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YayoyanohPhotography Sam Bayliss Ibram

Meet Yayoyanoh, the Bala Club affiliate making future-facing rap

Watch a live video from the Watford rapper and Yung Lean collaborator

Yayoyanoh is a familiar name in London’s underground electronic music scenes, yet an elusive presence. The rapper and vocalist has appeared as a featured artist on tracks with Strict Face, Orlando, and Woesum, but he hadn’t made his mark as a solo artist – until now. Yayo recently released his debut EP, EP001, with Bala Club, the UK-based record label and collective whose members include future-facing DJ/producers like Kamixlo and Endgame.

While the Bala crew are known for throwing parties that fuse genres like reggaeton, industrial metal, and hardstyle with apocalyptic results, their record label encompasses a span of other styles, from Uli K’s heartfelt Auto-Tuned ballads to Organ Tapes’ unusual bedroom pop. Yayo’s EP sits somewhere between the two extremes – it’s bass-heavy yet melodic, defined by intimate vocals that glide over hyper-rhythmic beats.

Real name Ayub Hassan, Yayoyanoh’s childhood saw him moving between Somalia, Canada, and Uganda, before eventually settling in North London. Currently residing in Watford, he says he’s currently working on a few music videos, some featured spots, and a follow-up EP. “Most of the tracks on EP001 are kind of old, so I’m preparing to start on EP002 so they get the updated version of me and my strengths,” Hassan says. “But right now just planning my Asia tour so I can catch up with my sister, who’s living in South Korea.”

Listen to the EP and watch a video of the artist performing “Sci Fi” for NTS (the studio version of the track features Yung Lean), and read on for an interview with the rising artist.

Where did you grow up?

Yayoyanoh: I was born in Somalia, in Mogadishu, and grew up in Canada until the age of seven. I moved to Uganda for a couple of years to live with my grandma, who adopted my dad. As I was living in Canada, me and my three siblings never got to meet her, so we went out there to meet queen. After being in East Africa, I came to cold North London – Stanmore – in 2004, and I’m now living five miles away in Watford.

How did you get into making music?

Yayoyanoh: I became interested in music from a real young age. Probably when life started, to be honest – maybe it’s in my genes. ‘Cause my parents loved their music, we had a djembe in the living room that I would always be hitting. I got into music after I finished secondary school and downloaded FL Studio 10 when I was 16, back in 2011. I always knew I would get into making music at some point in this life, but just fell in love with creating. Seeing my improvements makes want to keep making.

Were you part of a musical household?

Yayoyanoh: Yes! My dad, he had a group called Utah Stars, which was a three-man group, singing in Somali. We would listen to his tracks and hear him sing to us when he would drive sometimes. My aunt Magool was a famous singer in Somalia – still is, but she passed. R.I.P., legend she was. Also, my bro is a hot breakdancer, I would sometimes go with him to his practise sessions as a teen to listen to the music but not really dance.

What was the most important thing you listened to growing up?

Yayoyanoh: From a young age, I would listen to mainly R&B while living in Canada. When I moved to Uganda I got into Afrobeats, and finally coming to the UK, I fell in love with grime and UK funky. (UK urban music channel) Channel U was all I listened to, and I fell in love with the UK culture through that. I became friends with some nerdy ones compared to me at school, and that influenced me into that indie/rock music – such as the Kooks (laughs). I still bang out ‘Naive’.

You started out making beats – what sort of stuff were you inspired by back then?

Yayoyanoh: Friends of mine from school were all good at music – like, Grade 8 instrument n****s. They truly inspired me to get into production. I would just be jamming with them on a guitar – any instrument in the room with them at their yards. As I turned 16, I decided to get Fruity Loops and teach myself.

“Coming to the UK, I fell in love with grime and UK funky. Channel U was all I listened to, and I fell in love with the UK culture through that” – Yayoyanoh

And how did you end up starting to use your voice?

Yayoyanoh: So the computer I was using, passed down to me from older bro, decided to bail on me. That’s when I put FL Studio to the side to focus on writing. I started off really slow, just freestyling, but then one night in Corsica my boy and wonder producer MssingNo gave me advice, telling me to have hooks and verses in my tracks. I began doing that and just started working with different producers in Bala. Shout out Uli, Kami, Organ Tapes, Woesum, and Endgame mostly, they helped shape me into the artist I am now.

How’d you get involved with Bala Club?

Yayoyanoh: I became friends with Uli and the gang back in 2014-ish, before the name Bala came out. One night i was out and got a call from Uli – we chatted and he told me him and Kami wanted me to be in the family. I said yes, as I was independent at the time.

Tell us about your new EP. Was there a particular idea or overarching theme for it?

Yayoyanoh: The EP is my first, but there wasn’t really a plan apart from just making tracks I wanna listen to for myself and just trusting my natural instinct when making music. Was going for an afro/dancehall/winter vibes, as I couldn’t drop music in the summer how I wanted because of my trip to Mogadishu, which was beautiful and crazy.

What does a typical Yayoyanoh live performance look like?

Yayoyanoh: My first performance on a proper stage was just in October last year. I opened for Drain Gang (Bladee, Ecco2k, and Whitearmor) in Camden. Told the stage guys at soundcheck I needed strobes and smoke, and to pick the colour of the light depending on my outfit or mood.

What’s the best party you’ve been to in London?

Yayoyanoh: Obviously Bala parties are the best ‘cause of the music, but the Dazed birthday party in 2016 was hot. Kamixlo DJed, and we met Robert Pattinson in the green room. He gave me an angry vampire look when I said my sister was a big fan of Twilight – she really was! Arca asked me for a headphone jack and luckily I had one in my pouch – no party without an Arca set!