Pop Culture

Wizkid, the King of Afropop

He was raised in Surulere, a sprawling central district of the Lagos mainland. Born to a Muslim father and a Christian mother, Wizkid is the youngest of 11 children and his mother’s only boy. His older sisters were both his first audience and his first team, covering for him when he went to the studio instead of school. By age 11, he had formed a band—Glorious Five—with friends from his Pentecostal church, who, like him, were more into rap and R&B than spiritual hymns. Glorious Five pressed up a seven-track EP and sold enough copies to put some money in young Wiz’s pocket. His talent was evident enough that, by the age of 15, a Surulere-based producer named OJB Jezreel took him into the studio to observe the sessions he was recording with artists like D’Banj and 2Face Idibia, and advised him to hold off on releasing music until he was ready—to take his time.

Our conversation was originally conceived as a virtual tour of his hometown: He’s meant to be guiding me through Ojuelegba, the bustling hood where he first recorded music, and the surrounding area of Surulere, once home to Fela Kuti’s legendary Shrine. Instead, due to the vagaries of the pandemic, we are discussing Lagos’s global moment while one of its chief architects sits in Accra.

The irony of the situation—talking lovingly about an African city from another African city—seems to glide off Wizkid like water washing over a smooth stone. “Whenever I make music, I’m kind of in my own world,” he says when I point this out. “I can be anywhere. You can put me in India, I’ll make exactly what I’m there to make. Nothing would influence my sound. So me being in Ghana is more just where it’s comfortable for me, making the most amazing music that I can make.”

His influence on African pop culture is difficult to overstate—as is the impact he’s made on a generation of young artists. Prince Gyasi, the celebrated photographer and visual artist behind this very photo shoot, says he first saw Wizkid perform at a 2011 Fabolous show in Ghana. “It was my first ever concert as a kid,” says Gyasi, “and Wiz was one of the supporting artists who came onstage.” Wizkid was just 20 at the time and didn’t have an album to promote, but his presence was so enrapturing that a grainy video of the performance ended up going viral. It seemed to announce to aspiring young creatives like Gyasi that, if an African artist like Wiz could make their mark on the world, perhaps they could too.

Accra has long had a twinlike relationship with its bigger, brasher neighbor Lagos. Home to the highlife sound that inspired almost all modern West African music, Ghana was especially attractive to African musicians during the reign of Kwame Nkrumah, who actively promoted and subsidized the incorporation of traditional musical forms into modern pop. As a result of his programs, everyone from Fela to Hugh Masekela did extended stints in Accra during the golden era of the ’60s and ’70s, and it remains a creatively inspiring—and somewhat calmer—second home to many African musicians. “Wiz has been here so many times, I would even say he’s more Ghanaian than most of us,” says Gyasi, laughing. “This is where he takes his vacation, records most of his music. This is where his kid goes to school.”


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