“Some people still call me Ms D and I quite like it,” the 27-year-old British-Nigerian singer-songwriter now known as Dyo says. “When people call me Ms D I like it ‘cause that means, ‘Aw, you really know me.’” But to know Dyo, you have to go back further than her prolific songwriting career as Ms D and back to grade school, before she was either.
It was Year 4, so she estimates she was either nine or ten years old. The class was singing Celine Dion’s Titanic hit “My Heart Will Go On” as a group when she pulled her teacher aside and asked to do the song alone. She was so nervous, so embarrassed, to show her classmates she could sing—and sing well—that she delivered a monotone performance that she now surmises probably left her teacher wondering, “OK, why did she want to sing so desperately if she was gonna sing like she’s three?” The teacher’s hypothetical question was answered in Year 5 when she revealed her voice to people for the first time during a talent show.
She chose to sing “Emotions” by Destiny’s Child, and it’s not a coincidence that the real her poured out in a way that didn’t with “My Heart Will Go On.”
Born and raised in London to a British mother and Nigerian father, a young Dyo struggled with her identity. “I felt like the only people that I had to look up to, which were amazing anyway, were Destiny’s Child,” Dyo says. “They were a great role model for people like myself, but there wasn’t enough of it. … When I listened to Destiny’s Child, I was like, ‘Oh my God, how awesome is this? These girls, they look great. They got frizzy hair like me. They can sing. This is so good!’
“So imagine what the world would be like now if there were just more of that for young girls?”
Dyo doesn’t want just to imagine African representation in music; she wants to be it.
In 2016, Dyo changed her artist name from Ms D. Previously, as Ms D, she racked up acclaimed writing credits on hits such as “Bounce” by Iggy Azalea, “Heatwave” by Wiley and more—culminating in an Ivor Novello nomination in 2017 for co-writing the 2016 track “Sexual” by NEIKED featuring her vocals as Dyo.
However, if not for her friends’ encouragement back around 2010, she never would have tried her hand at songwriting. “Bloody hell, I’m the only one in the clique who doesn’t know how to song-write,” she would think. “Is this ever gonna happen?” It did, and that sense of community has followed her ever since.
She officially debuted as a solo artist with April single “Arena,” but it wasn’t until August’s “Go All The Way” featuring Mr Eazi that her direction and purpose became unmistakably clear. The accompanying music video, directed by Mahaneela, highlights different creatives of the African diaspora—musicians, filmmakers, photographers, poets and journalists—and puts into focus what Dyo can do now that she couldn’t necessarily while writing songs for and with other artists.
“I want to raise more awareness and bring African music more to the forefront,” she says. “I mean, I think it’s already happening, but I think that we still have got a lot of work to do, and I want to be quite a prominent person in that field—especially being from London, the U.K. I think it’s quite an interesting story being that I’m Nigerian but grown up in London, [and] still I’m attached to my culture.
“I don’t want to forget where I’ve come from, and I want to inspire other people as well. Other young girls who look like me, to feel confident in who they are and feel confident in, yeah, they can make whatever music they wanna make.”
Dyo has clarity that Ms D didn’t, but she still wears Ms D proudly as a reminder of the work it took to get here and the foundation for the work yet to come. And that work will be bigger than her, regardless of what name you know her by.