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Nigeria: Adekunle Gold’s glittery metamorphosis

By Dami Ajayi
Posted on Friday, 24 September 2021 18:41

Adekunle Gold Twitter/@adekunleGOLD

Adekunle Gold is a busy man. Busy to find, busy to contact, busy to reach and definitely busy to see. Adekunle Gold is touring across America and putting final touches to his fourth studio album when we finally caught up with him.

Although a release date is yet to be announced, two singles have already been unveiled this summer. The first one, the Lucky Daye-assisted duet Sinner, is a mid-tempo and hypnotic ballad alluding to biblical femme fatales and it is kickstarting parties.

The second one, High, which features high-hitter Davido, enjoys a quicker pace and energetic Amapiano drums. An obvious club favourite, its video raked in more than 2 million views on YouTube in its second week of release.

Last month, Gold’s third LP Afro Pop, Vol.1 celebrated one year since its release with over 228 million streams on Spotify alone.

Who would have imagined this staggering trajectory for the gangly and shy Gold, who was bewildered by the crowd’s encore at his first big performance at the now defunct concert Afropolitan Vibes a few years ago?

One person could have: the man who looks in the mirror and sees Adekunle Gold. He was always clear about his path from day one and his wondrous meanderings to unlikely fans, to him, are like a prophetic, destination-bound maze.

I’ve outdone myself… I think it’s a rare grace to be able to do stuff outside of what people think that you can do… You need to stop thinking that you can predict me. You need to stop thinking that you know me.”

Indeed, it is a long road from his breakthrough Fuji-inflected single, Sade, which repurposed UK-based band One Direction’s Story of My Life for a final cry at unrequited love. It is an even longer road since his graphic-designing days, when he used to crop his image onto pictures of pop stars on social media. Now, he is a pop star in his own right, one defying categories.

His eponymous debut album, Gold, announced him as the poster boy of nearly 30 and 30-plus affection. He delivered a sprawling album that found uses for the local genres of Highlife, Juju and Fuji.

His initial style was deliberately Yoruba; especially in his use of language, metaphor and style. Even his dress sense at the time favoured the local batik fabric, which may have bolstered his endearment to teeming fans all over Southwest Nigeria. What ensued was a local spread of appeal to both the young and not-so-old, and frequent comparison to the greats of the genres that he repurposed.

Fans compared him to King Sunny Ade (KSA); and from a viral video snippet that circulated of KSA himself singing Gold’s My Life, it could be assumed that the King was also an ardent Gold fan.

However, Gold was uneasy about this comparison. “First of all, there would never be another Sunny Ade. Two, my name is Adekunle Gold. I’m writing my story everyday through each song, through my way of life, through everything that I put out. So it’s unfair to want me to be somebody else…,” he tells The Africa Report on a Zoom call from the US.

Path to musical royalty

Born into the Lagos royal family, Kosoko, about 34 years ago, Gold’s path to musical royalty has been on his own terms.

He went to Lagos State Polytechnic and was accorded an award for a higher diploma in Arts and Design. This meant that music – his original passion – shared his time and attention with other vocations; but this did not deter his boyish interests of playing in boy bands. He started out with a defunct duo called The Bridge and other false starts that usually bequeath memory with a slew of unrealised songs. In this reckoning, Gold’s soulful plea in 2013, Let It Stop, may be his equivalent of King Sunny Ade’s Alanu L’oluwa.

In those ‘wilderness’ days, Gold toiled the gruesome 9am to 5pm shift in the brand development industry, providing graphic design services to online retail start-ups. However, it was his artistic work with indie record label Yahoo Boy No Laptop Records that would catalyse his breakthrough, providing an auspicious meeting with label executive and rapper Olamide who loved his song Sade, and facilitated a new recording of this single with an accompanying crisp music video to boot.

In retrospect, Adekunle Gold was always an outlier. Sade was antithetical to the zeitgeist. The allure of pop-sounding, club-bangers of today was already in full swing but Gold piqued our attention with his difference, an indifference to the popular sensibilities of the time.

“When Sade came out, it felt like a song that was not necessary […] because, it was a club banger era… But guess who didn’t care? Me! I released Sade because that was what I knew and I released it; and the reason mainstream came to me was because I gave something different. No pun intended.”

Actually, pun intended, but hold that thought.

About 30

Adekunle Gold could have followed the phenomenal success of his debut album with a similarly styled sophomore, but this was not the case.

About 30, a vague reference to his age at the time of its release, is a sufficiently different album to Gold. Although still working with the ambit of Juju/Highlife, he eschews the tedium of sounding like himself, edging for that pop flair that he has now perfected.

However, the album was neither spared the austerity of sophomore slump, nor the ire of conservative fans. Add the critic’s dismissive remarks and you would understand Gold’s frustration about the album’s reception. He believes the project was not paid attention to.

“… At first, people judged that album based on what I had given them on Gold; and, it’s unfair how people just want to own you. Own you in a way that they don’t even want you to change. They don’t want you to try something new. They have a designation of you in their head,” Gold says.

“…When I made About 30, it was supposed to be different from Gold. It was supposed to be an upgrade [of] what Gold was. At first, it went over people’s heads…. But I’m thankful that some people found the album by themselves. They listened and they made their judgement by themselves. I’m happy that eventually, people really now love the album. I’ve seen people say till date that that’s my best work,” he tells The Africa Report.

About 30 was a transition album. It was going to be difficult. I understand why Adekunle Gold is sentimental about that project because I am aware of how hard he worked.”

About 30 holds a pivotal position in Gold’s discography regardless of consensus. For the musician, it was different as he had left YBNL records amicably and was “experiencing life differently.”

However, for music critics, there was a self-conscious crisis of a creative concern. Perhaps the most insightful take on About 30 is that of Lola Akintola, an Adekunle Gold stan and organiser of his teeming fan club, Club 79, named for his band, The 79th Element.

About 30 was a transition album. It was going to be difficult. I understand why Adekunle Gold is sentimental about that project because I am aware of how hard he worked. Probably the album he worked hardest at… However, the intensity of his work was lost in the translation of it. I wonder if it was a production by-product, or if it was because Gold was so monumental and expectations were set in a particular direction, or if it was just the music/production difference,” she says from the UK.

“Over 20 songs”

If Gold rallied a local audience and About 30 demonstrated dynamism, then Afropop. Vol 1 was the ultimate game-changer; but for his chameleonic tendencies, the 10 track LP album should be christened his opus already. Intended as an EP with a maximum track list of three to four songs, this initial direction was scaled up to accommodate Gold’s song writing.

“…I wrote over 20 songs. Then I wrote more. Then I wrote more; and I’m like, it doesn’t make sense to have these [many] songs and then streamline […] to four… That’s why I said let’s just make it 10…, then keep the other 10 or 12 for the [Afro Pop] Vol 2; but guess what’s happening right now? The other 10 that I kept for Vol 2, I’m not even using any of them,” Adekunle Gold says amid laughter at his own practice.

It is this capacity for tentativeness that accounts for his inclusion of the slow-hitting Afrobeats classic Okay, which he had initially recorded and gifted out to a colleague. On a hunch, he would recall the song and repurpose it for his third LP album.

Like Ckay’s Love Nwantiti, which surprisingly became the most Shazam-ed song in the world in September 2021, Okay has been sizzling and is currently the most streamed song on its album.

The wait for Afro Pop Vol 2. is palpable, especially in the light of Gold’s silence about a release date. When asked what direction this project will take, he says: “I’ve outdone myself… I think it’s a rare grace to be able to do stuff outside of what people think that you can do…You need to stop thinking that you can predict me. You need to stop thinking that you know me…”

November, the month when albums are released to meet the demand of the Christmas season, is still a way off; but the audience should be at ease knowing that every party will feature a slew of Adekunle Gold hits.

The wait for Afro Pop Vol 2. continues but rest assured that it will be something different.

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