Ayo’s a warrior… although that’s hard to believe when you see her, so beautiful and frail with her guitar slung across her shoulder. Yet she spends all her time on the road, on stage or in the studio, living the life of a true artist – one who isn’t just playing at being a star, but loves music more than anything in the world. “I never really work on an album. I write songs all the time until, at some point, I realize I have enough material for an album. Then I go into the studio. For the last ten years, I’ve been on the road, traveling and making no distinction between my music and the rest of my life. I just can’t do it. Maybe pop artists can separate performing from their private lives, but I can’t. Playing guitar and singing come naturally to me.”
After selling one and a half million records in 40 countries, Ayo again turned to the producer of her first album, Jay Newland, to make her latest: Ticket To The World. Recorded live, its prolific collection of sixteen songs breathes sincerity and elegance. Beginning with the cover photo, taken (like all the liner photos) at the huge Château Rouge African market in the heart of Paris: style in the ghetto. Turning to the music, with the very first notes of “Fire” with its whiff of folk-rock insurrection, the stage is set. This a revolution in a velvet glove, inspired by passion and powerful emotions. “For me, it’s all about the soul. I wrote “Fire” during my last stay in New York, just when the riots were beginning in London, not too long before the Olympic Games. Everything was changing… and not necessarily for the better. Music isn’t just about entertainment, it can also be a weapon to fight injustice. Used the right way, music can spark revolution.”
There’s a shift to country-folk music on “Justice”, a duet with Clarence Greenwood aka Citizen Cope, a singer and songwriter (especially for Dido, Santana and Sheryl Crow). Ayo admires him greatly. “He’s one of my favorite artists and I wish people appreciated him as much in Europe as they do in the United States. We became friends and I asked him to write the duet. He brought a different touch to my music, a new color.”
There are two covers on the album. One is “Sunny”, made famous by Boney M in the disco years, but originally performed by Bobby Ebb in 1966. “I adore Bobby’s version, it’s one of my childhood memories.” Ayo recorded it for Arte TV’s Summer Of Soul, a series she hosted this year. The other cover is a song from an artist who returned to the limelight after a long absence: Rodriguez. “I discovered him in the movie Sugarman. I was on a plane going to Swaziland and I must have seen it three times running during the flight! He made a real impression on me, he’s a poet. Straightaway, I knew I wanted to cover one of his songs. The director of Motown suggested “I Wonder”. It’s my favorite. The tune is incredible, it stays rooted in your memory.”
She recorded all the songs with a team of remarkable musicians (Larry Campbell on guitar, Ira Coleman on bass) in one of New York’s finest studios: Avatar. With one exception. “I wrote ‘Who’ when I was in Bulgaria,” Ayo remembers. “I was doing a concert there and I played it on stage. It went down so well that I knew I had to include it on the album. So I went back to Paris and recorded it in the studio. It was the last track we laid down for Ticket To The World.” The album’s drummer Charles Haynes and guitarist Sherrod Barnes are joining Ayo on tour, where her songs take on a whole new dimension.
The album ends with a special version of ‘Fire’ featuring Youssoupha. “Four years ago, the father of my child was recording in a studio where Youss’ was working and told me about him. I watched his videos on YouTube because I like to see new hip-hop artists. He had a fantastic flow and plenty to say.”
“I’m Walking”, “Who, “I Need You”, “Complain”, “Teach Love” with its Creole flavors… there are so many powerful tracks on this album, which seems certain to be a success with the public. But that’s not really Ayo’s concern. “I’m passionate about music. Songs are my therapy. Music has powers – it can cure people and give them strength or faith. Music is a divine instrument – it’s my religion. I don’t think about the commercial side, that’s a passion killer. Every record is a success for me and I feel very lucky that there are people who buy my albums and come and see me perform. All that’s a blessing. The rest is a bonus.”