Quoting the chorus one of Broadway’s greatest empowering songs, “You gotta have heart/ Miles and miles of heart.” The German-born singer/songwriter/musician Ayo (AKA Joy Olasunmibo Ogunmakin) strongly relates to those potent words of wisdom from the musical Damn Yankees. Her attractive musical pictures are articulate and honest, thoroughly adorned with simplicity that relies on live instrumentation and straying from the trappings of technologic clutter. Ayo lovingly stamps her exclusive brand of soul with intense themes of hope and enduring struggle. Her work stems from a rollercoaster childhood, a byproduct of a drug-addicted mother and living in foster homes. Thanks to her father’s encouragement, Ayo found an escape mechanism in her own musical gifts. Though record companies courted Ayo to be the next pop soul diva, she adamantly resisted the mainstream. Her first two full-length projects, Joyful (2007) and Gravity at Last (2008) were therapeutic insights of her past sparked by subtle soul nuances, alternative pop, reggae and rock. The 2009 documentary entitled Ayo Joy unveils more about Ayo’s childhood history and the events surrounding her first concert in her father’s homeland of Nigeria.
Ayo continues digging into her past and dishes out personal observations of life on her latest effort, Billie-Eve, named after her youngest daughter. “How Many People” starts on a reggae roots bed, then shifts to a psychedelic rock dirge as Ayo probes peoples’ spirit and attitudes: “How many people speak their mind? How many times did you waste your blessings?” The mood changes over to the cleansing of the mind on the energetic ska rhythms of “I’m Gonna Dance.” Ayo’s fluctuating voice nails the bluesy “Black Spoon,” reflecting the obvious pain she bears towards others: “One million faces of a broken heart.” The inspirational “Real Love” gives full thanks to the Lord while bouncing between reggae and contemporary pop. “Who Are They?” a stinging commentary on how people treat others in general, adds a bit of country flavor: “People will treat you so much better when they are stars.” “Believe” thrives on an all too brief, but potent spoken word contribution from Saul Williams: “Tangled in a web of belief and disbelief/Entertaining possibilities/Otherworldliness/Civility.” Besides the original pieces on Billie-Eve, Ayo brings full credence on a pop/soul classic in The Jackson Five’s “I Want You Back.”
These tracks from Billie-Eve are just a sample of Ayo’s exquisite vocal talents and genuine lyrics, verses echoing a lifetime of surviving the hard times. In other words, Ayo’s heart is unquestionably in the right place.