interview by JANA LETONJA

Nigerian singer Ayra Starr is a true blend of unapologetic Gen Z essence and a more introspective old soul. With the release of her song ‘Rush’ in 2022, she became the youngest African female artist to surpass 100 million views on a single video on YouTube. This year, she is nominated as Best International Act for BET Awards and has just started her first World tour ’21: The World Tour’.

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Ayra, you grew up with music. What encouraged you to pursue music as a career?
Growing up, I was exposed to various genres, from Afrobeats to gospel, and this played a significant role in shaping my musical taste. My family played a significant role in nurturing my love for music. I was exposed to a wide variety of genres from a young age. Beyond that, the power of music to connect, heal and inspire people around the world is something that always fascinated me. All these factors combined encouraged me to dive deep into this journey and pursue music as a career.

You write your own songs. How have you evolved as a songwriter from when you wrote your first song until today?
I’ve experienced a significant evolution in my songwriting process. Initially, I was just expressing raw emotions, trying to navigate the world of music and understand my voice. Over time, I’ve been exposed to different life experiences, cultures, sounds and stories that have enriched my narrative and allowed me to tap into deeper emotions and broader themes. Collaborating with other artists and producers has also expanded my horizon, teaching me different techniques and approaches to songwriting. Every song, every experience and every feedback has been a lesson, and I’m grateful for the journey so far. It’s a continuous learning process and I’m excited to see where my artistry takes me next.

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Your music has been predominantly categorized as Afropop and R&B. What makes you feel most at home in these genres? Is there any genre that you would really like to explore in the future?
Afropop and R&B resonate deeply with me because they’re a blend of the traditional and the modern, the local and the global. These genres allow me to express the rich tapestry of my African heritage while also speaking to universal emotions that people from all walks of life can relate to. The rhythms, the melodies and the stories told within these genres are an extension of who I am and where I come from. That being said, music is an evolving art form and I’m always eager to explore and experiment. In the future, I’d love to dive into genres like Neo-soul, Funk, 90s Pop and Fuji. Music is a vast universe and I’m excited to keep pushing my boundaries and discovering new horizons.

Who were your biggest musical inspirations growing up?
Growing up, I was deeply influenced by a mix of global icons and local legends. Artists like Nicki Minaj, Beyoncé, Rihanna and a host of others played a crucial role in shaping my understanding of music. Their powerful voices, artistry and unique stories taught me the importance of authenticity and self-expression. Legends like Fela Kuti, Angelique Kidjo, Asa, TuFace and Wande Coal have always inspired me with their groundbreaking contributions to African music. Their legacy reminds me of the depth, diversity and richness of our sounds. Each of these artists, in their own way, has left an indelible mark on my musical journey.

Your music has been used as a soundtrack for the action movie ‘Creed III’ and you’ve gotten to work with artists like Kelly Rowland and Wizkid. What’s been the biggest starstruck moment for you in your career so far?
Being part of the ‘Creed III’ soundtrack was definitely surreal. Seeing my music accompany such powerful scenes in a major film was a dream come true. But if I’m to talk about being starstruck, collaborating with Kelly Rowland was genuinely a pinch-me moment. I grew up listening to her, admiring her voice, her artistry and her journey. The first time we met, I had to take a moment to let it sink in. It was a humbling experience, reminding me of how far I’ve come and the incredible opportunities music has brought into my life. Wizkid too is an icon and working with him was a testament to the magic of Afrobeats on the global stage. Every day in this industry brings its surprises and I’m grateful for each moment.

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At the end of July, you embarked on your first World tour, on which you’ll visit America, Africa and Europe. How excited were you for it? What were your expectations for the tour?
Embarking on my first World Tour is an exhilarating experience. I’ve always visualized performing on global stages, connecting with fans from different cultures, backgrounds and parts of the world. Music has this incredible power to bridge gaps and I was looking forward to experiencing that magic live. As for my expectations, I hoped to create unforgettable memories with my fans. I wanted each concert to be a shared experience where we could celebrate music, love and unity. While I anticipate the challenges of touring, like different time zones, constant travel and the pressures of live performances, I also know that the energy and love from the fans will keep me going. This tour isn’t just about showcasing my music, it is about connecting, sharing and growing together with my fans.

Now that you are on tour, how does it feel being on stage in front of your fans, seeing them sing along and experiencing their reactions?
Every time I see them singing along, vibing to the beats and expressing their love, it fills me with a deep sense of gratitude and joy. It’s a surreal feeling to realize that songs crafted from personal experiences and emotions resonate so profoundly with so many. Their reactions, their energy and their warmth make all the challenges of touring worth it.

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You were born in Benin and grew up in Nigeria, and one of your dreams is to reach and touch the lives of other young people on the continent. How do you plan on supporting other upcoming talents to reach their dreams, just like you have?
Being born in Benin and growing up in Nigeria has given me a rich tapestry of experiences, cultures and sounds. The African continent is brimming with talent and I’m living proof that dreams can become reality. One of my deepest desires is to be a beacon of hope and inspiration for the younger generation. While I’d like to keep my specific projects private for now, I believe in the power of stories. Sharing my journey, the highs and the lows, can offer valuable lessons to those aiming to make their mark. Ultimately, I want to create a space where the next generation feels empowered, heard and ready to chase their dreams with the same passion and determination that fueled my own journey.

When you are not in the studio or on the stage, what are your favorite things to do?
I cherish my downtime and like to immerse myself in activities that rejuvenate and inspire me. Besides sleeping, I have a deep love for reading. It’s a way to transport myself to different worlds, gain new perspectives and sometimes, find inspiration for my next song. Spending quality time with my family and close friends is essential to me. Their support and grounding presence remind me of who I am beyond the spotlight. I’m also a fan of nature, so you might find me taking long walks or visiting serene spots to connect with the environment. And of course, just like any young person, I enjoy catching up on movies, series and exploring new music from artists around the world. These moments away from the limelight help me find balance and stay connected to my true self.

After you’ll finish your World tour, what’s coming up next?
After the World tour, I plan to take a brief moment to recharge and reflect. The journey, the performances and the interactions with fans from different parts of the world are sure to offer a wealth of experiences that I’d love to process. That said, music never stops. My album might be out by then, so I’ll be doing some promotion. I’d have gathered so much inspiration during the tour and I’d be eager to translate that into my music as well. As always, my aim is to continue evolving as an artist and to keep pushing boundaries, offering my fans fresh and authentic sounds.


Talent: Ayra Starr @ayrastarr
Photographer & Creative Direction: Sheila Pinas @butterscotsh_isle 
Creative Consultant: Ricardo van Lachterop @ricardovanlachterop
Stylist: Esmeralda Tan @esmeralda__tan
Styling assistant: Melanie Butter @melaniebutter_
Hair: Eldridge Mullenhof @eldridge_mullenhof
Makeup: Thirza King @thirzaking @charlottetilbury
Nails: Hannah Vrede @montana.nailz
Editor: Timi Letonja @timiletonja
Interview: Jana Letonja @janaletonja
Cover design: Arthur Roeloffzen @arthurroeloffzen