Prince Ayo’s musical roots were planted deep from a young age. A prolonged stint in the choir at his church in the small town of Atijere, gave him a first taste of harmony and hard-wired music to his heart. Later, a move to the bright lights of Lagos opened his eyes and ears to everything the metropolis had to offer. Local nightclubs, radio stations and record stores exposed him to a plethora of local and foreign stars who would later become his influences.
Inspired by the limitless possibilities associated with creativity, Ayo chose graphic design as his vocation. Entrepreneurial by nature, he set out to go freelance. His keen eye saw him land some work designing sleeves for local, independent record label Phonodisk. It was there that he formed friendships which helped him realise his dream of recording a solo album. He had always believed in a DIY attitude and never sought out a record deal or looked for funding from anyone else. So in 1980, he booked some recording sessions at the legendary Decca Studios, and hired some of the best session musicians in Lagos. After each session he had to save enough money for the next, a process which took two years to complete. He designed the sleeve, paid for the manufacturing and pressed 1000 copies of the record. Early in 1983, Love Candidate was born, he was finally ready to hand-deliver the album to stores across the city. This industrious and charismatic approach found him hanging out at radio stations, searching for the opportunity to personally hand the DJ a copy, in hope of precious airtime.
1986 was a pivotal year for Ayo, like many of his peers he traveled across the Atlantic to seek out a new life in the USA. Music was never far from his mind, and soon after landing in San Francisco he plugged into a network of some of the best musicians on the Bay Area circuit. Midway through 1988, infused with ideas and a desire to re-interpret the sounds of his homeland, Ayo began recording his new album Party Zone. With easier access to studios and lessons learnt from his previous experiences, his second installment was recorded in just 9 months, and in 1990 he traveled back to Nigeria to release the record.
Soundway have compiled the stand out cuts from each of these two albums, re-issued for the first time and showcasing the evolution of Ayo’s music between the two releases. Love Candidate fills side-A, led by Song Of Love (Instrumental) - mid-tempo, synth-heavy music toeing the line between lo-fi crunch and sophisticated charm. Followed closely by afro-disco melters Don’t Stop and the aptly titled Fun Time. Both with strong American, disco-funk leanings but full of Nigerian flavour, they come signed, sealed and delivered for any discerning dancefloor.
Sojourn (Ajo) lights up side-B, a coming-of-age journey that sets the tone for the rest of the album. With slick US production, but with its feet firmly planted in Yoruba culture, we find a more developed artist combining talking drums with distinct ’90s production, that deliver a unique blend of afro-pop. Gboro Mi Ro echoes the influence of Nigeria’s biggest musical export, Fela Kuti, but still retains its own particular character. Do Good follows in the footsteps of its predecessors but with added drama and depth. (The dub version of this track from the same album will feature on a forthcoming Soundway Records compilation of Nigerian recordings from the same era).
Ayo’s enduring confidence helped him overcome many challenges while self producing two albums, between Lagos and California. He hopes that the underlying message in his music can be an inspiration to anyone that has a tall task in front of them: “everyone has a song inside them or a painting that should be put to canvas. Don’t let obstacles get in your way, if you put your mind to it, you can achieve anything.”
Mastering by Dan Elleson.
Lacquer Cuts by Frank Merritt, The Carvery, London.