Words by Gracey Mae
Welcome, how are you today?
I’m good. Thank you. Thank you for having me.
Lovely to finally meet you in person.
Not really in person. [laughs]
[laughs] Well you know… Virtually.
Congratulations on this amazing new chapter in your life. You were just announced, as the latest female signee for Mavin Records, one of Africa’s most prestigious labels. Talk us through what the last year has been like. I hear that the CEO and legend, Don Jazzy, popped into your DMs in December 2019!
So I started putting covers on Instagram in 2019, in January or something. [In December], instead of putting up a cover, I put like an original song [that] I wrote with my brother. I posted it on Instagram, and it wasn’t up to like four hours [before] I got a DM from Don Jazzy saying that “Oh, this is dope”, and he would love to meet me. So just imagine what was going through my mind, I was nuts! I was screaming, I was jumping everywhere. Then I went to the studio [on] January 20th… no, like January 4th or 5th. [It was] my first time in the studio. It was my first-time recording music… like properly recording music! Then I started recording music and here we are with an EP. So, I spent a whole year recording music and working on the EP.
Amazing! It’s been a year since you started recording your EP and Ayra Starr, the project, dropped on the 21st January 2021. How is it been received so far?
It’s been amazing. I’m so grateful. Like people are going nuts. Before I came out, I would just imagine that “Oh! People might not like it”. I would just like…try to process my mind for the haters. “People are going to hate it. That’s fine. That’s fine.” But I’ve not been getting that at all. I’ve just even been seeing it. People are like, “okay, at least they like one song”. People are like, “Oh, they love the EP”, so it’s like, it’s been crazy and I’m so grateful.
If I haven’t already said I love the EP, you’re a breath of fresh air…
Now when it comes to the lead single from the project, Away, I hear it was a freestyle you wrote when you were feeling down, you said it felt like therapy to you. You’ve also touched on the fact that you write with your younger brother, Milar. Talk us through your creation process.
I write what I feel, so sometimes I don’t have a beat to go with the melodies in my head. I can write a full song without a beat. I just have a song and I have melodies, and I’m writing lyrics and melodies. Most of the time I also write with my brother. He plays the guitar and the piano so we write together; he’s an amazing songwriter. He just knows what to say! He knows words. He knows how to articulate his feelings. So when we get to the studio [with] my producer, Loudaa, we all just vibe. Everybody does their own work. So I come up with the melodies, my brother comes up with the words, and Loudaa makes the beats. It’s like we’re just in sync with each other. There’s no like specific process, it just depends on what we are feeling.
I love that! Having a supportive family is everything. Rumour has it your mom used to dream about your future in music and I heard that your whole family were also on the set of your music video for ‘Away’
Mm hmm. My mom wasn’t there but all my siblings…every one of my siblings were there. You know, everybody was at the back like, “Oh, go Oyin! Go go go go. You’re doing it!” and all that. I wasn’t nervous again because of them. They had my back!
Aww! That’s so sweet. In the video you emulate at least two iconic females: Joan of Arc, and the Dahomey Amazons. Can you name three women that really inspire you right now?
My mom, my auntie, Imiu, she’s an amazing woman. She just makes me feel stronger! I’m not even going to say three women I know because I only know amazing woman! Excuse me [laughs]. So… Beyonce definitely! Like I watch a Beyonce video before every videoshoot because I need to tap from that power. It’s just a routine, everyone knows, just give me my space to watch some Beyonce videos before I go on set. Then Rihanna of course! I have to listen to Rihanna to feel like the Bad B that I am, of course [laughs].
Speaking of Rihanna, you’ve listed her as someone who inspires your look and sound along with stars such as 2face, Wande Coal, Wizkid, The Lijadu Sisters, Aaliyah, Angelique Kidjo…the list is super long. Let’s talk dream collabs! If you could collaborate with anyone in the UK and in the US, who would it be and why?
UK… I’ve been listening to a lot of Headie One and Jorja [Smith]! Jorja is an amaaaazing singer. I love her. I love Jorja. Imagine being on a track with her – it would be so amazing. So definitely in the UK…Adele, because I don’t see that a lot, so I’m dreaming big but it’s good. It’s fine.
When it happens, we will roll back to this interview and say we manifested it here!
I love every single name that you’ve just mentioned. Talking of which, your alter ego is called the Celestial Being. Recently, you said it means you have “a heart made of glass, and a mind made of stone”. So what does that actually mean?
That line is from a Billie Eilish song and when I heard it, I was like, “Oh my god, this is me”. Like, this is what I am, you know. Me saying I’m a celestial being just adds to my confidence because I feel like love is so important to me and I want to give, I want to give, I want to give love all the time. I usually have chocolates in my bags so that anyone who wants chocolates around me, I can be giving. Like I just buy chocolates, just to give people [laughs] That’s how I am. I just want to give; I want to help people but at the same time I’m very headstrong. I know what I want, I know what I like, I have my values, I know what I want to do, I know what I don’t want to do, I know the type of people I want to be, I know the type of people I don’t want to be with. Spiritually, I’m so in tune to myself and I’m so self-aware.
Now we’ve jumped to your alter ego’s name and skipped passed yours. Ayra Starr. I’ve read that Ayra is Arabic for ‘respected, woke, eye opening’ and you’re given me woke vibes. Where did the Starr side come from?
It is what it is, is what it is. I’m a star so I put it there. That’s the only vibe! [laughs] No explanation to it. It is what it is.
Let’s talk about your life before fame! You’re an international somebody. Tell us about growing up between Benin Republic and Nigeria.
Compared to Lagos and compared to Nigeria, Benin Republic is the calmest place you’d ever be because life is so simple there. Nobody cares about like the car driving or anything like that. Everyone just wants to eat and go to sleep. So it’s like life is so simple. So growing up between these two cultures, I know how to adapt to different people and different cultures because I met different people in Nigeria and Benin Republic. So even it has helped my music, you know. I know how to be versatile and do different things.
You’re also a smarty pants! Is it true you went to university at 14 years?[Laughs] People in Nigeria usually get to uni when they’re like 15 or 16. I just did it like, a year younger! Everyone is always like, “Oh, wow. You’re so intellectual…” [laughs] Guys. Don’t ask me. Don’t think I’m Albert Einstein or something but like I wrote my YX in SS2 – that’s like the year before my senior year. I tried it and I passed so my mum encouraged me to go to uni. I did uni. I got in at, you know, 14. I turned 15 the next week! So it’s kinda like 14-15, I just use 14 to brag a little [laughs]. So yeah, that was it sha! I was a teenager all through school. Most people in my school was like 18 like 17, and I was 14. I would never tell anyone I was 14 because they would pick on me because of my mouth. I would get into fights all the time. So just imagine [if] they knew I was 14, I would get beat up [laughs].
[Laughs] Brains and beauty. Love to see it. Now, you studied International Relations and Political Science. Do you feel like having a degree has kind of prepared you for this life in music?
Definitely. Definitely. It has really helped me. Like I said, I met lot of people in uni. So mentally I feel like I’m aware and mature in a lot of things. I’ve seen things. I’ve seen people’s experiences. And just reading, a lot of things internationally has definitely opened my eyes. I can sing about a country’s political problems and all that because I know all that. I’ve learnt and I’ve read. I’ve met a lot of people from different countries that I just know, experiences, and it really helps me.
We’ve spoken about the brains. Let’s talk about the beauty. Is it true you used to model?
Yeah! I used to model for like two years straight. From 14 to 16.
What was that experience like?
It was good. Let me see… I wasn’t the tallest model cos I’m like 5”5! So that was an experience. My personality definitely used to speak for me because I wasn’t that tall. So I was like that little girl that is always coming for everyone’s jobs [laughs]. I’m coming! That’s how I was. Modelling was such a challenge for me because people said I couldn’t because of my height and I was like “Don’t tell me I can’t do this”, so I would work hard. I would put myself on a diet trying to lose weight so I could be a model and all that, you get? It made me challenge my mind and myself. It was such an experience.
You’ve had that dedication, that ambition from the start. Mad oh! Let’s talk TV. You like movies. You like documentaries. You like ratchet series. I mean, we all do! You’ve done modelling. You’re doing singing now. Do you ever see yourself going into TV?
Uhm! Definitely, at one point, I would love to really go into TV. I love TV shows and I love just… when people talk… when they speak, I always listening to like the interpretation of their feelings. And I’m like, “wow, that’s such a good word to use”. I am obsessed with that. So when I watch movies, I’m like “How did they write that? That is amazing”. I want to know who the Script Writer is. I want to know all that. So I would definitely love, love, love love to go into TV.
Love it! I hear, you also are an avid reader, right?
Do you have any book recommendations? Lord knows that the last thing I read was The Bible [laughs].[Laughs] My last one was the Bible too [laughs] I’ve not had time to read books that much as I used to because of this whole thing.
You mean being a super star?[laughs] Well yeah…. The Bible was the last thing I read to so it’s allowed. It’s allowed!
[Laughs] Thanks, girl. On 9 February 2021, you tweeted “Jon Bellion is the truth”.
Simple and short and true. Yes!
Who else are you feeling right now? Let’s focus on artists from home.
Erm…I’ve been listening to of course, Burna Boy. If I you see me, I always talk about Burna. I listen to a lot of Burna Boy. I’m not even listening to his new album – I love his new album – but I’m listening to the old album, you know, like Outside. It’s just really amazing, like, how someone that comes from where I come from, could be that amazing! It’s just really inspiring. So I’m listening to Burna, I listen to – let me see which ever? Let me see. Of course, Rema! Let me see who else?
Maybe Simi, I know you’re a big fan.
Yeah, I love Simi. I love love love her. I listen to her all the time. I love her – she’s such an amazing vocalist.
She’s incredible. I absolutely love her…
Hold on! I’m going to say someone else. I know that I’m going to regret if I don’t say it now. Of course, I listen to Ayra Starr!
The Cavemen! I’m obsessed with The Caveman. I don’t know if you know them. Ah! No. I’m obsessed.
Since we’re talking about artists, you are currently sitting on 57,000 monthly streams on Spotify.
Really? Oh my God. I didn’t even know that. That’s amazing. Wow.
How does that make you feel when see this many people enjoying your art? Especially as this is just one music platform!
That’s crazy. That’s crazy. Wow. I didn’t know that. Wow. That’s just amazing. Wow. I’m so grateful that people love the music
Especially knowing that Spotify isn’t in Nigeria, this isn’t your immediate audience. This is the international guys really rockin’ with your music.
Yeah…that’s crazy oh! Mad oh! Mad mad mad.
Since we’re talking numbers, congratulations on having the #1 song, #1 video, and #1 album in Nigeria at the same damn time!
Not again but it was like half a week. That’s crazy for a new artist.
And I think when I first followed you on Instagram, you were on less than 10,000 followers. When I last checked, you were on 204,000.
Sorry! Correction [laugh] 209,000 followers in what, 3 – 4 weeks?[laugh] Three weeks! That’s crazy, that’s mad.
And you’re verified on Instagram?
I am! That’s crazy, that’s crazy. I’m so grateful.
Did you expect all these accolades so soon?
No, no! Like spiritually, I would pray and mentally I would just envision myself and I would wish but physically, I didn’t see it happening. Do you understand? I didn’t see it happening. But now like, I’m really grateful. I know there’s more to come by God’s grace.
Amen and Amen. You’ve started strong. Do you feel like there is any pressure to overperform or outperform others especially as a young female in the industry?
At all! I’m just living my life. I’m just going to do me all day and every single time, I’m going to do me because me being me got myself here. I did what I wanted to do. I sang the same music I’ve always wanted to sing so I’m just going to be me all through. I’m going to what I want to do on stage. I’m going to do me all through!
Yes, yes and yes! In October, we saw you with the placards protesting for #EndSARS. Do you have any messages for anyone that’s kind of feeling a little bit discouraged?
Anyone feeling discouraged, shouldn’t feel discouraged. We actually made history by doing that, like, coming out… we made history! We played our part. Definitely. They know we’re not joking now, our eyes are open, the people that are doing bad to us know that our eyes are open, so don’t discourage. We’ve done well, we’ve done our part. It didn’t go as well as we expected it, but we’ve done it, we’ve made a difference. Don’t worry about it. There’s more to come, I think, by God’s grace.
Since we are encouraging our readers, it’s been a year in lockdown! What kept you going in the last year?
For me, music kept me going! Music and my family and God. So just find that thing that makes you happy and just dwell in it. You understand? Just dwell it it. Don’t feel bad if you’re doing it too much. Find that thing that makes you happy. As long it’s not drugs or alcohol! [laughs] Try to do new things, learn new things, if you want to learn a new language – I was learning Korean during the pandemic! Just learn something. So just make it fun for yourself.
I want to be like you! Previously, you have mentioned that you want “everyone to be heard. You want to “tell their stories. to say all the things words can’t explain”. You said “you’re growing. You’re emerging like a butterfly”.
In one word, can you describe want your listeners to walk away with once they listened to your music?
I want them to feel like they’ve just came out of a therapy session. When you come out of the therapy session, you feel at peace and feel more in control of yourself and you feel powerful. So, I definitely want by my listeners to feel at peace and powerful; so it’s P + P. That’s good! I’m gonna write that down [laughs] You know, I want people to feel like words that they couldn’t saym things that they couldn’t express, I’m expressing it for them. So when they listen to me, they’re like, “Oh, yes!” So I definitely want that.
Yes. Peace and Power all 2021. What does the rest of the year have in store for Ayra Starr?
Definitely more music! More music by God’s grace. Videos from the EP? Definitely! Just keeps streaming the EP guys. Keep streaming the EP, don’t worry. It gets better, this is phase one. You’re still in phase one, the first 3 weeks. You’re still trying to enjoy the music. You will soon get into the music and you’ll feel it. So keep streaming and we’ll be coming with more videos by God’s grace.
Perfect if we want to find out when the next video is dropping, what you have for breakfast, what the next nail design might be, what the next hairstyle might be, where can we find you online?
So follow me on Instagram: @ayrastarr to get the latest trends and get the latest vibes, and on Twitter: @ayrastarr. If you want more music videos, subscribe to my YouTube channel, and you hit the notification button so you know when new videos are out. You know how we do!
All right, well that wraps up your interview. Congrats on the new self-titled EP: Ayra Starr!