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‘That's the energy of Lagos: everybody's trying to work hard to become something.’

Gems in this

Photo>>>Ayra Starr


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Feature by Marley Ng

Ayra Starr has been on a meteoric ascent since her arrival on the Nigerian music scene in 2021. The contrast between Ayra Starr’s upbringing in the calm port city of Cotonou and her teen years spent amongst the hustle of Lagos has diversified her music, allowing her to reach audiences around the globe.

The Gen Z starlet has racked up eight-figure streams of her catchy Afrosoul tunes, and collaborated with music greats Wizkid and Kelly Rowland. She was also the first female artist in Nigeria to have multiple songs atop the charts. Dialing in from Lagos in a hot pink tracksuit, the singer chats to us about growing up with music, milestone performances, and her personal playbook for where to find the hippest haunts of Lagos.


On music as your happy place

I grew up in a very musical family. It was always our way of expressing ourselves. When we got back from school, we would get to watch MTV and we knew every lyric. Even the games we played: my auntie would say, ‘Everybody has to go learn the lyrics of this Kendrick Lamar song’ and we had to analyze the lyrics and write an essay on what he meant at 10 years old! So music has always been my happy place.

On growing up in two very different places

Lagos is very hustle-and-bustle, and Benin is so calm and quiet. It's by the beach and everybody's moving at their own pace — nobody's rushing. Even the culture is different. Benin makes a different type of music to Nigeria: it’s more like folk music, and they listen to a lot of French music. So that really taught me how to be very diverse with the type of music that I make, because I want to reach people of different cultures from different parts of the world.

‘I've performed almost everywhere, and it has taught me that even if people don't know my music, I am still a performer. I’m there to entertain, and by the time I leave the stage, you are going to want to know who I am.’

On collaborating with Kelly Rowland and Wizkid

Oh my god. It was the most exciting thing — I had a whole Destiny’s Child in my song! Kelly Rowland knows me? Crazy. That's my mood anytime I'm angry: I just remember, ‘Kelly Rowland knows me, so don't try that.’ I was eight when Wizkid released his first song that blew up. I remember watching the music video and how inspired I felt. My sister was like, ‘Oh, he's just 18,’ and I was like, ‘I want to do that when I’m 18.’ And here I am: I have a whole song with him. It's just amazing and I'm so grateful.

On always giving a good show

I've performed almost everywhere, and it has taught me that even if people don't know my music, I am still a performer. I’m there to entertain, and by the time I leave the stage, you are going to want to know who I am. That's the energy I carry onto every stage. Even when I get nervous, that’s what gives me confidence: I know that no matter what, I'm going to give them a good show. Before I used to see it as work, but now I really enjoy it. I know my strengths. Being on tour and traveling has really taught me that I like to entertain people.

On one of your most memorable performances

Every time I have a show, no matter where it is, I'm always like, ‘Are people going to come? Do they know me?’ I had a show in Germany and I was like, ‘What am I doing here? Are you sure they know my music?’ I was so nervous. I was passing through the crowd and everybody was going crazy. I'd never seen that before. Girls were crying. I was like, ‘You know me?!’ I got on stage and it was one of my best performances ever. People were so happy to see me. After the performance, I spent time with them and became friends with half of the people there. It was the best time ever.

On making music on the fly

I enjoy being on flights because I'm literally making music on the fly. I like to be doing different things. So when I'm supposed to be sleeping, I'm making music; reading a book; making friends with the flight attendants.

On a window or aisle seat

I like an aisle seat, because I always have to pee. If I'm on the window, I'm always having to disturb the person beside me, so I’d rather be able to do anything I want. Also, I always like to talk with the flight attendants. When I'm in the aisle I just become friends with everybody.

‘I didn’t understand the point of Lagos — but now I get it: when you wake up in the morning, everybody is hustling just like you are.’

On two things you can’t travel without

One thing I can't travel without is my foldable piano, because I'm learning how to play. Right now that's my number one thing. It's actually 88 keys, or I can fold it into like eight inches. And chilli oil definitely. I don't know the brand name but I carry it everywhere because I like my food spicy!

On moving to Lagos

I remember properly moving to Lagos when I was 13. The only reason I agreed to move was because my mom was like, ‘This is where you will be able to become a musician. This is where your dreams come true.’ So I always knew that when I got here, I was going to be able to work towards getting what I want. Lagos is my special place, not just my home. It's so close to my heart.

On the hustle of Lagos

I didn't understand the point of Lagos — it’s so noisy; there's so much going on. But now I get it. When you wake up in the morning, everybody is hustling just like you are. It's so motivational to know that everybody's on the same wavelength, even people doing different types of jobs. That's the energy of Lagos: everywhere you go, everybody's trying to work hard to become something. There's this understanding of each other every day.

On a home away from home

There’s this restaurant called THE HOUSE, which is just like a house. My friends and I will always go to the living room. We order the best food and watch movies. The couch is so comfortable and we get blankets. We're just in our own world there. It's so private and the food is so good.

On where inspiration strikes

Lighthouse Beach is my favorite beach. I like to go there and make music with my brother; he plays the guitar. The beach is so quiet and there are some abandoned ships on the water. And there's a lighthouse. It's just different, and so good. That's where I go to get my thoughts together and write good music.

‘Every single thing I do in Lagos is inspired by the people I see and meet.’

On after-hours spots

Mr. Oti’s [Oti’s Place] is a jazz club. I love it there because everybody that comes in knows what they're there for. It’s so calming. They have a grand piano and a cello and everything. The wine is amazing, and coffee. I know a lot of people know the place but it's really good. I like to perform there. A great bar-slash-club is W Bar. You meet people there and your friends are already there — even before you invite them. It's a good vibe and the music is always good.

On an escape outside the city

There's this other city called Abuja, where my mom and sister live. It's very different to Lagos, so I like to go there. They have an amusement park — I'm too old for this but it's fine — and I go there and I'm like yes! I do all the rides. It helps me feel good and normal.

On your relationship with Lagos

It’s a very hot and cold relationship. Sometimes I love Lagos so much, and sometimes I'm like, ‘I want to be out of here.’ It's a lot happening at once. When I'm out of Lagos I want to be back, and when I’m in Lagos I’m like, ‘Okay, I’m done.’

On songs that remind you of Lagos

It’s two songs for me: Wizkid’s ‘Ojuelegba,’ and Rema’s ‘Dumebi.’ I’m choosing Rema because I remember I had just left university when the song came out, and it was such a good time in Lagos. It was like my first coming out into society, and all the parties were playing that song. Wizkid’s ‘Ojuelegba’ reminds me so much of where I grew up in Lagos and being a teenager.

On Lagos in one word

Inspiring. Every single thing I do in Lagos is inspired by the people I see and meet. The things I see from my house to the studio just motivate me.


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