At such a young age, Ayra Starr exudes a level of maturity far beyond her age. After finding fame showcasing her amazing voice through viral social media posts, she was noticed and eventually signed by Nigerian producer Don Jazzy. The pairing with Jazzy only elevated her star power, taking her raw talent and showing her the ways of the business. The past few years have felt like a whirlwind and with the release of her debut album under her belt, there is nothing to stop her from continuing to grow and develop.
In terms of what she represents, she mentions “freedom and love”, truly human emotions which she wishes to elevate through her music. It’s true that her music speaks to people – her tracks evoking a truly rebellious attitude, forcing people to reflect on what freedom looks like in modern day society; “People should be allowed to live their lives the way they want to. I believe people should be allowed to be themselves, express themselves and love who they want to love”. It’s clear that a lot of what Ayra talks about comes from within, even referring to self-love and how it is needed to truly love others. While she is confident on her beliefs, her music also acts as a self affirmation of sorts, showing her what she can do and achieve;
“It gets hard sometimes but when I make music, I don’t just make music for other people. I make it for myself. Sometimes I doubt myself, I lose hope, because where I come from, my part of the world, there is no such thing as freedom in any way, especially if you are female. You are never taught to love yourself, you are never taught to be free so music offers that escape.”
The idea of freedom is also explored heavily in her soundscape, with a desire to experiment with different sounds and genres – her latest output including nods to afrobeat, R&B, neo-soul and jazz. This fluid nature with regards to music is refreshing and Ayra reflects on this relating to her star sign as a Gemini and how doing the same thing constantly is boring; “I don’t like routine, I want to try different things every time. But at the same time, I will always come back to my roots. I’m always going to come back to the thing I believe in, it’s my core”. With a strict passion to create, Ayra is able to play with her sound in order to benefit the message of her music.
“I always tell people that music is the reward”
Another aspect which Ayra holds close to her is her relationship with her brother Dami, whom she regularly collaborates with to this day. It’s clear the dynamic between the two is beneficial as she alludes to his presence during songwriting and the impact he plays; “He keeps me grounded and it makes the process enjoyable. I have ADHD and my mind can be everywhere at times and he always balances me out and makes it better”. The level of trust between the two and her working relationship have drawn comparisons to Billie Eilish and her sibling, Finneas. Considering herself a big fan of Billie Eilish also ties into a conversation around mental health where she references SZA, Justin Timberlake and Solange who have talked about their mental health and how this inspired her journey and talking about her own. She believes that the stigma around mental health should be discussed freely and the barriers around it removed in order to educate, in her own words “dead the stigma”. All of this shows that music is more than a job for Ayra and she relishes any opportunity to do it;
“Whatever I am doing, it’s all about the music because at the end of the day, that’s the only way I can feel rested. Music is my safe haven. I have to do that because that’s the only way I can survive. That’s the only way I know how to put my mind at rest”.
Earlier this year in August, she had the opportunity to release her debut album and graced listeners and fans to ‘19 and Dangerous’, a project steeped in personality and character with Ayra letting loose and touching on topics from love and emotions to coping mechanism and youth through to empowerment and heartbreak. All of the aforementioned are explored through an expansive soundscape of tracks, each uniquely brilliant in their approach and execution. While the project has gone on to receive high levels of praise from fans and critics alike, Ayra is still surprised by people’s reactions to what she delivered; “Oh my God, it’s been amazing. I didn’t go into the release with expectations and when people showed so much love, I was overwhelmed. I had never that level of confidence in me – from the people around me, other artists, my label. That level of support shown from the people that mattered around me inspired and motivated me.”
“When I first made music, it was for myself and acted as an outlet for me. Now I know my songs can talk to others and show them that they’re not alone”.
The project feels like a celebration with tracks with ‘Cast’ valiantly showcasing her belief in what she can achieve and lead single ‘Bloody Samaritan’ almost a warrior cry against bad energy and standing tall in the face of adversity. This defiance is also shown through her visuals, with a keen eye on detail and styling. Upon talking about the visual side of her music, Ayra is keen to point out that she directed the video for ‘Bloody Samaritan’ and had a clear vision for what she wanted to deliver – with an emphasis on showing her personality and connecting with her fans as an artist [“visuals help people understand music and see it from the creator’s point of view”]. Her friends and brother are in the video and sees the video as a lesson for those that perhaps dont have the finances and resources to make big budget videos but can still showcase what they do. Another example of remaining authentic and grounded, Ayra always thinks about how others can relate but is not concerned with putting pressure upon herself to deliver;
“What has brought me here so far is not feeling any type of pressure. I am the most laid back person and I am going to do what I am meant here to do. I don’t want to rush anything and feel that things will happen when they’re meant to happen”.
Her vision for what is next, while not defined by dates and times, is encapsulated by her message, to empower the next generation of artists, many of whom may find it hard or difficult to see a direction or path in music. Ayra mentions her 16-year-old sister who is an online influencer, showing the positive side of social media and how it can be utilised, and feels that this needs to be encouraged by the older generation. She believes in balance and thinks that through her music, she has a platform to speak to others, young and old. Alongside the public love which is shown to her online, she talks of instances of young boys and girls who have reached out and told her how a track or the album has changed their perspective or outlook on life – “I feel like I have inspired a whole generation to be who they want to be.”
Wrapping up our conversation, we touch on faith and how much it means to her as an artist; “Faith is everything to me, it keeps me grounded and keeps me focused”. This focus is a characteristic which Ayra exudes, having a true belief in what she says and what she does. Her momentous rise over the past two years is nothing short of unbelievable but Ayra knows that this is her path and is keen to make the most of it every step of the way. While her age doesn’t define her, her youth and outlook is key to her success and she is not afraid to chase her dream. A final question around legacy seems odd, seeming she has only just started and while everything may not be clear in terms of what’s next, her beliefs are what will guide her: “I want to be known as that person who was not afraid to be herself and speak her mind”.
19 & Dangerous is out now on all streaming platforms.