The kingdom of Saudi Arabia has been keeping busy under its crown prince Mohammed bin Salman. He has virtually become one of the most powerful ... leaders of the Arab world, especially in the fight for influence in East Africa against its former foe Qatar. Is it any wonder that Riyadh is now making a foray into the arts to also highlight a more tolerant and open country?
At the time, he had less than 1,000 followers, so 300 comments was a tall order. After posting, he went offline and went about his day. Then, a short while later, his cousin called.
Omah Lay tells The Africa Report: “He was like: ‘Yo bro, the post you made on Instagram is going viral, you have to do it’. So, I went back into the studio and finished it, then I put it out on SoundCloud and Audiomack as a freestyle, and then it just flew by itself man. That’s God. Thank God it happened the way it happened.”
That “freestyle” became the multi platinum-selling Afrobeats hit of 2020 ‘Bad Influence’.
A year and a half later, Omah Lay has 1.5 million Instagram followers and is among the brightest new artists on the continent. His debut project, Get Layd was released a few months later – in the midst of Bad Influence’s viral wave – and it catapulted him into full-on superstardom.
Apple Music also called him its very first Africa Rising artist, which is the streaming service’s new artist discovery programme that sees its editorial team select an artist every two months and push their music to users in more than 168 countries.
‘I wasn’t used to all the outside life’
Omah Lay started working on Get Layd in late 2019 as he transitioned from being a producer into an artist. “I just love to stay in the studio and make music. I love the whole music-making process. I still make beats for people and write songs for people. I did my first song, ‘Do Not Disturb’ in 2019 then I did ‘Hello Brother’, and I got my deal with Keyqaad and moved down to Lagos. Then I dropped ‘Bad Influence’, and that was the start of it for me. I wasn’t used to all the outside life, I wasn’t used to clubbing, going to shows and stuff until after my album dropped.”
In November last year, the 24-year-old released his second project, What Have We Done, and saw his stock rise dramatically. “A lot of things changed,” he says.
“I’m still the same guy I used to be, but a lot of things have changed. The way I make my music is different now. I’m making my music from a different place now, not inside a small bedroom anymore. You can see where I am right now,” he looks back at the beautiful living room which is in full view behind him on our Zoom call and chuckles.
“I started making music from a different perspective, started saying things differently. On What Have We Done, I was really grateful to God.” This gratitude is in full view on What Have We Done’s lead single, ‘Godly’ which has become the biggest song of his short career thus far, with a staggering 40m views on YouTube and more than 10m streams on Spotify.
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‘Godly’ sees Omah Lay comfortable in his own skin, giving thanks and showcasing his versatility on a more up-tempo beat than what we’ve become accustomed to. His voice, since the beginning, has stood out for its smooth and melodic tone. His delivery is easy on the ear. His music doesn’t feel like it fits into the club scene, yet there aren’t many African acts you’ll hear on club DJ’s sets more than Omah Lay.
At the time of writing, Omah Lay’s latest single, ‘Understand’, which was released in early July, is the number-one song on Apple Music Nigeria. On Spotify, it is at the top of the flagship African playlist, African Heat.
“That’s such a personal song,” he explains. “It’s not been long since I recorded this song. It hadn’t even been two months since I recorded the song that I put it out. It’s one of my stories as usual because my songs are always my stories. The part where I say, ‘All of my fans I pity for them’ that’s actually me referring to my fans because it had been eight months since my last project, and anybody had heard from me. I was dealing with a lot behind the scenes, like relationships, you know girls break your heart. I put that whole story together and we made a song. That song is ‘Understand’.”
Everyone seems to love him
Having been quiet for all those months, he wasn’t sure what to expect in terms of how his fans would receive the music. “After not putting out music for eight months, I was scared. I was really scared to put out ‘Understand’ because I didn’t know what to expect. But as soon as the song was out, in less than 24 hours it was number one on almost every single platform. Trust me, those are my fans, and I’m really grateful and I love them and that’s why I do this thing for them.”
Over the past year and a half, Omah Lay has travelled to places like Ghana, Gambia, Uganda and Tanzania. Late last year, after a performance in Uganda, Omah Lay and co-headliner Tems were arrested and charged with allegedly violating Covid-19 regulations after performing at a sold-out show.
“I went to prison, bro. There was miscommunication between the promoters and the government officials, and somebody miss-stepped. I don’t actually know what happened, we were just on the wrong side of the story. We were inside for three days. It was crazy. But a lot of people were rooting for us, the Nigerian government, the fans. I can’t even point at a particular person, but everyone showed love.” And that’s the thing about Omah Lay, everyone seems to love him.
For the next couple of days, he’ll be holed up at a resort in the outskirts of Lagos putting the finishing touches to his album. “Once this album is ready, I’m putting it out. I’m that kind of guy. As soon as the music is ready I put it out, whether it’s a pandemic or not.”
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