A singer and songwriter whose consistently lively material has ranged from contemporary folk and reggae to retro-pop-soul, Ay? emerged as one of Europe's biggest new pop stars of 2006. Born to a Nigerian father and Romani mother near Cologne, Germany, Ay? (Joy Ogunmakin) absorbed the musical traditions of her parentage as well as influences including American soul, reggae, and Afro-beat, all staples of her father's extensive record collection. Ay? first studied violin, before moving to piano and guitar. At 21 she relocated to London, later dividing her time between Paris and New York City and earning attention while opening for Omar and Cody ChesnuTT. After recording a five-song demo, Ay? briefly receded from the live circuit in late 2005 to give birth to her first child. Early the following year she signed to Polydor, and with producer Jay Newland completed Joyful (the English translation of her Yoruba name) in just five days. Buoyed by the singles "Life Is Real" and "Down on My Knees," the album landed on Billboard's Heatseekers and Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Albums charts and reached the overall Top Ten in several countries, including France and Italy. It went on to win a European Border Breakers Award (EBBA).
Given the success of her debut, Ay? continued to favor short sessions with Newland. Her sophomore album, Gravity at Last (2008), was recorded in five days at Compass Point in the Bahamas and went to number one in France. She added to her French Top Ten entries with Billie-Eve (2011). Named after her daughter, it too was recorded in five days with Newland, this time in New York and Paris with additional help from rapper Saul Williams and Lenny Kravitz collaborator Craig Ross. Her fourth album, Ticket to the World (2013), was a critical hit more than a commercial one, and led to a Globe de Cristal Award in the category of Best Female Performer. Ay?'s self-titled fifth album (2017) was released independently and promoted with the almost minimalist "I'm a Fool" (one of her deepest ballads) and the Paris homage "Paname."
- Cologne, Germany
- September 14, 1980