Ayra Starr: A personal letter to the world

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Credit: @ayrastarr

For many, turning 21 symbolises an important milestone in their lives, a transformation from a young adolescent to embracing the trials and tribulations of what adulthood has to offer.

Within a few short years, Ayra Starr has risen quickly to the heights of Afrobeat royalty, subsequently becoming a household name in and outside of Africa. Her new album “The Year I Turned 21”, which dropped May 31st, showcases her evolution and growth from the newly emerging talent we met on her debut EP “19 and Dangerous.” The 15-track album embodies her coming-of-age experiences as she embarks on a new chapter.

Oyinkansola Sarah Aderibigbe, more commonly known by her stage name Ayra Starr was born in Benin, Nigeria in June 2002. She crashed onto the music scene after releasing her song “Away” in 2021, following her signing with African record label Mavin Records owned by the label’s executive Don Jazzy. The now 21, soon-to-be 22-year-old Grammy nominee went on to release her popularised EP “19 & Dangerous” later that year. But it was her songs “Bloody Samaritan” and “Rush” that earned her international recognition and numerous awards like the Headies Viewer’s Choice in 2022 which cemented her spot among Africa’s new generational talents.

Her unique genre, a mixture of pop, R&B, and Afrobeats to name a few, has not only allowed her to successfully build a fanbase both nationally and internationally, but has also expanded African music to the world. This makes her one of the biggest stars to emerge from Africa and one of the most recognisable stars on the planet.

It is therefore no surprise that “The Year I Turned 21”, released by Marvin Records on Friday, reflects a mixture of different sounds and musical genres from Afropop to R&B and soulful ballads. The album features a number of huge artists within the international music industry. This includes American R&B singer Giveon, Brazillian singer/songwriter Anitta, American singer and actress Coco Jones, African singer/songwriter Asake, African artist Seyi Vibez, singer Milar, Jamaican record producer Rvssian, and, Puerto Rican singer Rauw Alejandro.

The album’s opening song “Birds Sing of Money” immediately captures the listener as she sings “I don’t watch my tone/ “cause I like how I sound, bitch.” The track illustrates the depth and controlled nature of Starr’s impeccable vocal talents. The lyrics read as a homage to her background, showing her desire to remember her roots whilst tackling the new heights of her fame. Across the tracks, her ability to weave together different musical genres with traditional Afrobeats sounds is clear. This was most prominent on “Goodbye (Warm Up)” alongside Afropop giant Asake. The jazz-infused song centred on letting go of past lovers and perhaps a past life in search of a new or better one, a perfect fit for the message of this album.

Credit: Joe Schildhorn

The pinnacle of the album “21” takes the listener on an emotional ride. An autobiography in a way, Starr recounts the experiences she has faced in her life up to turning 21. She comes to a self-realisation throughout the song, that her success, the rewards, and the emotional baggage are all on her shoulders. This is the pivotal moment within the album as it highlights her transition into an adult. The continued repetition of the lyrics “Well shit I’m just 21” throughout acts as a reminder to her and the listener of how much she has achieved within a short period compared to her predecessors and how much she has left to come.

The fusion of vocals from Starr and Milar on “1942” produced one of the best vocals on the album. The message here is strong; “Their fear of losing everything they have worked so hard for.” Their shared pain is clear, but their determination to continue to succeed ends the song on a hopeful note.

The closing track, “The Kids Are Alright” provides a loving tribute to her late father. The song begins with a monologue from her mother who encourages Starr to go and enjoy her success and be happy. This dialogue accompanied by an orchestra of strings is sure to tug on listeners’ hearts. It ends with recorded voice notes from the rest of her family providing life updates since he passed, a solemn but beautiful note to round off a rollercoaster of an album.

 To conclude, this album is a letter showcasing the triumphs and hurdles she has faced at such a young age. From an outsider’s perspective, many of us fail to understand the work and growth she has had to put in to reach the level she is at now. While the underlying reason for creating this album is to generate sales, as with all artists overall, it is a tale of recurring themes; from hope to heartbreak, love and suffering, avoidance and acceptance. With over 30 million monthly listeners on Spotify, it is quite clear that we will see more of this amazing artist in the future.