Small, sturdy and fully appreciative of his talent, Wizkid is making history tonight. The 27-year-old Nigerian singer is the first African artist to headline a sold-out show at the Albert Hall – a significant step in the internationalisation of Afrobeats, as well as confirmation that he is currently the genre’s main ambassador.
The venue is alight with cameraphones, while to Wizkid’s left, admirers try to clamber up to touch him. Behind the stage, a normally cordoned-off balcony has been opened to accommodate an overspill of fans. Meanwhile, UK-born Nigerians Skepta and Tinie Tempah are here, unofficially representing the western stars – Drake, French Montana, Ty Dolla $ign, et al – with whom Wizkid has collaborated.
Right now, Ayodeji Balogun, as he’s otherwise known, is squarely at the nexus of Afropop, reggae, bashment, dancehall and Latin music. Packaged together with his sweet, reedy voice and steely self-belief, the whole thing feels like a guidepost to where pop is heading. His feature on Drake’s One Dance opened the door for his success outside Africa and made him a Sony Records priority, but it’s likely he would have got there even without the patronage. Wizkid is a new kind of star, steeped in not just horn- and bass-heavy Lagos pop (cracklingly played tonight by his hometown band), but also the global sounds of the diaspora. The opening Sweet Love, from his new album Sounds from the Other Side, for example, is an Afropop/reggaeton livener sung in a mashup of Yoruba and Nigerian pidgin. A little later, Love My Baby – introduced as “a classic Wizkid song”, a phrase he repeats before almost every song – lollops along in an R&B/Afrobeats groove.
An orange-haired sprite who speaks in an Americanised twang, Wizkid industriously courts the women in the house (“Big shoutout to all my girlfriends!”), and they love him back. The crowd as a whole is in sync with him, singing the Afrocentric triumph-over-adversity number Jaiye Jaiye, whether they know the words or not. That track’s guest star, Femi Kuti, isn’t at the show, but Wizkid’s association with the son of Fela is a badge of credibility that attests to his love of country. A boisterous duet with guest Wande Coal on the latter’s hit, Iskaba, has the same effect. Some complain that Wizkid has forgotten who he is, but it’s the other way around, as proved by Ojuelegba, modestly introduced as “the African national anthem”. Rather than abandoning his roots, he wants the rest of us to savour them.