Mics And Beats: Kunle Ayo

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Every other Thursday we have our Mics and Beats segment where we feature musicians. Our Mics and Beats artist is Multi-Award winning Nigerian born Jazz guitarist, Kunle Ayo. Kunle Ayo, one of Africa’s most celebrated guitarists, has earned several musical accolades, even comparisons with giants of the contemporary school like George Benson, Earl Klugh and Jimmy Dludlu.

Kunle Ayo

Kunle Ayo has just released his new album “Atunse the Revolution”. His  6th studio album featuring internationally acclaimed musicians like Bra Hugh Masekela, America’s great Saxophonist Kirk Whalum and Zimbabwean guitar giant, Oliver Mtukudzi. The album comprises of smooth African contemporary jazz which is ethnically influenced. Due to the demand for diverse styles of Music, Kunle Ayo stands out as one of the artists who has retained his roots as a Nigerian Jazz Guitarist.

One of the songs to watch out for is “ILE” (which means home in Kunle’s native Yoruba tongue) in which he featured Zimbabwe’s Guitar Giant, Oliver Mtukudzi.  Ile features the unique talents of both guitarists, whose natural in-studio chemistry makes for a smooth blend of the best that African jazz has to offer. The song, performed in Shona and Yoruba, talks about the importance of home and that feeling of comfort and safety of being at home.  Ile inspires a longing for the familiarity of home, regardless of how close or far it is.

Kunle was born and brought up in Lagos Nigeria. His Yoruba parents named him Kunle which is loosely translated “abundance” in his native Yoruba tongue. Literally “Kun” means “to fill” and “le” stands for “house”. In a way perhaps he was destined to literally fill houses with beautiful music.

Kunle Ayo started by playing drums and the thumb piano. He started playing the guitar when he was 20, going professional at the age of 28. This is when he started recording and playing alongside Nigeria’s internationally respected artists such as Chief Ebenezer Obey, Kayode Olajide and the enigmatic Lagbaja (The Masked One)  whom he toured Europe, North Africa and South America with.

Since his arrival to South Africa in 2002, Kunle Ayo has performed and recorded with some of the country’s best artists – notably the late Jabu Khanyile and international artists such as Kirk Whalum, Al Jarreau and Jonathan Butler.  He has produced music for talented musicians like MXO, KB and Simphiwe Dana to name a few. Kunle Ayo is currently putting the finishing touches on the legendary Hugh Masekela’s forthcoming release.

Kunle Ayo’s albums include “AYO” (JOY),  “BEYOND BORDERS”, “SINCERELY YOURS”, “A TASTE OF HOME”, “BEST OF BOTH WORLDS”, “JAZZIN UP HIS PRAISE”, and now the just released ATUNSE which was released on 30th April, 2016.

Kunle Ayo is an Ambassador for One Organisation alongside 18 other musicians including D’Banj, Femi Kuti, Omawunmi Magbele, Liz Ogunbo, Vicky Kimani, Buffalo Soldier, and Diamond amongst others. Their Do Agric Project which featured the incredible Pan – African “Cocoa na Chocolate song, was recorded and released in 2014.

In March 29, 2014, Kunle Ayo got London to a standstill during his Kunle Ayo Live in London Concert and DVD recording. The concert took place at the Swanky Under the Bridge in London. The concert was attended by the who’s who in the UK entertainment industry. The DVD will be released this year.

Kunle this year has performed at a couple of concerts this year. These include Safaricom International Jazz Festival in Kenya, the Ugu Jazz Festival held in Durban, Eldos Jazz Festival, Lesotho Tourism Festival and the Calabar Jazz festival in his hometown of Nigeria. He’s also playing at the Jazz Clubs in Johannesburg including The Orbit Home of Jazz and Winnies Jazz Club to mention a few as well as corporate functions and private parties.

Kunle has his own production company, K Cool Productions which he started in 2005. He has produced music for artists like MXO, KB, Simphiwe Dana, Dudu, Judith Sephuma and Asanda Bam.

K Cool productions has also produced a few TV programs namely Sound Sessions with Kunle Ayo, Purple Stripes and African Sounds aired on Africa Magic channel on Dstv.

Words In My Head

This is your second time to perform in Kenya at the International Safaricom Jazz Festival. How was it?

It was wonderful. The artists I performed on the same stage with, the ambience and the spirit of the festival was just great and beautiful.

Did you manage to do any tourist things like go to the National Park while you were here?

Yes! I went to see the Elephants.

How was the experience?

It was okay though I’m not big on animals.

You went to see the Ghetto Classics Kids in Korogocho Slum. How was that experience?

The experience was a joyful one because having been there in 2014 and going back this year to see the development and growth, it brought joy to my heart and a smile to my face.

What was the highlight of your time with the kids?

For me it was hearing them play and jamming with them.

When and why did you start playing?

I started playing in 1992 and it started as a hobby.

Which instruments do you play?

Guitar

Do you have a formal musical education?

No, I am self taught.

Thinking back to early childhood what was your first experience with music for the first time like?

I was a percussion player as a child and I loved playing in church any time I had the opportunity. Music was a spirit lifter for me.

What song do you remember most as a child?

Church Songs

Ile Featuring Oliver Mtukudzi

What musical influences did you have a child?

Reggae and Hip Hop as I used to enjoy rapping and singing along to the great Bob Marley’s tunes.

How is the music different from what you listen to now?

Now as a producer, I listen to varied genres. I enjoy checking out the production technique.

What made you first realize that you wanted to pursue a career in music?

As years went by playing the guitar, my love for the instrument grew immensely, I then decided after my tertiary education to give it a shot full time.

Kunle Ayo 2

Who are your favourite musicians now?

Richard Bona, Jonathan Butler, Oliver Mtukudzi, George Benson …

Groups?

Fourplay, Sixun

How do you handle mistakes during a performance?

Every mistake is part of the show.

What advice would you give to beginners who are nervous?

They should keep practicing and find opportunities to play for people to build their confidence.

Slowly but Surely

How often and for how long do you practice?

Every day at least 30 minutes to 3 hours.

Do you teach music?

Yes

How would you describe your music to somebody who has never heard you play before?

African Contemporary Jazz

Kunle Ayo jamming in Korogocho with the kids.
Kunle Ayo jamming in Korogocho with the kids.

What can people expect to see at your live performance?

Interaction between the band and the audience.

Kirk Whalum & Kunle Ayo

What do you think your biggest break or greatest opportunity has been so far in your musical career?

Producing Hugh Masekela’s latest album is definitely a highlight in my career.

Do you write your own music?

Yes I do.

What is your favourite type of music and is it different from what you play now?

African Music

Kunle Ayo Live at the Safaricom Stadium, Kasarani – Kenya


What are your other interests outside of music? What do you do to relax outside of music?

Watching movies and spending time with family.

What keeps you going as a musician?

Every day is a new day and new experience.

If you were to perform with anybody/group in the world, either dead, alive who would it be? (You can name a couple of people)

George Benson, King Sunny Ade and Earl Klugh to mention a few.

What are your up to date performance plans? New releases? Tours? News?

My new album Atunse was released last month on 30th April.

The long awaited Live DVD recording titled “Kunle Ayo Live in London” was released on April 30. It features Mobo award nominated artist, Femi Temowo, Multi-award winning Alto Saxophonist, Soweto Kinch and a host of others.

Olorun Mi (Live DVD)

If you would like to interact with Kunle Ayo you can find him on twitter @Kunleayo. You can also check out his YouTube channel. You can find Kunle Ayo’s new album on all music platforms like iTunes, Apple Music, Spotify, cdbaby etc.

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