Burnaboy, Wizkid, Kidjo producer Kel-P steps into the limelight with his debut solo album

By Shingai Darangwa

Posted on Friday, 10 February 2023 13:32
photo supplied

“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity." This quote, which is widely attributed to Roman philosopher Seneca, is the first thing that comes to mind as producer Kel-P (real name Udoma Peter Kelvin Amba) regales me with the story of how him and Grammy Award-winning afrobeats star Burna Boy came together in August of 2018 and, over the course of a few weeks, put together what’s widely considered the best afrobeats album of all-time, African Giant.

At the time, the up-and-coming Nigerian producer was working tirelessly to establish a name for himself, hopping from studio to studio working with different artists. By the time he linked up with Burna Boy, he was more than prepared to seize the opportunity. His monster work ethic, honed from countless late nights perfecting his craft, saw him churn out several songs a day with Burna. Just over a month later, Burna released the first song, ‘On The Low’, and so began an incredibly prolific run.

With the eyes of the world firmly planted on Burna following the viral success of ‘Ye’ just a few months prior, ‘On The Low’ exploded virtually overnight and became an instant hit. To this day, ‘On The Low’ is by far his most viewed music video on YouTube (and arguably his biggest hit to date).

“With Burna Boy, from the day we linked, I never went back to where I was staying,” says Kel-P over the phone. “I met him […] one day and I was with him for two months straight. It just happened and we just started working. I had to call a friend of mine where I was staying like, ‘Hey bro, can you bring me some clothes to this hotel’.” During those two months the pair made 33 songs together, many of which are still unreleased.

“Burna was doing a production camp and I never knew what a production camp was back then,” he says. “I never knew he was working on an album. I just thought maybe I’m just one producer who came here to just also make a hit record and be part of this whole process. After I gave Burna the first song he was like ‘yo man I think I found the producer I wanna work with’.”

They soon left the camp and set off for a separate hotel where it was just them two. It was during this recording spurt that Kel-P shaped the sound of African Giant. In the years since, Kel-P has firmly established himself as one of afrobeats’ most dependable hitmakers with notable production for the likes of Rema, Wizkid and Angelique Kidjo.

Into the limelight

A few weeks ago, Kel-P stepped out from behind the shadows and into the limelight with the release of his debut single, ‘One More Night’. When I ask him why the decision to shift away from such a successful production career, he says: “I’m not shifting away, I’m just stepping it up and putting a face behind that name. It’s just that now I’m going to be very, very selective about who I’m producing for this time around. I was supposed to drop a project a long time ago, before Covid-19 happened. That was going to be a joint EP between me and a Nigerian artist.”

However, after a lengthy back and forth between him and the artist, whom he doesn’t name, they scrapped the project altogether. This entire process made Kel-P realise that it was time for him to stop depending on other artists and use his own vocals. He wanted to be more in control of his destiny. “It’s time now to do the next level thing for Kel-P. 2023 I cannot do the same thing of producing for any artist. Yeah, producing for artists is great and it’s exciting making that hit, but that’s not the next level for me. For me that’s not growth,” he says.

‘I never thought I’d become producer’

Before he caught his major break working with Burna, Kel-P’s intention was always to be an artist in his own right. He learned how to make beats as a matter of necessity because he needed beats to sing on. “I never thought I would become a producer. I always wanted to be an artist, but it just happened when I was around a lot of artists and I got to meet Sarz [the veteran afrobeats producer behind hits like Wizkid and Drake’s ‘Come Closer’ and Niniola’s Maradona’].

“When I met him back in school he was like ‘why don’t you start making beats and stuff?’ so I started and things started going good and I fell in love with the craft because at that point in time I could make beats and record on my beats by myself. I didn’t have to go to [the] studio and look for a producer who’s gonna give me beats… and I was also selling beats to my colleague and we were all making music together.”

In hindsight, producing for all these artists has helped guide him in this new phase of his career. “I learned during the process,” he says. “I’ve been in rooms with almost everyone, so I learned in the process while working with them on whatever they’re working on – albums, EPs or whatever.

“That has actually shaped my sound and helped me understand the direction I wanna go […]. It’s also helped me understand music in general and how to arrange music and what to say and what not to say. Recording their vocals on my beats helped me learn a lot. That’s how I learned this whole thing.”

Debut solo project

On 24 February, Kel-P will be releasing his debut solo project, Bully Season Vol 1. “It’s a feel good EP that talks about myself and how I perceive women in general,” he says.

“It’s a body of work that actually makes women feel good and makes them wanna dance. It’s a solo project with no features, it’s just my vocals from top to bottom… I think there’s a huge surprise factor because a lot of people don’t know that Kel-P can sing. I feel like everyone is gonna be surprised and be like ‘Wow, so this guy literally can do this thing’.”

Although he’s been working on the project for the past two and a half years, he says it still sounds fresh to him. “Anytime anybody from this part of the world drops an album, I immediately listen to that album, go back and listen to my project to see if I need to tweak something or work on something. I’m always like ‘Nah, this project is a classic’.”

Understand Africa's tomorrow... today

We believe that Africa is poorly represented, and badly under-estimated. Beyond the vast opportunity manifest in African markets, we highlight people who make a difference; leaders turning the tide, youth driving change, and an indefatigable business community. That is what we believe will change the continent, and that is what we report on. With hard-hitting investigations, innovative analysis and deep dives into countries and sectors, The Africa Report delivers the insight you need.

View subscription options