Culture Custodians #4: Ayo Jay

Since the first time I heard Available, I’ve keenly observed Ayo Jay’s music career. I remember back in High School singing Available in my crusty voice so much that it annoyed those who sat around me. It’s been interesting seeing Ayo Jay try to sustain the buzz Your Number and Available created for him and continue to take the hearts of avid music lovers.

On August 9th 2015, as he returned from the Washington leg of his tour with Boj and Skales  we planned to meet up at Ayo’s in Jersey at 7pm. He ran into some traffic and I was kept waiting. Just as I was getting weary, Ayo appeared and let me know that his party of 4, a label mate known as JP, friend, Boj and himself would be going into New York as it was his 26th birthday and celebrations were scheduled because nobody wants to spend their birthday at home when they’re in the liveliest city on earth. We drove to New York and I discovered that Ayo has an ear for good music when he asked his friend to turn up the volume as a song I liked was being premiered on Power 105.1. We arrived at one of the numerous Hampton Inns across NY and swiftly checked in as all finances had been taken care of by One Nation Records, Ayo’s label.

Ayo was born on August 9th 1989 in London and quickly moved back to Nigeria. He studied at Corona and moved on to the International School of Lagos from which he graduated in 2007. Following his graduation, Ayo moved to New York with the major intention being to further his education. As is meant to happen when one is a long way from home, he started to miss something he’d not been that passionate about when in Lagos- Nigerian music which he preferred to the American music he listened to when he was in Nigeria. The melodies of Wande Coal led him to put pen to paper. He recorded recreationally via his phone and sent his music to people he felt had great taste in music. The feedback he got paved the path to the studio. In an era where careers have been built around My Space and social media, he reached out to people on Facebook and that connected him to the likes of Mike Tunes, Cap B and Melvitto who helped him smooth the path for his first release, Jay Baba. In his third year of college, he decided that the 9 to 5 life was not for him. After an internship he diverted his attention completely towards music telling himself that there was “absolutely no way music won’t work out for me because I knew that was what I wanted to do. This was what I enjoyed doing.” The story of how Ayo got involved in music signifies that he will stop at nothing to fulfil his dreams. He got signed to One Nation Records the day after his graduation from university. “I decided I wanted to do music really late and so there was no way I was going to convince anyone to fund me. I got the offer from One Nation and consulted a few family members and when it was done I showed my parents a contract so they knew I was serious.” Going on about why he chose One Nation over some bigger names, his argument is that they’re strategically placed in New York and it seemed the right decision to make.

Ayo has been managed by Asa Asika since 2013. In terms of the modern music climate, Asa’s understanding of the Nigerian music industry can be drawn back to the job he did first with Naeto C and Storm Records then helping break Davido. With Asa’s proven track record, it is very easy for an artist he manages to lose grip of their career and gravitate more in the direction he suggests. When I asked Ayo on the impact Asa has on his musical career he admitted that while Asa has a key say in decision making, One Nation Records, Ayo’s record label also influence decisions. That’s not to suggest he has derogated his independence. He asserts that he’s his own custodian and makes the final decisions.

Ayo shuttles between Lagos and New York. However, he still finds himself in the US a number of times every year. He recently toured the US and visited over 6 cities from New York, Washington, Atlanta, Houston to Los Angeles with Boj and Skales (Falz and Seyi Shay were scheduled to but had visa issues). His U.S tour and presence confused me about who forms his target market. His response? “Naija first and then Africa next and then when we establish ourselves out there we can try and branch out.” Considering the remix to Your Number with FettyWap and his US tour I found it ironic that Ayo was trying to sell to those in Nigeria however, he explained that “I was trying to kill two birds with one stone for that Your Number Remix: Naija fans and the ones here too, you know.” In relation to his tour being in the U.S as opposed to being in his target market he asserted that “I did something in Nigeria earlier this year and I have a fan base in America because I started making music here and I have to give these fans something too, but right after this I’m going back to Nigeria, I’m trying to do tours at the end of the year, clubs, universities. It’s all in the works.”

Last year, in an interview with Toolz, he had stated that he was remixing Your Number and applying the benefit of hindsight, FettyWap was essentially unknown. Turns out that the remix was meant to feature Burna Boy but “it did not work out.” The decision to remix Your Number over Available despite the fact that the Your Number video was banned by the Nigerian Broadcasting Committee shocked me and so I probed Ayo on what informed the decision. He explained that “On iTunes in the UK, US, Canada and in the Islands it made us a good amount of money so it only made sense that we chose it. Also because they banned the video because of the twerking in it we wanted to rebrand the song and put out a new video.” I understand the reasoning. However, Nigeria is a place where you can use a name to get away with so much. We’ve watched numerous artistes put together international collaborations that don’t do justice and so I wanted to know why Ayo decided to work with Fetty. I speculated many different reasons and how the collaboration got to work and he said “JP, my label mate met one of Fetty’s guys and he played a couple of songs for them, when Fetty heard Your Number he admitted that he’d heard it before and he liked it. We asked if he’d like to get on it because I love Fetty’s sound and he was like Yeah! We don’t mind and then they gave us a date for the studio.” I was keen on knowing whether the collaboration was paid for and Ayo admitted that it was but “we got heavy discounts, what we paid was very little.”

Ayo Jay’s fan base is definitely growing, for someone who became mainstream in 2013, he has taken steps in the right direction. He can boast of winning the award for the Most Promising Act at the Nigerian Entertainment Awards in 2014, he was nominated for the Best New Act this year alongside Lil Kesh, Korede Bello, Falz, D’ija, Kiss Daniel and CDQ. Ayo can pull crowds of 500 on a decent night across most American cities, I’m not sure if the situation in Nigeria is the same. Ayo believes it can be done, “I did stuff earlier this year, we went to Ibadan, the response was great. American University of Nigeria in Yola, that’s the best response I’ve ever gotten in Nigeria and that was in Yola you know. It surprises me how I have fans and I’m definitely going to cater to them this last quarter.” Ayo talking about satisfying the fans was a great segue to the next question which was how long fans have to wait for his first body of music. “Next year, maybe August next year but right now I’m trying to focus on creating the buzz because I can’t drop an album if the demand is not there. I’ve done a lot of stuff that are not out yet that should position me for success, I’ve done features with Skuki, Boj, Danagog, worked with Maleek Berry and Shizzi.” While it must be admitted that he has a long way to go to establish himself in the Nigerian music industry, he’s showing and proving by working in silence and taking the right steps to position himself for success and relevancy.

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