A Lesson in “Beautiful Defiance” from Ayra Starr’s “19 and Dangerous”

By Elijah Abuni PeterWhen it comes to music, I appreciate the little nuances that every person’s distinctive style can provide. To fully appreciate any music; you have to be connected to the mood and the feelings that inspired that moment. And though as listeners, we often like to judge what is great and what is not. Our judgments are usually just a result of our unconscious bias.January 2021 was sort of a good time for me. It was the moment in which I decided that my manuscript “The African Romantic: A Poetry Exploration” needed to move on to where it could be seen. The other thing that made that month memorable was the introduction of Mavin’s newest act.The charming Ayra Starr’s debut extended playlist was a refreshing sight and sound. It was a beautifully crafted introduction to the world. The artistic beauty in it meant that my hopes of Nigerian music and musicians growing into the “world sound” were more intuitive than it was a measure of wishful thinking. It is an incredibly difficult thing to do.One of the first narratives that spurned out of her arrival was the immediate comparisons of her tone to that of the equally powerful and inspiring “Tems.”My reservations to that particular comparison stems from a place of concern about society’s greater need for duality. The need for the audience to have a willing and able comparison to one art or artist is something that has been fundamental in the rise of fandom.Yes, there were similarities in the texture of their voices and the cadence with which they sing. But both women are powerful because they individually exude such a different feeling that can in some ways overlap each other. Their major similarity at the end of the day is the simple truth. They are unapologetically defiant in the way that their music rolls off and the tone they exude. Their defiance stems from a place of self confidence, a confidence in their humanity and beliefs that seem to roll over their music and artistic choices.With her debut album “19 and Dangerous.” Ayra reminds us all that though we may see her as a young soul. Her kindred spirit is made up of a beautiful brand of rebellion that assures us that we cannot pigeon-hole her talent or personality. Ayra does not want us to create a label for her; she wants us to understand that when we underestimate what she is and can become, we underestimate a truly special talent.In a way, she continues the archetype of the emerging artists of the last four or five years. They are all young, intense, and not content to be placed in the box of what normal artist should be like.
Her album opener begins with a recorded voice speaking about how we make life problematic by listening to every other person or thing and not ourselves. In “Cast” a defiant Ayra wants to live; she does not want to be restricted by our imaginations of what her life should be. She is defiant enough to be willing to accept the consequences of wanting to live her life. When she sings the words “if I cast yeah I cast yeah” she embodies a classic Gen Z reinvention of the “Whatever will be will be” “Live and Let live” mantra.The groovy “Fashion killer” is a joint with confidence and sexiness in its mood. “Lonely” finds her showing us her vulnerability, expressing her concerns over a love that feels shaky at the moment. On “Snitch” which features Foushe, Ayra plays the role of a scorned lover, the lyrics and vocal dynamics here is beautiful.We may be uncomfortable sharing the moments after a bad breakup, but “Toxic” captures that moment with beautiful ease. A beautiful song to savour. “In between” is a mature song that captures some incredibly deep emotions.For very bias reasons, the duet with Ckay is my favourite song on the album; it captures the little nuance of two lovers caught in a battle of egos while ultimately knowing the love that they have for each other. “Karma” is incredibly tasteful too. “Black Samaritan” the single that preceded the album is beautiful and groovy, defiant in its mood. “Bridgertn” is Ayra in a fully confident and comfortable mood and “Amin” seems like an outlier for the album.With “19 and Dangerous” Ayra confirms to the world that her niche can only be defined by what she chooses to be. She is confident, vulnerable, cocky and bright, she shows us that despite the efforts by some to create a label where she compares to some other artist; she is in her own world, with her own experiences that have given her a perspective on who and what she wants to be and become.Maybe we can be dangerous too.Dangerous enough to discover who we are underneath all the complex emotions that plague us.Here’s to an artist that we hope to have for a long time.See you next time on Music Appreciation with Elijah.Elijah Abuni Peter is a writer, actor and lover of music; he likes African conversations and talks about African romanticism. His first offering, “The African Romantic: A Poetry Exploration” shows his love for the African discourse. He is passionate about education, creativity and beautiful girls.

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