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Afrojam Music /Kosmo Music
Layori, whose latest album “Rebirth” is now released on Afro-Jam Music, is an artist perfectly attuned to the times we live in. Not only is she gifted with beauty, intelligence and exceptional ability, but there’s also a soulful honesty that courses throughout everything she touches. Add to this an abiding sense of personal identity and far-ranging worldview and we’re presented with a singer who describes her music as “modern, elegant, fashionable, but with an African touch.”
In fact it’s enchanting – an amalgamation of jazz, soul and pop that’s full of melody and remarkably easy on the ear, and yet it’s also rooted in personal truth, which lends it strength and transparency.
“My voice needs to be free so I can express what’s in my heart, and the music just needs to carry it,” she says. “It really depends on how sensitive and delicate the musicians are on their instruments, to carry a voice like mine.”
The universal nature of her music is thanks to her fluency in several languages (she’s just as happy singing in English, Portuguese or Yoruba), as well as influences derived from different parts of the world, including Latin America, Europe and Africa. The latter is especially important. Layori was born in Nigeria, and seeks to integrate her African roots in everything she does – in thinking and appearance, as well as her music. Her cultural background however, draws from many different sources. Her family left for America aged six, where they stayed for five and a half years before returning to Nigeria.
“I had to learn Nigerian culture all over again because I was so young when I left,” she recalls. “It was a bit difficult at first, but I think it was the best thing that happened. My father did that because he didn’t want us to lose our roots or forget where we came from.”
Interestingly, her father was a Muslim and her mother a Christian. Seeing the positive in each, she took from both viewpoints. “The religion is in you,” she attests. Layori’s tribal marks are another indication of her traditional African upbringing but it was her local high school, the Mayflower School in Ikenne that provided the best possible grounding for her musical career.
“It was one of the best things that ever happened to me,” she says. “It prepared me for true life, and real life. It left some wonderful traces inside of me because we were taught how to be self-reliant; how to understand our goals and to prepare for the outside world. We were taught that everything is in our own hands, and we can make things happen. We learnt not to be afraid of life and that was so very important.”
Layori’s stage debut occurred at a Mayflower event, singing in front of three thousand people on Valentine’s Day – an experience she describes as “opening a door into herself.”
“It felt normal to me,” she recalls. “Being on stage was where I felt at home, and that was a real turning point.”
After graduating from school Layori headed for London, where she stayed with an aunt for six months and then left for Portugal, where she’d lived for the next four years.
“I’ve never been afraid to just pack my bags and go if I feel I’m not in the right place,” she tells us. “That has been my way of life. If I feel this is not the right move or the right place and there could be a better opportunity to reach my goals or my dreams then I’ll take it. I’m not afraid of what can be, only of not knowing what could have been because of not trying it out. This was where I really started my musical career. I did a bit of everything. I sang covers, performed in jazz clubs, and worked with other singers like Paulo Gonzo. I also had a dear friend, who was successful banker and gave it all up to pursue a musical career. We’d work on songs in his home studio and that’s where my first attempts at writing took place. Other than that, I was just singing for a living as best as I could. That’s when I realised I needed to take it to another level and moved to Munich; then in Germany everything happened so fast...
“Within three months I’d met so many other artists and been booked for concerts in clubs and for corporate events. Before I knew it I was working with some highly rated DJs and writing songs with them. I was writing for other people, and I formed my own band, playing modern music..."
Her twelve years in Germany would prove career defining in every sense. Life-defining even, because Layori uncovered more of her personal, musical and spiritual identity there. Inspired by role models such as Miriam Makeba and Chavela Vargas, she carefully considered how her career may unfold in the years ahead and tailored her approach accordingly.
“There was something inside of me saying, ‘where do I see myself when I’m fifty or sixty? I saw myself on stage, still singing so that led me to thinking, ‘how does this line of music fit in with that?’ That was another turning point for me because I decided that everything I did from then on should be in a style and direction that represented the real me, without resorting to gimmicks or anything that wouldn’t last. That was what made me create the concept of Layori because music is more than just a job; it’s something I really need in my life and I know I will need it for as long as I live."
This was the point she took her surname Olayori, which means, “Through grace we were saved,” and shortened it to Layori. No sooner had she done so than she met singer/musician/producer Ewald “Wally” Warning, who was raised in the Dutch Antilles before relocating to the Netherlands and then Germany. He therefore shared her sense of cultural diversity, and he also had the musical experience to help take her career to the next level after playing bass with Sam & Dave and Lightnin' Hopkins, and then producing the crossover hit “No Monkey” – a Top 30 hit in both Austria and Germany.
“It’s funny because he and I didn’t decide to produce songs together, it was something that just happened,” says Layori. “He had his own studio and we just ended up working together. It was such a nice atmosphere and a nice feeling that we kept on doing more songs and that was how my first album “Origin” developed. It was fun working with him.”
“Yes and that album was like a homecoming,” she continues. “In all the years I spent in different countries around the world, my African soul was always present but I decided that never would I do anything that was against my culture, my pride, my beliefs and my roots...”
Upon its arrival in March 2010, her first album was only released in a handful of territories, including France, Poland and South Africa. It remains a little-heard gem yet provided a springboard for her latest album “Rebirth”, which adds something genuinely new and exciting to the field of contemporary music.
“I think this album is much deeper,” she says. “The birth of my child last year really made a difference, and it proved so inspirational as well. I wrote a lot of songs during the pregnancy and also after giving birth. That’s when we recorded the album and it was a very emotional time. I was full of love so the way the album came about was on an altogether different level from before. It’s as if it wasn’t of my own making and it’s also completely different musically. The musicians I have now, they’re so in tune with the way I want to interpret my songs. All of them have jazz roots but they’re not limited to that genre alone. They’re open-minded, and I think that’s why we gel so well. It’s so much fun with them. I really feel like they carry me. I feel safe with them and that’s how it should be. In fact we never want to stop playing together! Thanks guys!”
On that first album she used Wally’s musicians but before moving back to Portugal, she decided she had to form her own band.
“I wanted to get a jazzy, classical touch into my music, with a touch of elegance. The sounds had to be just right,” she says, before purring with pride over a new line-up anchored by her German-American bassist, who performed with jazz legend Chet Baker. The other members of a diverse line-up include a Brazilian saxophonist who doubles on flute; a German guitarist who is her regular writing partner and then a cajon player whom she drafted in to replace a conventional drummer. He adds something different to her music, yet without ever compromising its ability to really swing.
One of the tracks, “Dada” is reprised from her first album, except it’s a completely new version, “coming from the depths of where the music started.” The accompanying video was filmed in the Sahara. The backdrop is therefore stunning, and complemented the fabrics and colours Layori wore (and co-designed) with Haute couture designers (Christel und Sinn) to perfection.
“I had a vision of exactly how I wanted to look and I could feel the haute couture style going with the music and the desert,” she says. “That was the representation I wanted to give as Layori.”
“Dada” is sung in Yoruba, as are the majority of songs on “Rebirth”, including her latest single “Iwa Lewa”. That song’s so evocative, it’s as if she casts a spell over her listeners. Sensitivity and melody take precedence over words, and the mood that’s created is utterly unique. By her own admission it’s her emotions that determine which language she uses.
“Am I feeling it in English or my mother language?” she asks herself. “Because sometimes I think in English and then other times in Yoruba but on this album I just knew that I wanted to do most of the songs in my mother tongue. That was clear to me in the beginning. I’ll sing a couple of phrases in English so people can grasp the meaning but the birth of my daughter affected me deep as deep can be, which is back home to family and where I’m from.”
“Otito” is a lullaby, and means ‘alright’ or ‘it’s okay now’ in Yoruba. It’s what Layori says to her daughter if she’s crying or about to cry, as we can hear for ourselves on that track. Also, the way Layori’s sax player improvises around her baby’s cries underlines just how much her musicians really feel her music. No wonder she refers to them as family!
“Mayowa” was again inspired by her daughter, and it’s her second name as well. It means “you bring me joy,” which is a phrase Layori says can be understood in so many different forms. On a more serious note, “Ile Aye Kuru” was written in tribute to two friends who died from cancer at a relatively early age.
“It means ‘life is short,’ she says. “It’s saying, ‘just take one second and think about it. Try and figure out what’s important and ask yourself the question, ‘what am I really living for?’ That’s quite a deep song, even though it has a funky groove.”
She sings in Portuguese on “Que Vida”, which came together just as her album neared completion.
“I love the Portuguese language, culture and also the country,” she states. “I have a Portuguese citizenship as well so I wanted to sing a song in the language of the 2nd home of my heart (Portugal), except I sing in the Brazilian style as we used a bossa sound and I like how Brazilians speak Portuguese, they sing when they talk! It was a very interesting and attractive idea of hearing my own Yoruba language on a bossa sound, quite special I must say - by the way, a part of Brazil (Bahia) still speaks Yoruba and follow the culture and beliefs till today. That’s to show how so close languages, melodies and different cultures can be. You just have to be sensitive to how you use them but that’s what makes music the universal language. It’s the one language everybody feels worldwide.”
Other highlights include “Modupe” with its folksy guitar and African-style choral harmonies; a driving “Mama Mi Baba Mi”; the pastoral “Ma Je Ka Dinu” (featuring bowed bass) and “Igbagbe”, which is another example of the sophisticated, laidback Afro-jazz at which she excels. The majority of these tracks feature superlative flute solos, which is a hallmark of this sophomore album.
“He colours my songs in a beautiful way,” Layori says of her resident sax and flute player. “I think the flute is one of the closest instruments to singing or talking because it takes the sharp, short notes that other instruments find it hard to do, and that’s why it’s so important in my music. It’s used a lot in Nigeria as well. They have their own traditional flutes they use when playing at rituals, and the sound of it just takes you away. You could be anywhere within yourself or beyond and that’s the feeling the flute gives me. It’s like a bird singing.”
The same can be said of Layori’s voice, which transcends all boundaries and deserves a place among the handful of uniquely talented artists who truly represent today’s one-world philosophy. Her music is exceptional, and it’s international in every sense of the word. Listening to “Rebirth”, we get a sense of what music of the future may sound like once freed of all partisan concerns, and that’s capable of connecting with people on a global scale.
“I feel like I’m a citizen of the world,” she tells us. “I’ve travelled to so many places, I speak so many languages and I love music from so many different cultures... I was always able to appreciate all kinds of music and I think that’s because I was always open-minded and I could feel what people wanted to say, even if I couldn’t always understand what they were saying. I love that and I wanted my own music to be that transparent, so that people from all over the world could feel it. If this album can go some way to achieving that, then it would make me feel very happy.”