Ayo: Joyful (Polydor)

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Ayo: Down on my Knees
Ayo: Joyful (Polydor)

The background to this itinerant singer-songwriter would make a good if slightly grim novel: she was born in Germany to a Nigerian father and a Romany mother; grew up in a gypsy community; spent time in Nigeria as a child; came back to Europe and mother became a junkie; ended up in London at 21; moved between New York and Paris; started singing in clubs around Les Halles; had a child . . .

And as with her life, her music is also a melting pot: she counts Jimmy Cliff, Donny Hathaway, Stevie Wonder and Nigerian musicians among her influences.

This debut album, despite its title, wears some hurts quite openly so it is little wonder its tone (not her singing style) has drawn comparisons with Tracy Chapman and Billie Holiday. There is a fragile quality to her vocals but the album -- which won unanimous praise in France -- also covers a lot of ground from reggae, chanson and blues, with touches of folksy-soul along the way.

It makes for an exceptionally intimate and highly listenable debut, which is in places as its title says.

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