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REVIEW: GRAVITY AT LAST

 

By Kalamu ya Salaam of Kalamu.com

 

Wednesday, November 12, 2008.

 

Some artists wear their personal emotions on their sleeves. This girl takes her shirt off. She has tattooed her body with songs. Every word is her. Her music is her body. For Ayọ, life and art are one.

 

Ayọ was born as Joy Olasunmibo Ogunmakin on 14 September, 1980, near Cologne, Germany, to a Nigerian father of Yoruba origin and a German mother. Thus, she is an Afro-German singer-songwriter. She uses the Yoruba translation, Ayọ, instead of the Anglophile Joy. The name has to be written with a dot below  – without it, it would translate to Ayo, a popular board game in West Africa.

 

This is her second album. It has all the strengths and weaknesses of sophomore efforts. You immediately recognize that it is Ayọ even in its weaker moments.

 

I’ve been following her work, marveling at the power of her emotional outpourings, wincing in recognizing the personal pain fueling some of those flights.

Ayọ is truly naïve. She hides nothing. Dresses nothing—indeed, her songs are a state of emotional undress. She stands in her nakedness. At times it’s embarrassing—fascinating, surely, but nonetheless, embarrassing. How does one respond to a song like "Mother"?
A song which instructs her mother to “love me from a distance.”


 Then there is the self-criticism of “Slow Slow (Run Run).” The song opens with a painfully insightful declaration: “what have I become /is that really me/look what I have done/this is not who I want to be.” Are these really the words of a young woman on the verge of stardom?

Yes.


And that’s the beauty of Ayọ’s music. She is a diagnostic expert. A coroner performing an exacting autopsy.
Gravity At Last is a musical postmortem. And as fascinating as the insights and discoveries are; watching the process is often not a pretty sight.

But.

When the album works, it’s resplendent. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work. At least half the songs need more development. Musically—the shape of the melodies, the arrangements, the harmonic changes—too often the songs are rudimentary.

 

Perhaps, Ayọ doesn’t currently possess the musical chops to make the songs deeper. Perhaps in some cases the deficiencies are due to the language barrier. Ayọ’s English is limited and that limitation is deadly for a songwriter who focuses on intimacy and personal honesty.


I also have the impression that the album was rushed. Not the actual recording, which took only five days and was recorded in a live format—the sound of it works. What I mean is the arrangements don’t have the flow that comes from having worked the song for a while before recording it.

 

Jazz musicians can do one-offs, just instantly respond in an expert way to previously unheard material but in popular music where the premium is not on improvisation, there needs to be an element of surety.


But still, like I said, when it works, Gravity At Last really works. The album has 13 tracks; I’ve chosen five of my favorites. “Sometimes”“Thank You” featuring the backing voice of Jerry Lawson (lead vocalist with The Persuasions) that most fulfills the promise of this release.


“Thank You” sounds like a hard-won Sunday morning prayer, a Sunday dawning following a tough Saturday night tussling with the devil. Ayọ didn’t grow up in the Black church but this has the authentic sound of a moment in a Black church.
 
Thank you Ayọ for sharing.

 

Kalamu ya Salaam is a New Orleans-based writer and filmmaker. He is also the founder of Nommo Literary Society - a Black writers workshop.

Please e-mail comments to comments@thenewblackmagazine.com 

 

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