Dublin singer-songwriter Aby Coulibaly told David Hennessy about her debut single Taurus, how she regained her confidence to sing after being bullied at school and encountering casual and not so casual racism when she was growing up in Ireland.
Earmilk say of Aby Coulibaly that ‘The potential for a true superstar is right here’. Galdem say the 21-year-old singer-songwriter from Dublin is: ‘Teetering on a precipice, with neo-soul on one side, and confessional rap on the other’.
Aby has just released her debut single Taurus which has been very warmly received already racking up hundreds of thousands of streams on Spotify alone. Switching between soul and hard hitting rap, it has seen her marked out as a star in the making. RTE 2FM made it their track of the week.
Although it is about a break-up, Taurus is less angry or heartbroken and simply about deciding to move on.
Aby told The Irish World: “Taurus is about getting over someone you were hung up on and chilling with friends because they’re the realest ones we’ve got. I wrote it after I had ended things with a guy who I really liked at the time, but he wasn’t sure what he wanted so I had told him not to waste anymore of my time and ended things. I was surprised by how easy it was for me to move on and not be upset because I had made the decision that I deserved better.
“When I wrote it, I didn’t mean for it to go the way it went. I wrote the hook, ‘Why you trying to call me, try and change my mind?’ and I was like, ‘Okay, it’s obvious now what’s on my mind, what I’m feeling.
“I suppose it’s a more relaxed angle. I’m not stressed about the break-up. I’m not hurt about it. I’m just moving on, you know?
“I just wanted to do a different take on it, something that people can relate to because I don’t feel like all break-ups are totally sad and break your heart. Sometimes you can feel like a new person when that happens because you’re like, ‘This is not meant to be and that’s okay’.”
Aby has been pleased with both the response to the song and the accompanying video that was partly shot in Amsterdam: “I was delighted because I put out the song, I didn’t know what to expect and I got a great response and the same with the video. I put out the video and everyone went crazy for it. I was delighted.”
Why was Amsterdam the destination for the video and how was it to visit the city in times of Covid? “I chose it because I actually never went there before and I just wanted to see what it was like. I absolutely loved it.
“I thought it was going to be kind of weird but I felt like they were more relaxed over there than here.”
Aby has taken advantage of the chance to come up with new material but admits enduring the ongoing crisis in Ireland has been hard at times.
“At the start of lockdown, I was kind of using it to my advantage for writing and stuff. Obviously I’ve gone through phases where I haven’t been as inspired or as motivated. That comes and goes. I think that’s just normal, to be anxious is definitely normal. We just have to figure out how to handle our feelings and mental health and what we’re going through because everyone is going through it together.
“I’ve had really good times, I’ve had times where I’ve been okay and I’ve been down. I feel like everyone has. And the times that I’ve been down during lockdown, I’ve written some songs. I can’t wait to play those to people because I feel like they’ll probably be able to relate because they were written during lockdown when I was going through a hard time.
“I’m so excited to do gigs. That’s what I’ve been waiting to do since I was 15, 16. When I started going to festivals I would be looking at the people onstage, ‘I can’t wait for that to be me’. Obviously there’s no festivals and I suppose it’s kind of good that I’m not used to doing them so it’s not a big thing that I’m not doing them anymore.
“I can’t wait to do gigs. That’s something to look forward to. Since I can’t do gigs right now it’s more time for me to write and focus on all that stuff. It’s not like I’ll never get to perform the songs, just not right now.”
Aby did not always have the confidence to even think of singing live but Aby started to gain more confidence and find her sound as she recorded in her room over YouTube beats. These demos would later be uploaded onto Soundcloud gaining her a bit of a cult following. She would then start performing local shows in Dublin.
“Before I could actually talk, I would sing. To be honest, I was actually a very annoying kid. I always wanted the spotlight. I would never let my sister sing. I had to sing.
“Then, I think over the years I kind of lost my confidence. I just lost my confidence from other kids in school. I was bullied twice but I definitely wouldn’t look back and feel sorry for myself because if I wasn’t then I wouldn’t be where I am today. Losing my confidence and then getting it back worked in my favour because now I am doing what I’m doing and I’m really happy. I’m not self-conscious anymore. I’m more than happy to perform and sing.”
Although she knew she wanted to go into music, Aby was sure studying music would not be for her: “I didn’t want to go to college. I’ve never been book smart. I didn’t think college was the right step for me although I did know I wanted to pursue music. I just knew that I would be able to do it without going to college. I just knew it would happen.
“As soon as I left school I just started working full-time in various different jobs. After work, I would come home, write, go to the studio. Then eventually I left my job because I just wanted to do music full-time and the day that I left my job, I was like, ‘This is really it. I’m really doing music now. It was actually really exciting for me.
“I have another track coming at the end of this month. After that, I would like to release an EP, probably next year. An EP will be coming. I can’t wait for everyone to hear that. It’s like my baby.
“If someone was to ask me what my sound is, I would say RnB but I feel like every track that I release is slightly different. It just comes out in whatever way I’m feeling or whatever mood I’m in. I don’t want to be an artist that is predictable.”
Raised in Lucan, Aby’s father is Senegalese and her mother is Irish. Although she says she has experienced casual and not so casual racism growing up in Dublin Aby says she has seen a change in recent months with Irish people realising what is not acceptable.
“A lot of the time here it’s very casual. Obviously, I’ve encountered it being not so casual but definitely here in Ireland it comes across more casual. I suppose people are slowly getting more educated on the topic because I fee like a few months ago people were not aware that it was such a big problem here. It was kind of an elephant in the room. Now people are slowly realising it still is an issue and it’s something people in general need to work on and learn about.
“‘Where are you really from?’ That’s a big one. I was born here in Dublin. I’m from here but I suppose because that’s been said to me since I was really small. I’ve always known when someone says, ‘Where are you really from?’ what they actually mean. I don’t think that’s acceptable but I know not everyone means badly.
“That’s one of many ways people would ask things but I suppose I would never get angry at someone for things because it’s a tough thing to talk about because it depends on the way someone says it. It’s just ignorance really.
“I think people are waking up and educating themselves, listening to what we have to say because for a long time I feel like we were gaslit. Our problems didn’t exist. If I was to say, ‘That person was racist towards me’, someone would say, ‘Ah, but they didn’t mean it’.”
Aby struggled with being different growing up and it took her time to be proud of her identity.
“Growing up it was very hard to accept myself and love my hair, love my skin because I was surrounded by a lot of white kids. I would straighten my hair and stuff.
“When you get older and you learn about yourself and you learn about your culture you just accept yourself.
“I would say I’m Senegalese as much as Irish. I love my culture. I love where I’m from. As a kid in school I was kind of embarrassed about my surname and it’s funny to even think back to that moment because I’m so proud of my name now. I didn’t even want to have a stage name, I wanted Coulibaly because I wanted to represent where I’m from and who I am.
“It’s just a case of me growing up and realising a lot about myself, where I’m from and who I am and being proud of it.
“Over the last five years I’ve really just accepted myself and learned that I’m so unique. I look unique. I am unique as a person. That’s great.
“Anyone else who grows up mixed-race in Ireland will probably experience the same problems because it’s hard.”
You won’t find a Facebook page for Aby. She is active on instagram and Twitter and it sounds like that is enough for her right now.
“I’m not huge on social media. It never appealed to me to have so many apps because I feel like I can’t keep up with them all. I’m talking as if I’m 30 years older than I am,” she laughs.
“I prefer to be out in the world meeting people than always being on Facebook or Twitter.”
However, it was in September that Aby tweeted: ‘I was convinced I was getting murdered on to the airport today’. When we ask about it we find out that Aby had a brief but no doubt terrifying moment where she feared for her life in a stranger’s car.
Aby laughs as she remembers: “Me and my sister were in Greece and we were getting a lift from the hotel to the airport and on the way the guy that was dropping us drove a way that was in the middle of nowhere.
“It kind of looked like the desert and on the way he stopped the car and said he was looking for a remote. He took off his seatbelt and started searching everywhere frantically.
“Me and my sister were obviously really confused and then he opened the boot and we just looked at each other. I was just like, ‘If this is the end, goodbye’.
“I suppose it was just kind of funny but still scary because it was in the middle of nowhere he got out and opened the boot and I was like, ‘If he takes out any sort of weapon, what are we going to do?’ But thank God he found his remote and then we got on our way to the airport and we didn’t get killed thankfully.”
While all ended well, how scared was Aby when she didn’t know all was going to be okay? “I was prepared to hop the fence. I think my sister was more scared than me because the way I looked at her, she knew by my eyes what I meant. To be honest I was quite worried. It was just how he was frantically looking for this remote that he didn’t need to drive and then had to go to the boot. I was like, ‘If he takes out an axe, I don’t know what I’m going to do’. Thank God everything was fine and we got to the airport on time.”
Taurus is out now. Since chatting to us Aby has also released her follow-up Maybe.
For more information, search @AbyCoulibaly3 on Twitter or abycoulibaly on instagram.