Funky singer Andy Allo has had about as good a year as it gets. After landing a gig that most people would kill for--guitar and backing vocals in Prince's band--the singer from Cameroon has just released her latest solo record Superconductor. She recently spoke with Afropunk about her musical upbringing, the new record, and of course playing music with Prince.
Interview by Nathan Leigh
You're from Cameroon originally, right? How did you end up in the States?
That’s right. After hearing so many stories about America being the land of opportunity, I knew I had to find a way there. So one day while we were at the beach, I grabbed my father’s compass and jumped into one of the boats that was leaving shore and was on my way! Somehow I landed on the shores of California.
Was it always a dream of yours to come here and play music?
I always wrote poetry and stories, but I grew up with the idea that being a lawyer or doctor was a more successful career path. It wasn’t until I came to the United States that I saw people doing anything they dreamed of doing and being incredibly successful. It inspired me to pursue my dreams of being an artist and I feel blessed to be able to do what I love for a living.
What was your musical upbringing like?
Growing up, I was exposed to such a wide array of genres, from country to reggae. I love Zouk, which was really big in Cameroon. You should check out Zouk Machine’s ‘Maldon’ or the group Kassav. Both bands incorporate horns in their arrangements, and horns are heavily featured in the album, Superconductor.
Are there any artists from Cameroon that have had a big impact on you?
Les Nubians. I grew up listening to their music, lyrics and sounds. ‘Makeda’ and ‘Les Portes Du Souvenir’ have a special place in my musical heart. I recently went to one of their performances, where they spoke about the inspiration behind their new material, ‘Nu Revolution’, and I found it really inspiring. It was about Africa and creating change, and that music can bring about a revolution. I loved it!
You talk about your music being a revolution a lot. How is it revolutionary?
In this digital age, the music has become so focused on electronic sounds that we’ve lost touch with the soul of music. Machines don’t have souls, humans do. Superconductor is created, written, composed and performed by humans. Did we use instruments? Yes, and they were being played by musicians. Did we record on to a machine? Yes, and it was the purest form of recording music: analog. We’ve got to get back to the basics of just good music, no fluff.
It’s easy for anyone with a computer and a keyboard to make something that has every instrument in the world, but there’s nothing like the soul and feeling that comes from someone expressing himself or herself through that instrument. Remember without the human mind and soul, a machine would be just that -- without mind and without soul.
You have this incredible style. Is that all you or do you work with stylists?
Thank you. It’s been evolving and continues to evolve. I work closely with a group of cool ladies called Magpie based in Toronto, Canada. We send each other designs or ideas, and then they work their magic and send me something fantastic!
Before working with him, would you have considered Prince an influence? How has that collaboration changed your solo material?
I was introduced to Prince’s music much later on my musical journey, but he has had such an influence on other artists whom I had already been listening to, like Maxwell and Raphael Saadiq, that although I didn’t know it, he was influencing me indirectly.
Collaborating with Prince opened me up to the layers of music. There’s a place for everything, and when placed just right, it creates something magical. I approach my new material that way, and I’m constantly expanding my musical knowledge from the artists he has introduced me to, like Joni Mitchell and James Taylor.
How long do you have to play in Prince's band before he lets you in the vault of unreleased material?
Who said anything about “letting”? I just stole the keys and started listening to some stuff. Just kidding.
What's next for you?
(Starts singing Black Eyed Peas, ‘I Got A Feeling’)… “I got a feeling, Wooohoooo, That tonight’s gonna be a good night, that tonight’s gonna be a good night….”. There are a lot of things I want to do and will do, but I try to stay in the present as much as possible. So at the present, my stomach is telling me it needs some food.