Love him, hate him, or stay atop the fence, Wizkid has arguably earned bragging rights as the most prominent entertainment export from Africa.
Perhaps with an uncanny sense of foretelling, the hitmaker had already acknowledged this superstar status since 2011. Since then, his growth has been swift, sustained and with no significant breaks in transmission. At just 27, having won every major award on the continent, broken into the international scene with a bang, the highlight of his career so far was selling out at the Royal Albert Hall late last year.
A famous venue which has played host to the likes of Fritz Lang, Shirley Bassey, and Stevie Wonder, you cannot help but feel proud of the young man even if you’re not a fan of his music (or lifestyle). The show which was filmed live ubiquitously on the internet as well as on his official social media pages was met with generally effusive reactions from the crowd. He held the racially diverse 500+ audience spellbound for the full duration of his headlining act, belting out throwback songs such as ‘Jaiye
Before this, he was ranked fifth on Top 10 Richest/Bankable African Artists on Forbes and Channel O’s 2013 lists. He was also the first Nigerian music artist to reach one million followers on Twitter. Add these to his very weighty collection of local, continental and international awards, Wizkid is quite the achiever.
However, his career has not always been smooth roads and red wine. The very things that make people famous can often also be the things that cause their downfall. And while Wizkid’s sheer brilliance have over the years overshadowed his long list of faux pas, his career is currently in danger of the cumulative effect of his mistakes adding up.
Wizkid is a product of a generation of artistes who prioritize lavish spending and rolling out hit singles and net busters over craft and technicality; an “anyway na way” approach if you like. For many players in the current Nigerian music demography, artistry and stagecraft are unknown concepts. This can be seen in the pervading culture of lip-synching at live performances and a general lack of lyricism.
This is a pitfall that Wizkid has not been able to escape.
The somewhat hidden danger that comes with having such a massive cache of hit songs across Africa is that it’s not difficult to get complacent. Lip synching often does not speak well for the art. What is the point of having fans pay crazy amounts of money to watch their favorite acts perform, yet making them sit through a cacophony of auto-piloted performances geared to help the artistes cheat their way through live shows?
We could have just stayed at home and played your songs on the stereo.
A sharp contrast to other afro-pop star like Phyno or Dagrin, or Sound Sultan, Wizkid is neither a pacesetter nor an innovator. He merely rides on trends rather than create them. Also, while he has quite the distinctive vocal play, he isn’t exactly a great singer, especially as his vocal range has reduced significantly since Superstar days. Songwriting skills? Suffering from a chronic case of chronic deficiencia.
Sure enough, Wizkid is well on his way to attaining legendary status (already has been compared to Fela Kuti in some circles, but the Afro-pop star hasn’t just done enough as a performing artiste. He needs to wake up to the reality of changing times. Music is becoming more than just pretty faces and catchy hooks; music artistes the world over are now making statements. Sure, hit singles will make you famous, but consistent excellent live performances usually separate the sheep from lions.
There is also the issue of under-par PR. He has had his share of distasteful fights on social media, trolling naysayers and spewing misogyny-laden rants directed at bloggers. All of these may win him love among Twitter’s ‘children of anger,’ but you cannot get over the feeling that his brand is now bigger than his ego, and his energies could instead be directed at creating—and defining—a solid legacy.
Right now, Wizkid is firmly at the apogee of contemporary Afro-pop culture and packaged alongside his reedy voice and self-belief, can become even an even bigger icon. But he needs to realize that while his ascent to such high level was rapid, it takes discipline, effort, and character to sustain it.
And he simply has to start showing more.
About the writer
Ama Udofa writes from a place of ennui. His writing is an attempt to explore things he hopes to one day feel: beauty, love, hope. Most times he is writing stories he almost never completes or ghostwriting stuff for demanding clients. Other times, he’s either fighting the urge to run away from home or falling in love with women who will only ever call him ‘brother.’ In August 2017, his essay won The Igby Prize for Nonfiction.