Ayra Starr works hard. She has the schedule one would expect from an artist on the rise; she is on a plane almost every other day, her diary packed with press engagements, weekly live performances, and countless other commitments. When she’s not on the move, most of her waking hours are spent either writing music or recording at late-night studio sessions. But perhaps what exemplifies the 19-year-old's commitment to her success most is the fact that in August 2021, Ayra released her first studio album 19 & Dangerous only seven months after she debuted her eponymous EP Ayra Starr. It was the distinct differences between the two bodies of work, both sonically and visually, as well as the amount of growth showcased on the latter album, that exhibited to the industry and her following her dedication to her craft, as well as how deliberate she is with her career, her sound, and even her style. ‘‘One thing I'd like to point out is that I’ve worked hard to be here,’’ Ayra tells Industrie Africa, ‘‘Every step has been beautiful, magical, rewarding, and celestial.’’
Ayra Starr wearing Orange Culture’s Red Heart Adire Set from the Casj Vol. 2 capsule collection.
Born Oyinkansola Sarah Aderibigbe, Ayra grew up between the Benin Republic and Nigeria. The singer notes that her life was always soundtracked by some of the musical greats. ‘‘I was born into a very musical family,’’ she shares, ‘‘Growing up, my aunties and mum would play Tuface Idibia, Tope Alabi, and Wande Coal. They introduced me to music very early, and I developed a passion for it from a pretty young age.’’
Ayra began singing as a member of her church’s choir and continued at university where she received compliments on her vocal ability from her peers and more importantly, from her mother. ‘‘My mum is my biggest supporter. She believes in me and my talent so much,’’ Ayra proudly explains, ‘‘She’s the one that calls to remind me to upload songs after I’ve recorded them, to check in on me, and send words of encouragement.”
In 2019, Ayra took to YouTube where she learned how to layer and execute complex vocal techniques. Not long after, she began releasing covers of various artists on her Instagram. Though these videos would often go viral, it wasn’t until the singer released a video of her performing an original song ‘Damage’ written by her younger brother Dami Aderibigbe, who goes by the moniker Milar, that she caught the attention of Don Jazzy, the owner of Mavin Records and one of Nigeria's most prolific musicians. ‘‘[Don] Jazzy sent me a DM and said he had watched my video and just had to talk to me about my music, then he invited me to the Mavin studio. About three days later, he and I met,’’ recounts Ayra. Today, the story of Ayra’s discovery is an encounter well-known by many: "Last year I met the most incredible 18-year-old girl, her name is Ayra Starr,” tweeted Don Jazzy, “Through her lyrics guided by her soulful voice, I can see the world from a teenager's point of view.”
Rise to Stardom
Shortly before her big break in 2019, Ayra created the stage name people would come to know her by. ‘‘I didn’t want to use my name Oyinkansola, but I still wanted a name that stood for things I believed in,’’ she explains, ‘‘So I went online, and after a long search, found the Arabic name ‘Ayra’ which means ‘woke, eye-opening, respectable’—the things I want my music to stand for. And ‘Starr’ because I’ve always believed that's what I am.’’ Ayra may have begun 2021 unknown to many, but now she is arguably one of Nigeria’s most popular female entertainers.
With an Instagram following of 753,000 and a Spotify monthly listening audience of over 400,000, Ayra’s fan base is one of the fastest-growing in the country. But what truly makes her the cultural phenomenon that she is? For Ayra, it is understanding her inherent power as a Gen Z artist. She is embracing the strength of trends and the digital world—an example being her viral TikTok challenge, inspired by her first single Away, as well as the wildly popular follow-up for her single Bloody Samaritan. The original video that Ayra uploaded on TikTok currently has 2 million views and counting, and has been recreated over 290,000 times by users on the app.
“One thing I'd like to point out is that I’ve worked hard to be here. Every step has been beautiful, magical, rewarding, and celestial.”
Developing her Style
But even away from the glare of social media, Ayra embraces everything that makes her authentically Gen Z. Similar to artists like Billie Eilish, she is part of a crop of young celebrities that have eschewed the vanity around ‘selfie culture’ for something far more natural—a relatability and proud individuality that manifests itself in her approach to style. ‘‘Fashion is a tool for storytelling and as an artist, I tell stories through fashion and my music,’’ Ayra says about harnessing African fashion as part of her core aesthetic. “Fashion on the continent is evolving. I love how we have been able to grow but still stay true to our heritage and infuse it with contemporary techniques, so much so that people outside of the continent are keen to emulate us.’’ In her music videos, Ayra almost only wears pieces from indigenously Nigerian fashion designers such as Rogue, Kiing Daviids and The Daltimore Brand (thanks to her stylist Pat Ada Eze), and as an artist who resonates with her youthful audience, her ensembles are equal parts edgy and stylish. You might find her teaming a duster jacket over a crop top with ripped mom jeans in one frame, and an embellished cutout bodysuit in the next. Ayra doesn’t want to just look fashionable; she wants to look effortlessly cool and does so with aplomb.
Off-duty, Ayra’s style is quite typical of a teenager—statement faded vintage tees, baggy overshirts, worn hoodies, distressed denim, and layers of jewelry. When asked to describe her style, Ayra says, ‘‘At the moment I can’t put a name to it so I’ll just call it 'experimental',’’ She continues, ‘‘You will most likely find me in comfortable clothing, mostly oversized.’’
It's hard to pinpoint Ayra’s one superpower—perhaps it's her confidence, her irrefutable drive, or her unique ability to connect with a modern audience. It could easily be all of them. Whatever it is, that je ne sais quoi has catapulted her to stardom. It is also abundantly clear that whatever Ayra’s next moves are—new releases, exciting collaborations, or even global dominance, she has the Nigerian public waiting with bated breath for what she’ll do next. That power, the natural command, can't be bought or taught and for that reason alone, this burgeoning songstress is already everything she says she is, and so much more.
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