noticed your cute little Yoruba komole [get down] shakara [sort of fancy] dance. [laughs] Thank you for representing African fashion. What designers are you wearing?
Ayo: [Smiles] the “shakara dance,” I love to dance!
LADYBRILLE.com:[laughs] Yes. Shakara dance sisi [young lady]!
Ayo: [laughs] If I couldn’t sing I would dance! The [dresses] I’m wearing I designed them myself and then I’m wearing my own everyday-clothes of small French designers.
LADYBRILLE.com: Ah! YOU ARE A DESIGNER? We love you!
LADYBRILLE.com:Still on the “Life is Real” video, you GOT ON THE OKADA [public motorbike transportation used by the poor in Nigeria] LUV that!!!! [laughs] Were you on the Eko bridge? Tough gal! [laughs] I bet the Nigerian folks around were having a good laugh. You do not look scared riding on one of those. [laughs again]
Ayo:[Y]es I was on the Eko bridge. I wasn’t scared because I love motorbikes and I think the okada is the fastest way to move from A to B! Some Nigerians were laughing, others were bugging!
LADYBRILLE.com:[I’m laughing but I hear Nile as he begins fussing and crying] Oh oh! Nile is crying so it’s time to go.
Ayo: He is tired, time for a nap.
LADYBRILLE.com: Thanks beautiful for the interview. You have to let us know where, what and how you are doing so we can continue to support you. Keep up the great work and keep reminding us life is real but we should still enjoy it. Congratulations sisi!
Ayo: Bye Uduak and thank you so much, I hope to meet you one day. “Ayo’s acclaimed CD “Joyful” will be released on November 20th, 2007 on interscope records.” Watch this space for an opportunity to win an autographed CD from Ayo. Meanwhile, to learn more about her, check out www.ayomusic.com.
~Interview by Uduak Oduok
Ayo’s Latest Single ‘I’m Gonna Dance!’