Naija’s Gen-Z pop princesses finally have competition with Ayra Starr

The first thing we must get out of the way is the obvious comparisons that will be made between Ayra Starr, the new act from the Super Mavins Dynasty and the rebel artist Tems. You might even throw in Liya, the new signee from Davido’s DMW entertainment and rising indie star Fave. They all share a distinct independent aesthetic that is channeled through music that sits somewhere between shoegaze pop and ‘torch-shit-down’ defiant anthems, all filtered through an afropop filter. 

What differentiates Ayra Starr from her peers is the star power behind her. Her self titled EP, has Don Jazzy himself return to booth, with assistance from Louudaaa and Dayo Grey. Johnny Drille and Ikon (yes, master producer Ikon, renowned for his work on Syndik8 records) mix and master the album. Their collective work explains the near perfect polish on Ayra Starr’s earnest songwriting. 

The intro single on the album ‘Away’, is easily the most commercial song on the album. It is also this song that will draw the most comparisons to Tems for what we can only describe as ‘swagger’. It is a hard to pin down, rap-sung anthem that combines afro-pop with trap and R&B.  The production is smart, with deft guitar work that opens the song, and sparse percussion that allows her voice stay center stage. Artificial flourishes like layered vocals on the chorus and digital manipulation of her voice give the song heft.

The songwriting is where Ayra Starr really shines, while the song is delivered almost entirely in pidgin, the colloquial language choices are decidedly Gen-Z, with specific slang like ‘stan’ used to signpost who her audience really is. Chopped just right to provide 30 second crescendos for immediate adoption by content creators looking for the next viral soundtrack. 

With the commercial lead safely delivered, Ayra Starr has freedom to experiment with the rest of the album. The production team behind her album builds her songs from the ground up, references beloved independent instrumental bands, trap music, indie rock and reggaeton. The result is boundary defying songs like Memories, which has a guitar riff that sounds awfully similar to the guitar work on Explosions In The Sky’s ‘Who Do You Go Home To’ and  Ija with its  musicality, reggae inspired vocal flourishes and tribal drums. Ditr is succinct, at just under two minutes, but has the EP’s only song with an overt social message about a girl spiralling out of control. Then of course there is “Sare”, a brilliant homage to 70’s pop group The Lijadu Sisters and an interpolation of their hit single ‘Orere-Eleijigbo’. This kind of homage suggests Ayra has studied the history of women in Nigerian music and is deliberate about how she references and honours them in her music. 

It is important to note that Ayra Starr rejects the temptation to include the obligatory ballad or the overt ‘wedding song’ that all female artists, here and abroad are often pressured to include in their projects to prove that indeed, beneath the autotune and other flourishes, they can actually belt a tune. This isn’t a requirement that is asked of male artists and it is refreshing to see that Ayra Starr has management behind her that  are willing to take those risks with her.  

Mavin Entertainment clearly sees Ayra becoming the next Rema, a chameleonic talent with the star power to sell out stadiums and not to not rely on patronage from Nigeria’s wedding industry and its owambe circuit to make her living. After her self titled EP, we believe him. 

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