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All that jazz: Kunle Ayo

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Nigerian jazz guitar virtuoso Adekunle Ayodeji Odutayo, popularly known in music circles as Kunle Ayo, is an inspired musician whose style is soulful, cheerful and funky.

Kunle’s music is uplifting, energetic and incredible. He is an engaging and astounding live performer with an unparalleled ability to connect and interact with his audience emotionally.

Kunle Ayo’s mastery has earned him favourable comparisons with jazz greats like George Benson, Earl Klugh and Jimmy Dludlu. His seamless fusion of west African, Southern African and Western musical traditions has won him several awards including a Kora Award (2004 in the Best Male Artist, west Africa category) for his second album, Beyond The Borders and Best Jazz Video (Channel O Awards – 2005) for Slowly But Surely, a smooth ballad on the album Beyond The Borders.

The jazz maestro has performed and recorded with jazz legends including Al Jarreau, Jonathan Butler, Dave Koz, Kirk Whalum, Judith Sephuma, Jabu Khanyile, Marcus Wyatt (trumpet), Buddy Wells (saxophone), Moses Khumalo, Musa Manzini and Nombulelo Maqetuka.

Kunle is fast rising to international stardom and becoming one of the most sought-after performers and he has made appearances at several jazz concerts and festivals.

These include Harare Jazz Festival (2009), Joy of Jazz Guitar Summit (2006), Jazz By The River, Macfest, Mapungubwe Jazz Festival, Joy of Jazz International Festival and Cape Town Jazz Festival.

His albums are Ayo (Universal Music, 2002), Beyond The Borders (Universal Music, 2003), Sincerely Yours (Bula Music, 2005), Live At the Standard Bank Joy of Jazz (Bula Music, 2006) and A Taste of Home (2009).

Kunle was born in Lagos, Nigeria and grew up in Epe, a musically rich urban sprawl on the fringes of Lagos, where he absorbed diverse folk music styles, elaborate drumming traditions, expressive spoken word, rich folklore, imagery, poetry and colourful proverbs.

Kunle as a youngster had always been drawn to playing music.

He learned drums and thumb piano and later discovered his passion, the guitar, when he was a 21-year-old accountancy student.

He says he could have easily become an accountant but was inspired to pursue a musical career after his father gave him a guitar for his birthday.

With energy and zeal he burst onto the music scene and by the late 1990s was part of Lagos’ musical mainstream.

He started experimenting with cool fusion styles while drawing inspiration from indigenous styles such as juju, highlife and afro-beat.

Afro-beat is a blend of traditional Nigerian and jazz that was created by the celebrated world music innovator the late Fela Kuti.

Kunle has recorded and played with some of Nigeria’s internationally acclaimed artists, including Chief Ebenezer Obey, Kayode Olajide and the enigmatic Lagbaja “The Masked One” with whom he toured Europe, North Africa and South America.

He moved to South Africa in 2002 to pursue a solo recording career after landing a contract with Universal Records.

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