Ayra Starr’s voice is arresting. It has a full-body quality that can breathe new life into an originally cutting Great ones by Jessie Reyez, and more recently, convincingly offer a rendition of Jazmine Sullivan’s Lost One on Instagram. This is where artist and president of Mavin Records, Don Jazzy first heard the teen star. When asked about wanting to work with the singer/songwriter in an interview he responded: “I didn’t need to see more than on Instagram video to know that Ayra is a star. I’m super excited for the world to hear her!” He continues, “With my experience in the business, I am certain she is going to be a global superstar geared up for the long run.”
Don Jazzy’s influence in the Nigerian music industry is undeniable- he is behind some of the biggest musical moments and names in Afro-pop. He masterminded collaborative tracks like Adaobi and the 2014 hit Dorobucci. The likes of Wande Coal, who holds a place as a vocal powerhouse in the industry, and Tiwa Savage, whose debut album Once Upon a Time marked a pivotal point for her career, as well as the success of the record label. More recently, the producer has looked towards the younger generation of artists, signing Crayon and Rema in quick succession to each other. Rema in particular, saw his popularity skyrocket in the last year, cultivating a following who love his music as much as his technicolor, futuristic aesthetic, reminiscent of the late singer/rapper Juice Wrld.
Ayra Starr, the newest signing to Mavin Records, is expected to experience a similar rise to stardom as “African’s first teen superstar.” She released a self-titled EP to accompany the announcement of her signing- an apt unveiling.
As far as project openers go, Away feels as much of an insight into Ayra as the whole project is. The song is a reimagining of a heartbreak anthem, in which she is much more focused on reclamation of her power than the pain she might have endured. It starts off assured- announcing itself with a heavy bass drop accompanied by her sing-rapping a telling off directed at her past lover: “How far, make you no dey bother with me, your father, what you wanna acquire with me, stutter, stutter like a motherfucker, I do not like it when you call me.” The unbothered tone, laced with the cuss making for a memorable moment right off the bat. The accompanying visual, directed by Kewa Oni and Seun Opabisi, matches the empowering spirit of the song with a fantastical setting where the singer/songwriter stars as a heroine. Her and her backup dancers don futuristic attire as they perform choreography akin to an Aaliyah or TLC music video.
What follows is Ija, where the star’s vocals rest atop a more comforting and perhaps familiar rhythm- think day party-starter. DITR lulls listeners into a more vulnerable recanting of youth and its pitfalls. The heavier themes are juxtaposed with a slightly staccato, more playful, trap inspired flow throughout the record.
The penultimate track, Sare, is arguably the crescendo of the project. In this joyous profession of love, Ayra Starr flexes her vocal muscles against a soundtrack with more traditionally Afrobeat details like the chorus singers belting out in Yoruba. The blend of sweet, earnest lyrics with more ear-grabbing, catchy bars like “You no dey play like a Ronaldo, You gum body like a Burna Boy,” are the makings for an effortless ballad, not unlike 2baba’s African Queen, only upbeat enough to make it into a hall party playlist. The project closes off with a sweet, mellow, Memories. The key is lowered, which accentuates the feeling of finality.
The less than 20-minute musical offering not only solidifies the singer/songwriter as a standout vocalist, but also serves as an acute window into her artistic sensibilities. In many ways, this project is the product of years of evolution of Afro-pop and risks taken by artists who came long before Ayra Starr. Artists like P-Square, whose music dances around the margins of genres. Their sonic playground yielded music that was rooted in their culture, as much as it explored foreign ones. The musical inspirations present in this project, a melting pot of RnB, trap and alté, reflect the current Afro-pop zeitgeist being shaped by the young generation of artists she is now a part of.
This self-titled project, and its conception, are also an affirmation of the crucial role that social media plays in the making of an Afro-popstar. An increase in availability of the internet and smartphones across the continent means that artists can cultivate a brand and garner support for their music, as well as their overall personas before being ‘discovered’ by bigger establishments. Given that the last few years have provided several examples of label mismanagement of female pop-stars, it feels particularly important that rising stars have the option to use platforms like their social media accounts to engage with fans in an authentic and positive way. That relationship has proven extremely helpful in the long run for stars like Tinashe for instance, whose fan’s loyalty and support has been a huge part of their recent reemergence.
Ayra Starr has been in the spotlight modelling for beauty brands since she was 14, and then on Instagram covering her favorite songs and performing the ones she wrote with her younger brother; she is no stranger to engaging with a following. It will be interesting to watch how she blossoms over the next few years with the backing of a record label.