“MUSIC CHOSE ME”- AYO AWOSIKA
by Ladun Ogidan
Born to a Nigerian father and American mother, singer/songwriter Ayo Awosika was fortunate to grow up in a musically colourful household full of the sounds of the greats, spanning across all genres from Fela Kuti and Michael Jackson to Billie Holiday and Madonna. These sounds are weaved into the soundtrack of her childhood and ultimately, into her artistry. A seasoned performer, she has shared the stage with the likes of Richie Havens, Peter Eldridge (of the NY Voices), members of Tower of Power, and has toured internationally and across the United States with both her band and as a background singer for several artistes.
You’ve enjoyed a successful career as a songwriter and performer. What made you decide to become one?
It was less of a decision and more of a necessity. I was always writing down thoughts and making melodies with my voice and piano when I was young. It was a release for me. If I was happy, I made music. If I was sad, I made music. If I was mad, I made music. It has always been a second language for me – a way to communicate things that I sometimes could not in other ways. So I’m grateful that music and all its facets (songwriting, performing and so on) sort of chose me. Of course, upon choosing to make it my career and livelihood, I also actively choose it every day and wouldn’t ever choose to do anything different.
We Best Not Wait is your first full-length album, which came after a period of moving to New York City to work with Grammy-winning producer, Scott Jacoby. Can you tell us a bit about this experience?
I started working with Scott Jacoby while I was still living in Denver, Colorado. A mutual friend introduced me to him and I really loved his work. I had heard projects he worked on with a number of incredible artistes (John Legend, Jose James and so on). So Scott and I hopped on Skype and had a first meeting after I sent him some of my songs, and we just connected and became friends. Once we decided to work together, we started formulating ideas for the record via Skype meetings and emails, then I flew to NYC to start recording. That’s where we recorded the basics for the album. The musicians were all in the same room at the same time recording live. Scott and I had already decided that it would be best to have the music recorded live with everyone playing at the same time so that we could capture that live energy. Many albums are made in such a fashion where each instrument is recorded separately, one by one. There is a certain art to this as well, but for me, I knew I would like that kind of live feeling, the same kind of energy you might experience at a live show but with studio quality.
This was one of the best weeks of my life. The musicians I hired were all super talented friends of mine from college and within my musician network, so we had a ton of fun hanging out and recording that week. We even pulled in Cory Henry (of Snarky Puppy). He came later and recorded all of the extra keyboard parts that I didn’t play. Scott is into vintage keyboards and cool, old funky instruments, so it was incredible to have Cory come into the studio and record Clavinet, B3 organ, Rhodes and Wurlitzer parts, all on the real instruments, not just with a digital patch. It added the extra special colour and texture that I wanted for the album. Plus Cory is such a musical genius, that watching and listening to him in the studio was an absolute joy.
But overall, the experience was epic for me because Scott (as I call him) is a musical wizard in the sense that he understood what I was going for with the album and helped me to create these sonically unique little worlds for each song. He himself is a musician and was once an artiste, so we also relate in that way. He is also so great at linking every little piece together so that it makes sense in the big picture. In addition, he is just a dear friend whom I very much admire and trust, so it’s wonderful to work with him.
Tell me about the ‘ The Native Series’. How did you meet Mary, what inspired this collaboration and where do you see it heading in the future?
Funny enough, Mary and I were connected by several mutual friends in New York City who kept telling us that we needed to meet and be friends. So we finally listened and connected via email. I think we even talked on the phone a bit and realised that we were like-minded on a number of issues, as well as in several of our goals for our time in Nigeria. We are both Nigerian and had plans to return there to play a series of shows this year. We are also both passionate about empowering young Nigerian women and breaking the stereotype that assumes that women should always be in competition rather than in support of each other. So we started coming up with the idea that would later be called ‘The Native Series’. This is what we named the series of shows we presented in Nigeria, with each venue allowing us to present a different type of musical experience in our homeland. This was in tandem with the start of an organisation we’ve also founded together that focuses on supporting, mentoring and providing resources for young Nigerian women. We spent several days of our trip working with and talking to about 50 plus girls of various ages at the Global International School in Lekki. We are open to what this organisation will grow into, and although we have big aspirations for where we would like to see it go, we also don’t want to put any parameters on it now. We are simply listening and learning as much as we can so that we can be well educated and informed as we take the next steps. But I will say that this is just beginning of this endeavour and we are excited to see what comes next.
You’ve just returned to Nigeria after several years of touring abroad. How would you describe the Nigerian music industry and how receptive has the audience been to your sound?
That’s a good question. The Nigerian music industry seems to be ever growing and also ever changing. I have several friends who are doing incredibly well and are household names at this point: Tiwa Savage and I were friends at Berklee College of Music, and another music artiste friend, Praiz is doing very well; it’s amazing to see them shine so brightly. Some people ask me if I’m going to try to make similar music. I’ve never attempted to try to fit into a certain type of sound in order to be liked. I hear the term “alternative” quite a bit. I honestly don’t know what that means other than the fact that my music isn’t straight pop music…. and I’m okay with that. But I’m hearing lately from more people that there is a growing audience for this “alternative” music: soul, R & B, jazz, folk–influenced music that is probably presented in a different way than straight Afro-pop music. Ever since I started coming to Nigeria, bringing my keyboard and guitar, playing live shows and getting involved in the community here, I’ve always wanted to stay true to myself and what I have to offer as a music artiste. I feel the Nigerian audience has been receptive to that. I think it’s also important to note that there are going to be people who enjoy my music and those who don’t – but I’m only after the ones who do! I’m not trying to convince anyone to like what I do. I believe that my audience is becoming more defined over time, and I’m excited for them to expand as well.
During your recent stay in Lagos, you must have encountered the traffic, chaos and the failure of the power sector, all experiences peculiar to Nigeria. Should we expect an album or collaboration influenced by these?
Of course, these experiences are something else aren’t they? I don’t foresee an album or collab influenced by these specific things right now, but you never know! Honestly, those experiences are of course, a bit tricky and frustrating at times but they aren’t something I like to dwell on because the greater reward and joy of being in Nigeria outweighs these for me. I also look forward to, and know that there will be a day that these elements will no longer be a part of the Nigerian experience. Then it will be even easier for those who come to Nigeria to experience the magic that is the essence and wonder of this country that I love so much.
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