A celestial being moves swiftly in transient configuration. Her rare energy, neither created nor destroyed, defies physical boundaries, attracting only those who ought to listen. The planets fall in line behind her while the heavens admire the grace in which she moves. Transcending the confines of gravitational pull, she rests amongst the stars, cushioned by constellations. An ineffable momentum and phenomenon that resides in the resonant voice and encapsulating essence of the ‘Celestial Being,’ Ayra Starr.
Ayra Starr’s 2021 debut studio album, 19 and Dangerous, symbolizes this energetic outpouring, as the now 20-year-old songstress finds herself harnessing energy to uplift and share Afro-soul with the world. As we chat two days after her performance at the Dreamville Music Festival, I learn that Ayra’s speaking voice parallels her rich and ethereal singing one. An organic storyteller, Ayra’s captivating energy supplements each word as her hints of playfulness meet Gen Z sarcasm.
Born Oyinkansola Sarah Aderibigbe, Ayra tells me of her upbringing between Cotonou and Lagos—an intersection of cultural vibrancy and sound, as well as her musical genesis.I hear the nostalgia in Ayra’s voice as she recalls home and the childhood dreams that have since transpired into her reality. “I grew up with a very musical background,” she recalls. “If I had a good time, it was through the music playing in my household. I knew I was going to do music at some point in my life, I just didn’t know when.” Ayra admits that she was first mesmerized by stardom as a tried and true Disney Kid, listening to early 2000s Disney Channel royalty, Miley Cyrus and Selena Gomez, on repeat. She bursts into laughter remembering her most coveted dream to star in a Disney show, “Nobody could tell me anything. I used to daydream about it every day. I literally had my own show in my head.”
While destiny ushers Ayra down an avenue adjacent to her adolescent aspirations, she trusts that her energy possesses an intent beyond the framework of fame. “I feel like I’ve been given a mission by God to inspire this new generation,” she affirms. “When I was younger, I never had that representation of a young, Black, female artist. I never saw that, and I want to be that for young African girls now. That’s why I call myself ‘Celestial Being,’ because I make music that makes you feel euphoric, makes you feel good, and makes you feel positive.” Ayra wields the double-edged sword of fame with vigilance, insistent on becoming the very idol her younger self so desperately longed to see in the limelight. But, perhaps these roles of admiration can be reversed as well.
The key to Ayra’s confidence can be found in the innocent joys of her childhood—low-stakes fun, a Haribo gummy in hand, and an illusionary clock that strikes infinity. “I have the same confidence I had as a child. I don’t know when I lost it, but where I am now is like a child. I’m laughing all the time, I’m playing all the time. I don’t take anything seriously and I just believe in myself so much for no reason.” While this carefree mentality sounds effortless in theory, in practice, it’s not without intention. So what’s Ayra’s secret? As I ponder the singer’s effervescent presence, I realize I’ve had the answer all along.
The proof is in the rhythm. 19 and Dangerous is Ayra’s melodic compilation of pulsating energy, but it is also her expulsion of angst and despair. “We use music to lift us up and we use music to talk about heartbreak. We have music that talks about love and we also have the Gen Z anthems. I wanted an album that speaks to my experience as a Gen Z girl.” She continues, “I wrote this album with my brother during the lockdown. We would sit down and write because, of course, we were not allowed to go anywhere...we didn’t know what to do with all the energy and emotions, so I had to put it into the music.
”These beautiful oxymoronic qualities behind the dance hits that demand movement, like “Bloody Samaritan” and “Fashion Killer” are precisely the outlet Ayra’s celestial energy finds solace. “I made this album for the woman I am now,” she adds. “Making the album, yes, I was confident, but I feel like my confidence then was based on other people’s confidence in me, not confidence in who I was as a person.”
Rooted in divine femininity, Ayra’s empyrean stage name, ‘Ayra Starr,’ is an extension of the universe. The artist selected her moniker with intention, ensuring that the name behind the lyrics is equivalently charged with energy. “I Googled it and liked the way it sounded. There was nobody out there like Ayra Starr. My birth name is Oyin [kansola], but there are other Oyins. I wanted something that nobody had. Something for me and only me, and that was Ayra Starr. I just found out that Ayra also means star. So my name is literally Star Starr!” I ask if her alias is used by her loved ones, to which she humorously admits, “My siblings do it to make fun of me. They do it just to laugh. Or if my mom wants to yell at me she goes,“‘Ayraaaa Starrrrrr.’”
As Ayra travels beyond for her tour, her mission to inspire fuels motivation to traverse the unknown (even though she’s certain her sister is stealing fits from her closet as we speak.) As a 20-year-old ascending in the music industry, Ayra views her age as an asset rather than a hindrance, “My age has definitely helped me get to where I am. Because I’m so young, I’m very hungry. I’m hungry to achieve a lot. My dreams are so big and mighty, and it’s like I have so much time to achieve it, you know?” Considering her recent award nominations—BET Awards, The Headies, MTV EMA’s—and her single, “Rush” atop the Billboard charts, Ayra’s sentiment is well founded.
Stepping into a new era Ayra plans to propel the formidable energy she’s already put forth. “I’m usually not proud of myself because I’m very self-critical,” she admits, “but now I’m entering a ‘feeling myself’ era.” Though she is always working on new music and discovering ways to tap into her inner child, the Celestial Being in her continues to remind us, as well as herself, “Don’t let other people’s views of you be what you think of yourself. Just keep going. Believe in yourself. You’re bad, you’ve been bad, you know that. You have to love yourself. You have to hype yourself up first and everybody else will fall in line.”
Photographed by Angella Choe
Written by Shei Marcelline
Styled by Mui-Hai Chu
Hair: Sean Fears
Makeup: Wura Salvador