It was not until that scary predicament after a chat with Ayra Starr that one fully understood what she embodies on her recently released debut album, 19 and Dangerous. After a fantastic conversation with her, I had somehow lost the recording and went into full panic mode. However, as I tried to wriggle my way out of the tight spot, I realised that I could not be writing about the most confident 19-year-old I had ever spoken with, without having some form of that confidence as well. And the rest, they say, is… well, that’s what you are about to read now. Oyinkansola Aderigbigbe, better known as Ayra Starr, is not just dangerous – her personal synonym for dauntless – but is also very ambitious and fortunate. The Mavin Records princess stormed the music scene last year, with her charismatic and brow-raising self-titled extended playlist (EP). And within a year, her artistry has evolved with such grandeur that reflects the trinity of her sincerity, confidence and maturity.
“If I cast then, I cast/Anything they wan talk, they talk/ I’m going to be who I want to be; live my life the way I want to be/With no shame/With no haste,” the soulful lyrics from the Afro-RnB record, Cast, opens the album and sets the tone for a very emotionally-charged and vulnerable record. For the remaining 10 songs on the album, from Fashion Killa, to In Between, Toxic, Snitch, Beggie Beggie, Bridgertn, the entire record creates a strong musical identity for Starr, showcasing her skillful lyricism and vocal maturity. The entire Afro-fusion project is soaked in her confidence, emotions and intentionality. From Afro-Trap, to Afro-pop, to Afro-RnB, Starr refuses to stay in a box, churning out classics in diverse genres. Generally, the album feels calming, gentle and warm, not because it was produced by the production whiz, Loudaa, Johnny Drille, London, Andre Vibe and Don Jazzy himself, but because with every listen, you become more deeply connected with the singer, as if you have been given an intimate peek into her life without any dilution. This rare honesty, even to make mistakes, is what makes Ayra Starr both radical and inspiring. In this interview, she tells Guardian Music about living her dream at age 19, being a ‘fashion killer’, getting her name from divine inspiration, meeting Don Jazzy, becoming Mavin Records’ latest ‘daughter’, and being scared of nothing but chicken and goats.
Could you tell us about your new project, 19 and Dangerous, what really makes you dangerous?
I HAVE always thought that my album was going to be called 19 and Dangerous; I came up with the name like two years ago. I don’t know, but I just like the way it sounded. The day I knew I was dangerous was the day I knew that I wasn’t afraid of making mistakes. I am not just afraid of anything, to be honest. Once you have nothing you are scared of, you become dangerous; because you have nothing to lose.
What’s the inspiration behind the messages you brought on this album?
I am so happy that when I was working on this album, I didn’t create it with the intention of making an album; it was just what it was, I just had songs. I recorded the songs for myself; these were songs that made me feel better about myself.
I was trying to help people to feel like their mind is being spoken out; I wanted to help people know that it is okay to be vulnerable. We are still struggling; I wanted this album to be like a safety zone for people.
Are they your own life stories?
Some of them; Fashion Killa definitely is one of them. Bloody Samaritan too; there are some others there.
Interestingly, the album almost had no features, was that deliberate?
There was actually not meant to be anybody, but I just felt that I should get Foushee on the song and Ckay. I felt like it was my story to tell and I didn’t feel anybody could interpret it the way I wanted it.
What’s a typical Ayra Starr creative process like?
It just depends on my mood; it depends on what I am doing. Sometimes, I am at home and I just feel like writing a song and then I get to it. Sometimes, I am at the studio and I hear a beat and I start to vibe to it. I wrote Beggie Beggie in a bus; I wrote Karma in a hospital. It just depends on where I am.
Do you play any instrument?
No, but my brother, Milar, plays the guitar; he is my partner in crime. We do the music thing together.
I noticed you have a fusion of different melodies on the album, how would you describe your own sound?
So, I don’t like to describe my sound with genres; I feel like genres don’t explain it enough. I am too versatile to be described with a genre. I like to describe my sound with feelings. It is like how do you feel when you hear the song? Are you euphoric? Do you feel happy or do you feel free?
So, this album feels dangerous?
Dangerous, yes! Free. Dangerous. Happy. Vulnerable. Emotional.
You came into the industry like a surprise, now your name is everywhere. What is the inspiration behind your name Ayra Starr?
So, it is not inspired by the Game of Thrones series, as most people think it is. Ayra is an Arabic name that means someone that is highly respected, woke and open-minded. That is what I want to stand for. Starr is just because I have always seen myself as a star, since I was like five years old.
So, you sat down and researched Arabic names, until you found Ayra?
No. So, there was this name I was using at the time called Ira. And since my real name is already Oyin, I didn’t want to have two Yoruba names; I wanted to do something different. So, I kept pronouncing the Ira as Ayra (eye-rah), but people kept pronouncing Ira (ee-rah). I had to keep explaining that it is Ayra and not Ira. So, I just googled Ira with an A and Y. And when I saw the Arabic name, I just had goosebumps. It felt like God gave it to me.
Tell us about how you grew up, at what point were you connected with music?
I grew up in a very musical home. I have always loved music; it has always been like a part of my life. My childhood games were musical games. When I did well in school, my mum would let me go for choir practice. Music was like a reward system for me as a child; I have always loved music.
When I was 10, I was so sure I was going to do music. I called myself a superstar. My brother was playing the guitar; he used to write with me. We were ready to take over the world. When I moved to Lagos at age 13, with my mum, what my mum used to tell me was that this was where I would start my musical career; I would never forget that. She used to bring me to Lagos and I was always excited.
Then, at 17, I started uploading song covers on Instagram and then Don Jazzy saw me. In 2019, I uploaded my first original song and it wasn’t even up to three hours after that he sent me a message asking me to come to his studio and that was how it works.
You mentioned that your mum was bringing you to Lagos. Where were you guys coming from?
I was born in Cotonou, but we were living in Abuja, at that time. So, we lived in both places, before we moved to Lagos.
While in school, did you have any parallel ambition?
Yeah, definitely. In school, I used to study International Relations and Political Science; I schooled in Benin Republic. But even when I was in school, I always knew it was going to be music for me. I had like a band I used to sing with. We were like a group of friends who just came together, although we never did any gigs. But I always knew that I was going to do music. I just had to go to school.
So, if you were not doing music, what else would you be doing?
Well, if I wasn’t doing music, let me be honest, I would rather do fashion or be unemployed.
So, what’s your fashion style like?
Just like my music; my fashion style is how I feel. Sometimes, I feel calm and I just dress it.
Tell us three things people don’t know about Ayra Starr.
Hmmm. Well, Ayra Starr is an introvert. Many people don’t know that I love to stay indoors; I love my space. I love to be alone and just do my thing. Another thing I would say is that I am not scared of anything, but you already know that. The only thing I am afraid of is chicken and goats; I cannot stand near them.
But you can eat them?
Ha-ha, of course!
So, what’s the plan now with the music?
Definitely would be going on tours, and making more music.
How would you describe Ayra Starr in a phrase?
Ayra Starr is 19 and is ready for everything!