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Music: Nigerian Afrobeats star Wizkid is getting serious and having fun

By Léo Pajon
Posted on Wednesday, 16 December 2020 17:25

Wizkid, in a videoclip for ‘No stress’ (© DR)

The Little Prince of Afrobeats grew up, transformed by the #EndSARS movement in Nigeria. His latest album "Made In Lagos" remains pure entertainment, but the artist and the man have gained in maturity.

At first glance, nothing has changed. In his latest clip for the single ‘No Stress’, posted on 30 October on his Youtube channel – StarBoy TV – Wizkid appears with all the finery of the bling-bling Nigerian “player”: a heavy diamond-set necklace, huge rings, sparkling grills, golden framed glasses, chiselled abs. As he whispers “I’ve been waiting for tonight night night” while sipping a candy-pink cocktail, one wonders if the prince of pop has remained a carefree adolescent.

Despite being 30, the star has kept his youthful features and fashion-conscious teenager attitude. In the same clip, we can see him proudly displaying two handbags, one under each arm. And quite naturally, on social media he is often the muse of ready-to-wear brands, shoes (Puma) and technology (Tecno smartphones).

READ MORE Nigeria: Beyoncé, Davido, and the #EndSARS pile on

Fist raised against SARS

The accessories and the smooth decorum of the clips hide a more complex reality. In the past few months, negative news has been rampant in the world of Wizkid, whose real name is Ayodeji Ibrahim Balogun, resulting in yet another delay with the release of the album “Made in Lagos”, which has been highly anticipated for months. As he confided on social media, Wizkid could not see himself releasing a pop album while his young fans were out on the streets protesting against police violence.

“IF YOU ARE YOUNG AND GROW UP IN NIGERIA, THERE IS NO WAY YOU HAVE NOT SUFFERED FROM POLICE BRUTALITY!”

The number-one Afrobeat artist (or number two, depending on the sales figures of his rival Davido) has actively participated in demonstrations for the dissolution of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), a special police unit accused of violence and murder. Photos show him in a crowd in London with his fist raised and a sign “End police brutality” in his other hand. He is seen on videos requesting the dissolution of SARS by the government. And he promises in tweets that the fight has only just begun.

Wizkid as a political activist? Less than a year ago, you might not have believed it. In a recent interview for the Lagos-based radio station The Beat 99.9 FM, he admits that the past few years have made him “grow up”: “So many things that have happened to me. I’ve been blessed with a new son. I’ve learned a lot of lessons. I’ve had to deal with the craziest thing in the world, which is a pandemic.”

The anti-SARS protest also particularly shook him. He told the station that he was the victim of police brutality: “If you are young and you grow up in Nigeria, there is way you have not suffered from this! […] I feel like it going to be a big shame for anyone in this generation – in any field you are in – not to open your mouth and speak out about things happening in Nigeria.”

Taking on Buhari

The artist was so vocal about the #EndSARS movement that he was criticised by the highest authorities in his country. Wizkid described the head of state as an “old man” and chastised him for wishing a speedy recovery to Trump (then suffering from Covid) while ignoring the violence against Nigerian youth.

In a tweet, Lauretta Onochie, an aide to Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari, called the artist “dumbkid” and accused him of “crass ignorance, insensitivity and childishness”.

This duel between the star singer and President Buhari evokes another legendary Nigerian musician: Fela Kuti. It is the same Buhari who threw the “Black President” in prison in 1984. And Wizkid is obviously not the only one who is taking on Nigeria’s leaders. Long criticised for their lack of political engagement, major Afrobeat stars – including Davido, Tiwa Savage, Mr Eazi and Yemi Alade have massively supported the youth movement.

An album as an escape route

The current political controversies are so big that one could almost forget StarBoy’s album. Soft and soothing, “Made In Lagos” appears both out of step with the recent Nigerian street violence and as a welcome opportunity for escape. The carefully crafted production jumps between Afro-pop and Afro-swing in a deliberately vintage vein, where the saxophone (Fela’s instrument, now adopted the new generation) is often prominent.

As for collaborations, Wizkid has called on the best of the international scene: his compatriot Burna Boy, the Briton Skepta, the Jamaican Damian Marley. With the latter, also a father, he pays tribute to his children on the track Blessed and confesses: “I’ll do anything for my family.”

READ MORE Nigeria’s first feature-length animated film cost $1m

Political songs? There are none. Many songs, recorded in 2019 or at the beginning of the year, do not testify to his recent political involvement. Even today, in his interviews, the Prince of Afrobeats admits that he does not see himself going into the studio to make a song against the government. “It would be a waste,” he said in an interview for the Financial Times. “Fela has done it so many times. Fela has insulted the president who now runs the country.”

However, the singer’s metamorphosis gives hope for a renewed sound and more powerful songs. After almost a year of hoping for “Made in Lagos”, the Nigerian’s next album is now awaited with equal eagerness.

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