Ayo has become a big name in Europe on the strength of her debut album, “Joyful,” and its hit single, “Down on My Knees.” Her sound combines a host of different eclectic musical styles that originate from her varied background as a German-born daughter of a Nigerian father and a Romanian gypsy mother. The multi-lingual mom — she has a 2-year-old son — has taken her café-friendly sound to America and hopes to become a household name here, too. We caught up with her before the holidays.
Miller: Your father is Nigerian, your mother is a Romanian gypsy, you were born in Germany, you split time between Paris and New York, and your music mixes acoustic music with soul, reggae and Afrobeat. So please explain: How in the world does Pink Floyd end up on your list of influences?
Ayo: My father made me listen to them when I was a child. He was a DJ in the 1980s and had a huge selection of great vinyl that he had collected over the years. There was a lot of Afrobeat and reggae in there, but also pop like Leo Sayer, Cat Stevens, Simon and Garfunkel and Joni Mitchell. And he had Pink Floyd, too, and the record I loved the most was “The Wall.” That was the one. I saw them live in London at rock festival and heard sounds I’ve never heard before from another band.
Miller: Any guilty pleasures from your dad’s collection that you still listen to?
Ayo: I have to admit that my father had such great taste and he still does. Every record was good. I’m still discovering new stuff, a lot of stuff that I didn’t even know about. I discovered Joan Armatrading through my father, and I think she’s really amazing. I never knew anything from her, and then I found out she was there before Tracy Chapman.
Miller: You have so many influences. What are your favorite bands and albums right now?
Ayo: I have to say that everything that I’m listening to these days is on my iPod and I don’t even know what’s on it. I pull songs off my manager’s boyfriend’s computer. I discover good stuff and bad stuff that way. One thing that I’m really getting into is David Bowie. I mean, I knew David Bowie, but I never listened to the entire records. But now they’re on my iPod, I started listening to them, and I’ve fallen in love with them. The song “Andy Warhol” is incredible. That’s what I’m listening to right now.
Miller: I understand your little son Nile is quite a musician, too.
Ayo: I can tell you the bad stories (laughs). Yesterday I played a song for him because he was so cranky. I played him “Only You.” He said, “No, no! Play ‘Down on my Knees.’” He didn’t want me to sing any other song. So even my own son is asking for only that one song. I’m like, “Do you want me to be a one-hit wonder? Come on!” But he is very musical. He plays guitar. Of course, for a 2-year-old, he’s not really playing. He’ll also be sitting there and start doing something like break dancing. He’s always looking into the camera. He’s quite a handful.
Miller: New York or Paris. Which is better and why?
Ayo: That’s a bad question (laughs). Hmmm. How do I say this and not make anyone mad? I’ll say Paris is the city of my heart. I love it, but not for its people. There’s something about the city that I can’t put into words. It’s a magical place and very inspiring. I love New York more for what people make out of the city. To me, strangely, it has more of a European feel in that you always meet people from different backgrounds. It’s a whole different energy that just makes you want to do things.
Miller: You’re huge in Europe. When do you take over America?
Ayo: Tomorrow. Today. To me, the only thing that has to happen is to be able to play as much as I can. Playing live is what made me grow in Europe and made me grow as an artist. It’s the people that give me strength and new energy. The response is so important. I hope that for me, “taking off” means being able to play your own concert with your band and be able to share beautiful moments. It’s not about record sales.