2020 has been the year Dublin singer-songwriter Aby Coulibaly made her debut – albeit from her bedroom, rather than on the stage. Lockdown has been a bittersweet journey for the artist but also a fruitful one, given that she has debuted two tracks in the past six months and co-founded a record label.
Listening to her first release Taurus we are cast back to the glory days of ’90s RNB with its rumbling bass, clipped beats and silken vocals.
It’s an era being revisited across pop culture and for the RnB music scene it’s an apt one, given that it was a moment in time that delivered so many powerhouse female acts like Salt-N-Pepa, TLC and Erica Badu.
Recently, Ireland’s RnB scene has been dominated by the likes of Denise Chaila, Soulé and Erica Cody; an influx of female talent that’s been very much lacking in the genre for some time.
While her sound may be reminiscent of a classic era, Aby is very much an artist of the present. Aby credits both her parents for informing her sound.
“I grew up listening to old school RnB, that would be on my mothers side. From my Dad’s side it would have been reggae and Senegalese music. I feel like I take bits and pieces from different genres”.
Upon quitting her 9-5 earlier this year she has dedicated herself to song-writing and establishing Camomile Records, in conjunction with Monjola and producer Moyo.
“It was so much more appealing to do our own thing; we can release what we want when we want. I just want to make music and that’s what I am here for,” she says.
"The song is about realising that I am unique, and I actually do love myself after all those years of trying to hide parts of myself."
In conversation with Aby she cultivates a maturity and warmth that bely her 21 years. Taurus was specifically chosen as her first release. Co-produced with Moyo, Taurus delivers sublime musical alchemy, blending looping piano and smoky vocals. A track originally inspired by unrequited love, transpired into a celebration of female friendship and defiance.
“It’s got singing, a bit of rap and a bit of attitude, which is very me and I wanted this to be the song everyone would hear first,” she explains.
Her current release Maybe explores self-acceptance in white Irish society, a pertinent track given that 2020 has finally given the Black Lives Matter movement the support and urgency it needs. Speaking of the tumultuous year and how it influenced her song writing, she says:
“At that point it just hit me what was going on. This is a song about growing up mixed race and not fully expressing myself or loving myself, like straightening my hair because I didn’t like my afro. The song is about realising that I am unique, and I actually do love myself after all those years of trying to hide parts of myself. It’s a more vulnerable side to myself and my writing.”
Despite some protestations that racism doesn’t exist in Ireland, Aby can recount multiple experiences of micro-aggressions she has encountered first-hand.
“A favourite one was to insult me – then if I was to react they would say ‘Ah but you’re not that black’. I’ve had to do a lot of educating myself over the past year. At times it did make me feel I wasn’t black enough or I speak too white or not the way I should be. I think a lot of mixed-race people in Ireland can battle with identity and who they are”.
Curled up on the couch with her PS4 within arm’s reach, Aby describes herself as atypically “girly”.
“I have always enjoyed doing things that were not considered typical for girls. I would get really angry in PE when the boys would not pass the football or let the girls play. The guys not passing the football is like the industry because I do feel the Irish music scene is represented by white men”.
Aby counts her experience within the industry as positive thus far but finds the collage of new, yet familiar, voices reassuringly refreshing.
“There are all these young people coming into the music scene now that are totally different, we represent a different view. The scene is represented by white males although they are talented, but Ireland is more than just white men”.
With a smattering of idealism our conversation meanders to a post-Covid utopia, when gigs may actually happen. Remember them?
“Obviously with this year gigging has been taken away but I so excited for them to come back and do gigs and festivals, travel and perform. I have never wanted to work in a normal job. I have nothing else to live for – this is what I am going to do”
Clear the stage and pass the ball: Aby Coulibaly is ready to kick into touch.