The growing success of Afrobeat has propelled Wizkid into the limelight, particularly through his collaborations with Drake and Beyoncé. After winning a Grammy and collecting numerous worldwide hits, the Nigerian artist and father of four has released a new album entitled More Love, Less Ego. Let's get to know the king of Afropop better.
Ayodeji Ibrahim Balogun, aka Wizkid, is the king of Afropop, a subgenre of Afrobeat, a sound popularised by a wave of Nigerian artists following in the footsteps of the great Fela Kuti. The character we are going to meet in person, also known as Starboy, discovered music in church. His first song was at the age of 11, while at 20 he released the album Superstar, which was immediately acclaimed by critics and local audiences. Confident and tenacious, he made a name for himself in the African music scene where he collaborated with his role model Fela Kuti, but his dreams knew no boundaries and went far beyond.
International success came in 2016 with Drake's One Dance and 'the rest is history', as they say in such cases. Among Wizkid's collaborations, having won a Grammy Award which is the music industry's highest accolade, a place of honour goes to Beyoncé's Brown Skin Girl. In October 2020, his fourth album Made in Lagos, an ode to his hometown, immediately climbed to the top of the world's most listened-to hits and the track Essence, a duet with singer Tems, went viral.
Last September, after a spectacular concert at the Accor Arena in Paris-Bercy, Wizkid returned to the French capital to celebrate the release of his new album More Love, Less Ego with GQ, in the company of supermodel Naomi Campbell and Olivier Rousteing, artistic director of Balmain. In the silent setting of the Maison Russe in the 16th arrondissement of Paris, the artist presented his new work designed to dance the night away.
What was the first thing you did this morning?
As soon as I woke up I immediately rushed to give my son a kiss.
You are now a father of four. On a personal level, how important has fatherhood been in your growth?
Oh, it is the best thing ever! For me it is the greatest blessing that has ever happened to me.
How has your way of making music changed since you became a father?
I have become a bit more aware and every time I work on a song or an album I do it with more care. I know that my children will listen to it and I want to make sure that I always sing inspiring pieces that touch them deeply.
Do you mean that you now make music for your children?
Yes, partly. I have a son at home who sings my songs…. They all love my music and for me it is a real blessing. Absolutely, it's the greatest possible.
Do you take them with you into the studio?
It's happened once or twice because I don't want to force them. Whether they want to make music in the future or not, I will always support them.
Let's talk about your latest album: More Love, Less Ego. How did you get the idea for this title?
It stems from an inner need of mine. It is about communicating something urgent to the world. I feel that right now we need a lot of love to move forward. Through this message I intend to share my happiness with every human being.
It took you two years to complete the album. What did you learn about yourself during this journey?
I realised that I have to accept the ups and downs by learning to live the happy moments and the sad ones equally, because it is all part of life. It is yin and yang.
Has the creative and production process changed?
From an artistic point of view, I have learnt to be more patient with myself, but nothing has changed.
What is the first step when you decide to start an album?
I always start with the title. As soon as I know what I want to call the album and what I need to say, I start creating music. In most cases, when I work on an album, there is a moment when I abandon it. The most important thing is to put a lot of effort into focusing on the intention and the deep meaning expressed by a specific work. In Made in Lagos, for example, I wanted people to know where I came from and who I am. Through More Love, Less Ego, I want to share a message of love and make people vibrate. Love should be the greatest religion in the world. I believe that everyone can love each other, for real. My message is 'love each other and take care of each other'.
Made in Lagos has been a huge international success. Are you nervous about the release of this new album?
No, I just make music and then let people enjoy it. My only wish is that people really enjoy it.
Afrobeat has conquered much of the world and you are one of its leaders. How far can the phenomenon go?
When you make music, you want people to like it and you want them to travel far and wide. The popularity of afrobeat has grown significantly in the last couple of years, but this is only the beginning. We will go even higher.
It's not just a trend.
It has never been a trend for me, because it is music that flows from the soul.
That's why we dance! I remember Azonto. You have come a long way since then. What does that period mean to you?
Oh my God! It totally evokes my youth! It represents all the years I spent in the studio working non-stop. I only wanted to create music that people were passionate about. I didn't think about money. Every day I went to the studio for the music and didn't think about anything else.
Do you listen to your old tracks?
I do when I go to the disco.
Are you self-critical?
I am the biggest critic of myself. I judge my music, performances, videos, everything!
I attended your last concert here in Paris and it was fantastic! You transmit a lot of energy on stage, but which city gives you the most of it?
Definitely the most is when I go back home, to Nigeria. Every time I'm on stage in Lagos, I feel something crazy! Having said that, I enjoy performing everywhere and I love my fans all over the world.
You have worked with famous artists such as Drake, Beyoncé and Fela Kuti. Is there anyone you haven't collaborated with yet?
I'm open-minded. I could work with any artist who makes good music, be it mainstream, old school or contemporary. I don't care who it is, as long as the music is really great.
By the way, where is your Grammy now?
All my awards are scattered everywhere. I have some in my mother's house, some in the one in Lagos and some in London. It is crazy because they are all blessings and I appreciate them all. My Grammy is safe, in my house in Ghana!
Who did you call or text when you won?
Nobody because I was at home, surrounded by my family; so, everybody shared that moment of joy with me.
Family is obviously important to you. It is no coincidence that your wife and son were present today during the photo session.
It means everything to me! I grew up in a big family and these are the values that guide me. Beyond success, what remains are loved ones.
Who are your real-life heroes?
My parents because they really did everything for us.
Today you are at the top and I guess you can't go around in public without being recognised. How do you deal with fame?
The truth is that I am very reserved. I can still walk around and walk away as soon as people recognise me. I still allow myself this little pleasure, even though sometimes it gets a bit complicated.
What would you say to the Wizkid who recorded his first song at the age of 11 and dreams of becoming a professional artist?
I really started early! I would encourage him to continue without revealing anything, because where would the joy be if you could predict the future?
Do you think about the future?
I live my life and leave the rest in God's hands.
If you had to choose the moment in your career that marked you the most?
I remember when I was able to buy my parents a house. I was so young, but I realised how lucky I was. Being able to do that for my mum and dad who sacrificed everything for me was an important moment.
All the more so because African parents often struggle to believe in the validity of an artistic career, can you confirm this?
It is true, it is always better to go to school and get a diploma. I had to convince them by going to school and doing music at the same time, to show them that the two were compatible. As soon as my career started to grow, they changed their minds. I understand them better now that I am a father. Today it is more accepted, even cool, to make music when you are young, but when I started there were not many African artists my age.
Do you want to say one last word?
Love, love, love and more love.
More Love, Less Ego is available on all music streaming platforms.
Written by Michael Zippo
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