FYI available at:
Download Elizabeth’s mix-tape Black Betty Part 1:
WHEN life becomes quite transitory and changeable; you need something…
to keep you focused and distracted. At the moment- when it comes to me at least- reviewing is taking up my time; allowing me a chance to ‘express’- channel some negative thoughts into positive writing. Music itself has a way of being able to heal and aid: assist in easing anxieties and troubles; allowing the listener to become engrossed in something uplifting- and change their way of thinking. My featured artists- and the music she produces- has a warm and confident sound; her music digs deep and makes you think- towing the line between personal investigation and outward decelerations. Before I arrive at that, it is worth mentioning London-based music (in addition to the importance of individuality). A recent study was published (by E.I.U./Mercer) listing the 50 most desirable cities in the world- the best places to live. Perhaps not surprisingly, Melbourne topped the list- and retained its crown- without much competition; a city that has drawn in a lot of emigrating minds- people are keen to settle there and experience its wonders. Among the top twenty, Australia (and New Zealand) featured prominently; Canada was well represented- European cities like Paris and Hamburg (had their place in the top ranks). Surprising for me- although perhaps not a shock for most people- our capital was not in the top 20 (it failed to crack the top 50 in fact). As a place to live, maybe there are too many drawbacks: too many people and pollution; too crammed and built-up; we lack the beaches and relaxation of Melbourne- and our weather is not exactly spellbinding. London, for me at least, would be in the top 10: I find it has a great energy and community; the range of history and modernity fuses well- it is a city always on the move; you can never be bored. Maybe not ideal for relaxing/nourishing, from a musical sense, London has done wonders: a lot of the best (modern) music emanates here- some of the most diverse artists call London home. With the diversity (and range of nationalities) some wonderful music is produced: from fantastic R ‘n’ B and Rap to Indie bands and Electronica- there is such a wealth of quality. It is that diversity that influences artists: compels them to try something different; put thought and effort into their music- subsume expectations and the mainstream; produce music of the highest quality. Having grown a little tired of (the London Indie) scene, I have been hunting for solo artists: acts that offer more than drum/bass/guitar predictability- and flood the ears with something layered, seductive and captivating. That brings me (neatly for me) to Elizabeth Ajao: a young up-and-coming artist with a rare talent; a voice that is both smooth and urgent; lyrics that are personal and inspiring- a musician that is a tantalising proposition. Before I continue on- and raise a new theme- let me introduce Ajao to you:
“Elizabeth Ajao is a London based singer songwriter. She’s just released Part 1 of her Mixtape “Black Betty” accompanied by a promo video for her original song “Sick”.
Until now Elizabeth has been behind the scenes writing & recording session vocals for various projects. A chance meeting with producer Syze-Up from Desert Eagle Discs led to them working on original material and experimenting with her sound.
Currently she is locked in the studio writing songs and developing a unique style for her debut album. Until then she decided to have some fun, and introduce herself with the mixtapes.
Black Betty part 1 & 2 comprises Elizabeth’s original songs as well as takes on classic as diverse as Creative Source, Arctic Monkeys, Cyndi Lauper & Mantronix. Elizabeth’s unique style and voice pulls these all together to make sense. The mixtape features guests Brooklyn rapper Neefo Ducatii & Dave Stewart’s (Eurythmics) group Mr & Mrs.
Keep your eyes peeled for Elizabeth in 2015 she’ll be gigging throughout London and the UK promoting her mixtapes.”
This year has been a busy one (for Ajao): she has been performing and touring; coming up with new sounds- putting together her latest mix-tape. Black Betty Part 1 was received with warm praise and effusive love: reviewers and fans latched onto its mingling of Soul/Pop; the Funk-cum-Urban edges- the mix of sounds and consistent quality. With ‘Part II in the ether- having been released a couple of months ago- I was delighted to dive in; see what was afoot- and investigate its finest moment. I shall get to that in time; for now, I have been compelled to mention Ajao’s consistency. When her first mix-tape was released; the confidence was all there; she arrived fully formed and ready: an eager artist with a true vision; a voice that was beyond lazy comparisons- someone determined to make a mark. When the second mix-tape came out, there was no faltering or dip- of anything, the songs are stronger and more insistent; the sense of adventure and confidence heightened. A lot of solo artists tend to stick to a tried-and-tested sound: they will not add too much innovation and genre-fuse; scared they will lose their identity and sense of personality- you lose out on a lot of potential. Ajao strikes me as an artist that could do something tremendous: produce an album that tangles genres and sounds; joins hard beats with soulful vocals; lyrical savviness with something emotive and open- an album that offers a supreme spread. When I look at some of my favourite albums of the last 15-20 years- that are synonymous with influence and inventiveness- L.P.s like Maxinquaye (by Tricky) come up. That album sees Martine (Topley-Bird) lend her extraordinary vocals to the blend; the album is haunting and nuanced; mysterious and cut-and-paste. If you listen to the murmured vocals and hushes; the insistent rushes and samples- everyone from Michael Jackson to Portishead is introduced into the fold- and you have a stand-out classic. Ajao has that central voice (like Martine) already cemented: something that could score her own songs- and sound seamless on a song like Black Steel. Whether she decides to or not, collaborating- with beat-makers and producers- could see something with that mystique and quality. Fusers and genre-splicers are common place- they are usually D.J.s and Rap/Hip-Hop artists- that do not have that focal voice and strength. Ajao has that mixture of warmth and strength; sweetness and black seduction- that could expertly lend itself to a range of possibilities. That is in the future, yet (these proclamations) come off the back of her current offerings- it is clear she has a golden future; going to be one of the hottest to watch.
For a good representation of Ajao- and how she stacks up; how her work has evolved- you need to go digging; study her past sounds- and see how far she has come. Writing’s on the Wall was unveiled 3 years ago: one of her earliest cuts, it is a Pop-cum-Soul gem. When witnessing the vocal (and sound for that matter) I was put in mind of Aaliyah; her self-titled album- that arrived a couple of months before her death. That romance and serenity; the pride and passion- I can see comparisons between Ajao and the legendary American. Shades of Beyoncé and Destiny’s Child come out (in this track): the seamless melting of classic R ‘n’ B and ‘90s Soul- modernised and updated with verve and panache. Looking at harmful seduction- a moth to her man’s harsh flame- there is indecision and doubt; not sure what to do- infatuated by a forbidden allure. Catchy and rushing; stunningly realised- with some exceptional production values- it is a bold and stunning song. Sick (released a year ago) saw Ajao step up things: the loose and mingled beats start the track; choppy and pulsating undertones foster a punchy percussion- it is heartfelt and louche; sweaty and emotive. Maturing and updating her debut sounds, the track is sensual and raw: the music bristles with life and energy; vocals layer to create something vibrant and vivacious- the production puts the voice right up front. Looking at a fall-out- the indiscretion and heartache from a relation break-up- it sees an unsuitable sweetheart; a man that has caused scars and tears- someone being given a comprehensive dressing-down. Permeating the anger is a busy and colourful composition: the song is mobile and ever-changing; there is a mingling of Urban and Soul swathes; calmer Pop and Jazz- all wrapped around a direct and stunning vocal centre. Can’t Hide Love (another cut from Black Betty Part I) displays Funk and Hip-Hop beginnings. The introduction has street-hard ambitions; traffic-dodging rushes- an intertwine of hurry and relax; firm and contrite. With Black Betty (the song; not the mix-tape) being sampled; you get a great fusion occurring- something that augments and defines the song. Showcasing a sense of invention and emotion, everything is perfectly placed: the song is confident and brash; it does not hide its light- everything is in the spotlight. More upbeat and righteous, we look at positivity and proclamation: not hiding love and emotion; not shying away from things. Not only do the feet beat, the arms sway and punch: it is a song catchy and addictive; memorable and personal- yet something everyone can understand. Nothing to It (from Black Betty Part II) sees a fresh and smooth introduction: dreamy and delirious vocals interlock and conspire- there are Jazz tones afoot. Dropping in some Kind of Blue-era Mile Davis- together with something sensual and serene- the song is a calmer affair. More introspective and textured, it is a short number- a perfect scene-setter and mood-definer. Being a mix-tape, shorter songs will mix with longer: that is not to say this is a lesser thing. Beautiful and concise, it shows Ajao to be both economical and tight- in addition to being inventive and diverse. Being a mix-tape- and the second in the series- Horns of Dilemma is longer and more sprawling. Again, the spirit of Aaliyah remains strong: that insatiable and commanding voice; the declarative vocals and throwing off the shackles; being a (proud and happy) slave to the beats. Ayao channels her love of Urban/Funk sounds into a colorful and rich composition: the vocal is chocolate-scented and gorgeous; the sentiments true and heartfelt. You drift away admit the serenity of the voice; captivated by the emotions of the lyrics- a song that tries to figure problems out; get off of dilemma’s horns. Since her fire mix-tape, the second installment- that features FYI– has seen development and new subject matter. Whilst heartache and indecision are key topics; the way they are presented seems bolder and more confident- the compositions are more addictive and nuanced; the vocals seem more intuitive and emotive. That said; there is not much to it: Ayao began full of verve and potential; there is not much room for improvement- if anything, remaining consistent and true is the main hallmark. Without compromising her ethics and sound, what we have is an artist with a true sense of identity. The Black Betty-helmer mixes sweet-grooved lust with chop-and-change danger; arms-aloft emotion with heart-bleeding sentiments- a stunning range of ambitions and sounds.
Given everything I know about Ajoa- and her glistening back catalogue- I was primed for the joys of FYI. The opening moments (of the song) echo and repeat the title: a shimmering voice signals “FYI”; it reverberates and ripples; creating a sense of uplift and passion. From the first moments you get an idea of the song: it lays out its identity and sound within a few seconds; part Pop-Soul; parts R ‘n’ B-cum-Funk. From the sapling calm; the insistently-delivered notes, the metre and pace changes- turning into something determined and urgent. With Beyoncé-inspired vocal prowess- the delivery is sassy and strong; the tone is R ‘n’ B-meets-Alternative. Firing her lines forth- almost with a Rap-like fury- our heroine is the “revolutionary”; trying to make a better life (and escape pain and struggle) she is in determined mode- stepping into the beat. That ‘beat’ in question is a wave that crashes and rides; hip-shaking and snaking it slithers and strikes. Our heroine used to be ordinary and plain-laced; her new love- a seemingly irresistible drug- has been hooked to her veins; she is powerless to resist. Whether insecure (or coupled with an edge of sarcasm) Ayao seems very cool-nerved and relaxed: if nerves are frayed it’s cool; she is learning some nefarious tricks; there seems to be a casual attitude to things. At the heart of the song- and as the title may suggest- is that need to come out on top; not be held back by others and issues; to take charge. Our lady is out of her hole; not willing to be tied-down and defined, she is in command: that sense of against-the-odds swagger radiates in every note. Backing the fast-paced vocals (that trip from the tongue and bounce with a fever) is that insatiable chorus. A consistent beat runs through the spine- that is both catchy and time-keeping- the composition is sparse yet effective- augmenting the vocal whilst adding dimensions of rhythm, passion and firepower. Having been “reincarnated” and reborn- having changed her tact and being given a new lease- you can hear that confidence and sense of vivaciousness. Whether the words are directed at a current love- or a person/people that have doubted her- this is her rally call; the sound of a young woman on the attack. As Ayao says herself, this is a cautionary tale: one steeped with I’ve-been-through-this dilemmas, she is treading lightly. Her beau (and subject of her discourse) is being given a tongue-lashing: in the past, events have transpired; our heroine has been on the back foot- now he is asking forgiveness, it is her chance to call the shots. Like the best R ‘n’ B female singers- including Beyoncé, Aaliyah and Alicia Keys- Ajao shows no signs of fakery and disingenuous spirit. Her words come from a real place; her voice is natural and unforced- her aural exorcism is as fascinating and compelling (as any by the aforementioned artists). Although her words are spun and tangle, the clarity and concision is still there- a few words get dragged into the rush; for the most part, they are intelligible and extrapolatable. The casual listener will be hooked on that city-swagger beat; the f**-you rhythms; to the trained ear, the song goes a whole lot deeper. It seems to be bond was cut under tense circumstances: as the chorus explains (the song’s anti-hero) has a look of surprise; he assumed he would not meet our heroine again- shocked at her resilience and determination. The song not only appeal to young women- the demographic that live this song; can readily empathise with Ajao’s plight- but people of all ages. As a young man- well, sort of young- it strikes my ear hard: the song has a more general appeal; it is a wake-up call and statement of independence; a strong-willed anthem that speaks to everyone- a track destined to inspire the crowds and listeners in unison. Before the song’s half-way point, the chorus is reintroduced: with each new delivery there seems fresh inflection and nuance; it builds up steam and gets catchier- its simplicity and directness cuts right to the core. Fancy-free and to-the-quick, that chorus is an insatiable swing: the type that will appeal to music-lovers (of all genres) – an indelible and glorious hook. By the two-thirds mark, the native changes- and our heroine sings both sides of the story. Casting herself as her former-beau- he asks for forgiveness; give things another go- she switches the tables and retorts- in essence, it ain’t going to happen. Rather than projecting the lyrics with little imagination, instead, this is a clever move: the song is kept in the first-person; yet switching from recollection and hindsight to present-tense conversation gives the song fluidity and depth- it gives it a sense of reality and story; a cheeky little sense of sarcasm, too. Sassy and in-no-mood-for-bullshit, Ajao is reading the rights; giving (her boy) a reality check- she is looking for an honest man; rather than a selfish kid. By the closing stages the chorus is thrown back in- enforcing that sense of rebelliousness and moving-on- and leaving the song on a lighter note.
FYI is a song both familiar and unique; ‘90s/’00s-isnpired and cutting-edge. Ajao is clearly influenced by the R ‘n’ B legends (mentioned earlier); the great Soul singers and modern-day Pop leaders. I have mentioned Beyoncé and Aaliyah a lot- and to be fair, she does not mimic them; instead injects a slight cadence and suggestion. One of the great things (about the song) is its consistent flow: from the introduction on, you are powerless to resist. Up there with the best on the current scene, FYI is a stunning accomplishment. Clearly, Ajao has gone through some heartache and strife: the way she documents this is done in an effective and compelling way; there is little vitriol and judgment- instead, defiance and grace. Delivered with a sea of urgency, passion and soul; the track is always striking and memorable- there is never a moment when the mood and pace drops. The lyrics are both economical- there are not too many words; the ones there are (are) intelligent and personal- and the composition fresh and vibrant. With a slick and polished production sound- that does not compromise clarity and naturalness for shine and shallowness- what you get is a bold and inspiring tale; something that will appeal to its target audience (young women) and compel everyone else. In a current scene that has intermittent jewels; where Contemporary/R ‘n’ B is a patchy affair- Ajao offer something genuinely wonderful.
Having spent a lot of time with Ajao (and her music) I am excited about the future: whether the L.P. (or a new creation) arrives this year- or whether we wait until 2016- it is sure to be greeted with speculation and universal praise. With Black Betty’ (both parts) on the market, they are perfect representations of the London-based singer: with all that passion and talent on board, it will be fascinating to see (where that takes her). If you look around the contemporary market- and fellow female songwriters- there are a few that you know will go onto great things; a lot that seem less assured; many that will fall within a few years. Ajao fits into the first category for a number of reasons: for one she has- like I expressed with my Maxinquaye soliloquy- innovativeness and mobility to create a modern classic; she has that sensation voice and lyrical talent; to boot, her music is constantly gripping. FYI is one side to the young artist: a confident and jam-packed song that burrows into the brain; demands repeated listens- and demands you investigate her back catalogue. I am going to end the review talking a little about the future of music (in London) for our heroine. Having come onto the scene with plenty of ambition and distinction, the next steps are vital: how will she capitalise on this form; where will her next music take her? Of course, touring the capital will be on the agenda; taking her music on the road- and coming up with new music. I have been deeply impressed with (Ajao’s) mix-tapes; her style and flair are to be commended- I am fascinating to see what is next. In London, there are a wealth of new artists coming through: it is hard to distinguish the true leaders; which acts will be around (years from now) – and leading the charge to the mainstream. The ones that will succeed- and remain in the public forefront- are those that showcase some difference and originality; go beyond the boundaries and expectations- genuinely compel the listener. I have heard so many acts that come off as one-dimensional and dull; too timid to be bold and brave- preferring to wade through the waters of predictability and inpsideness. I may be putting a lot of Ajao’s shoulders, yet there is a true spark there: someone that wants to be a main-stayer- and remain on the scene for many years- and a true inspirer: I feel she has the potential to do some great things. Black Betty Part II– and FYI especially- provides a glorious glimpse into her psyche- and just what she can come up with. Whether future cuts stick to her solid formula- or whether she brings in others to expand and broaden her sounds- is down to her; however there are options out there. For now, it is well worth exploring Black Betty (in both its guises) and see where she is now: the rest of this year will see music percolating; new dates being confirmed- a chance for fans to see her in the flesh. If you are looking for an artist that offer something different; provides something new to the ears- you should make some time for Elizabeth Ajao. Away from the endless sea of Indie-Rock bands- with its indeterminable quality and range- there is that desire to embrace something different and fresh- music that not only motivates the feet and voice; it speaks to the heart and mind. With that in mind, clear some time aside; sit back and relax and let…
THE young innovator get inside your head.
Follow Elizabeth Ajao: