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Impact and inspire: The anatomy of Wizkid’s rise to Afropop stardom

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Kelechi Okafor speaks to Wizkid about spirituality, staying grounded and instilling positive energy in the next generation

  • Words: Kelechi Okafor | Photographer: Adama Jalloh | Styling: Tee Dosumu | MUA: Claire De Graft | Art Director: Vassilis Skandalis | Editor & Digital Director: Patrick Hinton | PR: Will Barlow, Live Nation
  • 17 July 2023

Let me start off by saying that, Wizkid is not an easy man to get a hold of – and why should he be? The global Afropop superstar is a frequent jet-setter from the little I manage to see of his life online, regularly whisked across the world to headline festivals, stadiums, and work with the likes of Beyoncé, Skepta, Drake, Ayra Starr and Calvin Harris as he fulfils his calling as a generational musical talent.

When we eventually get to chat via an online call, I go about saying the usual things to ease into our conversation in the hopes that he will feel relaxed and ready to chat. Here is the thing though; Wizkid already is relaxed.

Wizkid, born Ayodeji Ibrahim Balogun is an awe-inspiring musician who has not only been instrumental in cultivating the currently thriving Afrobeats scene, he has also dominated it for nearly two decades too. Ahead of his headline show at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on July 29, I relished the chance (as a fellow Nigerian and arguably one of Wizkid’s biggest fans) to peek into the mind of this musical genius, and to better understand the anatomy of his unstoppable success.

We begin our chat around 9:PM in the evening and I assume that we are in different time zones and that his day is just beginning. To my surprise he tells me that it is 9:PM where he is too – yet for the duration of our conversation, I would be hard pressed to find anybody more engaged and present than Wiz. Already I think that I have identified a significant factor to the magic that enamours so many fans to Wizkid – especially his die-hard fans known as WizKidFC. The kind of stage presence Wizkid commands in all the times I have seen him live in London isn’t something that is easily replicated. This type of presence clearly has to be something that is practiced in the day-to-day and then naturally carries over to the stage.

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But what happens when the stage this time, is in front of triple the number of people compared to the venue of his last headline show in 2021? It’s a huge arena that Beyoncé recently dominated across five dates, and follows on from Burna Boy becoming the first African artist to sell out the London Stadium across the city — even I feel nervous on his behalf. But Wizkid instantly envelopes my ear in that easy laugh of his that has graced a few of his sultry tracks. He describes the upcoming show as an amazing thing to be happening, but makes a point of saying that the opportunity to headline such a show couldn’t solely be attributed to his work alone.

“It’s not just me. It’s the fans, it is the support of the music and culture. We all did it [the show] together,” he says. “I don’t think one man makes anything happen.” Beyond this selfless and modest comment – befitting of his latest album’s title ‘More Love, Less Ego’ – his voice doesn’t betray any nerves whatsoever.

Anybody who has followed the trajectory of Wizkid’s career so far would’ve noticed that from a young age he has been a performer – so I guess to him the difference between performing in front of one hundred people at a party in Lagos is no different to performing in front of potentially 80,000 people in a stadium, because the performance is what’s key.

It takes a really grounded person to think in this way and thus my intrigue grows. I ask Wizkid then, how he remains so grounded, and his response isn’t something he has to take a pause to ponder. “Well I believe that behind every successful man is a beautiful woman, there’s a team, there’s management, there’s producers…I work with people, people don’t work for me. And once I start working with anyone, I consider that person family. We’re all just trying to win.”

I love a bit of astrology and I know that Wizkid’s birthday is 13 days before his Tottenham show (July 16) – and that would make his star sign Cancer; which tracks with the description of the stereotype of the sign being all about family. I mention this to Wiz and his gentle laugh is coupled with a definite “I don’t believe in that stuff.” I chuckle at this because whatever either of us believe about the signs is irrelevant; what is notable though is that Wizkid has unknowingly helped me to identify another tenet of his success – his enthusiasm to collaborate and step away from hierarchical modes of working.

Read this next: 10 years of Mavin Records: How the Nigerian label helped take Afrobeats global

Even with this small epiphany on my part, I still haven’t all the way left the subject of his birthday alone. “Wow, you’re going to be 33. You’re a big man now, you know?!’ I tease. But aside from the jokiness of my assertion, I’ve done the maths; If Wizkid is about to be 33 and he has been in the music industry in some form for about 22 years, then that hasn’t left much space for a childhood. When I bring this up, he doesn’t shy away from addressing my concerns.

“When you grow up, from the environment you grow up in – especially for me – I just knew that I just wanted better for myself. Striving and hustling to be better has always been in blood. I’ve always had that belief — you have to believe it,” he says, speaking with conviction and purpose. “I guess that is why I’m still a kid at heart, because there’s a lot of things I didn’t do, but I see that everyone has a mission in life – and this is mine.”

His mention of a ‘mission’ in life leads me on nicely to discussing one of my favourite subjects with him – spirituality. Why? Because music has the power to affect people in the deepest ways, ways in which some might deem spiritual – so I often wonder what spiritual practice underpins the creative flow of the artists I enjoy.

Wizkid’s soft frequent laughter stops for a moment and an air of seriousness is present in his tone. “To be honest, I’ve gone through some crazy stuff. From being exposed to a whole lot of stuff at a very young age. I think that’s enough to teach you and keep you grounded in life…” he says.

While this perspective rings true to me, as someone who like Wiz, has a Nigerian mother, I know how our culture stresses prayer and I remember the instances Wizkid has made mention of the importance of his mother’s prayers in his success. In his laidback matter-of-fact way, he tells me that he still calls his mum nearly every morning for those prayers.

I appreciate that despite the sexy nature of many of Wizkid’s hits which expertly mix Afrobeats, smooth R&B and dancehall; he doesn’t seem to shy away from expressing his spiritual beliefs, even if he doesn’t delve into the intricacies publicly because (as he tells me) he is a very private person. “I’m very calculated with the information that I put out there,” he notes. “Spirituality is a personal thing. I feel like everyone has different ways of how they connect.”

As much as Wizkid is a private person (he even sounds a little coy when I mention that he was the first Nigerian artist to reach one million followers on Twitter) who no longer divulges his thoughts as much on social media, I remember just how vocal he was in 2020 when he took part in the ENDSARS protest in London. I saw a fire and passion to Wizkid that year which differed from anything I’d witnessed of him previously.

“Understanding and knowing who you are is very important,” he says. “Having gone through that situation myself at university as a young Nigerian, being arrested and treated like a criminal…I’ve seen [mistreatment by the Special Anti-Robbery Squad] happen to friends and family. As a father as well, it would be wrong for you not to say anything.”

Surprisingly Wizkid doesn’t stop there as my question seems to have sparked something deeply within him, he describes how over time he has come to understand the power he holds and why his social media would be better served amplifying the loved experiences of others as opposed to himself. “I feel like people already know who I am. They know my music, they’ve seen my videos. There’s not really much to say about me anymore to inspire the next generation,” he reflects. “As you grow older, you understand the power you hold. For me, I want to use my socials for things like that. I would love to talk about things like that more, that affect humans — use it positively, you know.”

His mention of fatherhood piques my interest because as a mother myself, I understand the complexities of juggling my daily tasks in life with the overarching goal of achieving something in the world that my child can be proud of. Wizkid is no different. I can literally hear him beaming on the phone as I ask him about his hopes beyond selling out a massive stadium in North London.

Read this next: Fireboy DML’s top 5 tips for making an Afrobeat hit

“For me, just being the best dad that I can possibly be,” he shares. “Give [my children] legacies that they can live by and the right visual examples. It is a crazy world we live in and you are your kids’ first teacher. Without even saying any words, they watch the way you move, the way you do things, they learn from that. Just instilling positive energy and good morals into my kids and the next generation is my biggest goal.”

He’s also conscious of continuing to grow himself. “I don’t see myself as a perfect human being,” he says. “I just want to keep evolving and making the finest music that I can make. And just impact and inspire as much as I can, with my personal choices, my life, my existence as a human being.”

From this answer I know two things; that I will likely never stop being an avid Wizkid supporter, and that I now understand a lot more about the vital elements of Wizkid’s continuous rise.

As our conversation comes to a close, I can’t help but feel inspired. Inspired by Wizkid’s humility, his dedication to his craft, his spirituality, his activism, his fatherhood, and his overall mission in life. It’s rare to come across someone who embodies so many admirable qualities, yet Wizkid seems to do so effortlessly. As I bid Wizkid farewell and thank him for an illuminating conversation, I’m left with a sense of gratitude for having the opportunity to speak with him. It’s not often that you get to have a glimpse into the mind of one of Africa’s biggest stars and learn about the driving forces behind his success. But more than that, I’m left with a sense of hope. Hope that there are still people in the world who are not just focused on their own success, but on lifting others up as well. Hope that there are still people in the world who are unafraid to speak out against injustice and fight for a better future. And most of all, hope that there are still people in the world who, like Wizkid, believe in the power of music to inspire, heal, and bring people together.

Wizkid headlines the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on July 29, get tickets here

Kelechi Okafor is a wrtier, actress, director and public speaker, follow her on Twitter

Written by: Tim Hopkins

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