Young Artist Interview: Ayo Salawu

Drummer Ayo Salawu first tapped out a drum beat at the age of two. Since then, he has graduated from the Academy of Contemporary Music and become a sought-after freelance musician, playing with established and up-and-coming artists from across the world. We caught up with Ayo following his recent performance in Paris.

You began playing music at a young age. What drew you to the drums?
Being brought up in church drew me to the drums so early in my life. I could not get enough of gospel music and at home I would use wooden spoons to play on my parents cooking pots along to the gospel music being played. My parents saw I had a passion for playing the drums and made me a small drum set for my third birthday. Since then until present it’s always been possible for me to think I’ll play some drums for five minutes but end up being behind the drum kit for hours.

How has winning the Musicians’ Company Award helped your career?
First off it was a big help financially. The £2500 helped me get some months of rent and bills out of the way so I could focus on making connections in the industry and build some music work. It also helped me get some equipment needed for music work. I love to teach the drums. I mainly teach privately, however, WCOM gave me the opportunity to teach larger groups of children with the workshops they put on for various schools in London. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the work and would love to continue being involved in outreach work throughout my career.

What bands/projects/collaborations are you involved in right now?
I’m currently playing drums for pop-jazz artist ‘Julia Biel’, afrobeat band ‘Kokoroko’, and soul-jazz-hip hop artist ‘Oscar Jerome’.

What bands, artists and drummers influence your style of playing?
Influential bands and artists include Snarky Puppy, James Brown, Lettuce, George Benson, Ron Kenoly, Kirk Franklin, Robert Glasper, Fela Kuti, Michael Jackson and many more. Influential drummers are Dennis Chambers, Robert ‘Sput’ Searight, Ronald Bruner Jr, Will Kennedy, Chris Coleman, Calvin Rodgers, Chris Dave, Chad Smith, Eric Harland, Tony Allen, and Adam Deitch.

If you could play with any band or musician, alive or dead, who would it be?
Michael Jackson

Which drummers would enter your hall of fame and why?
Vinnie Colaiuta because of his out-of-this-world versatility and technique, Tony Allen because he laid down the foundations of afrobeat drumming, Calvin Rodgers because for every gospel drummer he’s one of the most inspirational and successful in the gospel scene, Buddy Rich for being the biggest inspiration for jazz drumming, Chris Dave because of his influence on hip-hop drumming and incorporating deeper jazz aspects than usual into the style.

How tough is it to get work? Do you take on every paid gig or can you be more selective?
You have to be patient; after I finished my studies in the later part of 2016, I had some good gigs in 2017 but it wasn’t regular enough. However, in 2018 the number of gigs I’m doing has at least tripled and that’s because I had to start off with the not so regular gigs and focus on doing an excellent job at them. More opportunities present themselves the more you’re seen (especially in London) doing your job well. It’s all about connections and being a positive, optimistic, and friendly person to be around. If anyone’s confused on where to begin, start by going to different weekly jams around London and connect with as many musicians as possible. And of course, practice, practice and practice your craft. There’s always the next level to get to.

To answer the second part of the question, I love taking on the stage so I’ve never said no to an opportunity if I’m free and not already booked. I usually treat bookings for work as first come first served.

What’s the best advice anyone’s given you? And the worst…
One of the best bits of advice I’ve had is to be patient and make use of where I am now instead of only being focussed on where I want to get. I can’t think of any bad advice, I’m blessed to have had the right people around me and supporting me.

What have you been up to this year and where can we see you next?
I’ve been touring with Julia Biel since the release of her new self-titled album in February. I also have performances in the UK and abroad with Kokoroko and Oscar Jerome. I’m working in a studio for an EP release by Kokoroko and for an album release for Oscar Jerome. Both will be out later this year. There are also projects coming up this spring – summer with WCOM for outreach sessions at Hampstead Parochial School which I’m excited about.

You can next see me performing in London on the 8 May at Ronnie Scott’s with Kokoroko.