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By Kalamu ya Salaam of

Saturday, July 02, 2011.

Billie-Eve is Ayo’s third studio album. This one sounds like pages from a young woman’s deeply intimate diary; someone who has strong beliefs and is being tested by a trough of hard-ass unproductive relationships and social conditions. She manages to moan about heart hurt without sounding maudlin or pitiful, perhaps because in the midst of a sea of troubles she secures islands of defiance and resistance. And even as she admits she has fallen, the depression notwithstanding she is pushing herself back up.

In a French interview she explains how the album came about, how she wanted something basic in terms of instrumentation and engineering, how she preferred first takes and laying down material in a five day New York recording sprint—but then getting a few more ideas and taking three more days in Paris to record additional music.

Ayo was in the maternity ward during a long delivery of her daughter, writing music in her head, and it wasn’t all lollipops and roses. Her post-natal blues came hard and early. Relationship break-ups just before a baby is born can be devastating, making you want to run and hide.

Ayo’s trials propelled her into the studio. Emotionally naked, she put it all out there. There is a sincere rawness that might be characterized as a modern day blues. Sometimes the songs are literal duets with only one instrument, there are no elaborate arrangements, indeed some of it verges on off the cuff albeit riveting and revealing letting-go sessions. Let the pain and the pity go, admit the fuck-ups and fucked-overs. Woman up: suck it up and spit it out.

Ayo’s sincerity is stronger than the bullshit with which she is dealing. She encourages us to identify with and embrace the process of salvaging the torn apart shards of her heart. Plus, she made a couple of wise decisions in including some material that on paper might not make much sense. Like, what is spoken word artist Saul Williams doing dropping an inspirational verse and where did that stylistically out of place Jackson 5 “I Want You Back” song come from?

Significant chunks of Ayo’s personality are presented. Clips from performances featuring music from Billie-Eve show Ayo literally bouncing off the walls doing the Michael Jackson—and by the way while most of her steps are clearly just imitations of Jacko, Ayo does have a mean moonwalk. Not only that, she can actually sound like Michael, really.

Plus she laughs a lot. Not nervous laughter, nor the guilty giggle of being caught doing something when you thought no one was looking, but real chuckles of enjoyment. In Yoruba Ayo means “joy” and evidently her father was a prophet because he presciently identified a dominant part of her personality.

All of that said there is a little paradox that I would like to briefly explore: Ayo’s concerts of her new material are hipper than the album, more intense and musically sharper. Although that might seem to be common sense, really it’s not. Especially in pop music, the whole goal of concerts is to sound like the record, which of course in most cases was sonically altered in the studio recording process. In addition to multi-tracking and overlays, there are a myriad of engineering enhancements and effects, all of which taken together virtually ensure that unless one has an unlimited budget and an expert tech crew there is absolutely no way the live performance is going to match the recording.

But listen to the opening selections on the Mixtape. These are all selections from the new album. They make up a thirty-minute concert broadcast and they are smoking. Ayo loves improvisation, making her closer to jazz than to pop. I think what had happened was Ayo got the new music recorded when it was fresh ideas and emotions, but once the tracks were laid down and as they toured with the music, she began to explore, to stretch, and yes even discover other aspects than those she first had in mind.

Regardless of why, I really, really dig the live stuff even as I admire the compositions on Billie-Eve. Actually the recorded compositions are charming but the live performances are down-right lusty. Ayo does not try to re-create the recording, instead she seems to channel the emotional experiences and ideas that inspired the compositions. In many ways Ayo holds conversations with her audience during which she reveals the content of her emotional diary.

Aesthetically Ayo says she wanted to go in a rock direction with this recording. Even as I enjoy what she is doing now, I’m intrigued and patiently anxious to hear what she’ll be up to next. Meanwhile we wanna dance! We want to be all the wo/man we are and can be. Thank you, Ayo!

Ayo Billie-Eve Mixtape Playlist

01 “Live de la Semaine”Radio broadcast

02 “It’s Too Late”
03 “Who Are They”
04 “I’m Sorry”
05 “Flowers”

06 “Real Love”

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

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