Afrobeat is one of the most popular specialised genres in the world, and Wizkid, the closest thing the scene has to a crossover star, one capable of headlining Glastonbury. First Dance, his 2016 collaboration with Drake, kickstarted a wave of R&B-inspired pop, with the likes of Ed Sheeran, Justin Bieber and Little Mix taking influence from the sound.
Wizkid’s 2020 album Made In Lagos has racked up more than a billion streams and a Grammy nod for Best Global Music Album. A remix of the lead single Essence is currently one of the most popular songs in the world and, earlier this year, the 31-year-old became the fastest-selling solo artist in O2 Arena history when his trio of headline shows at the venue sold out in just 35 minutes.
Sunday night was the first one of those shows. The crowd was so excited, they rushed security the moment doors were open. Well, the venue’s staff are usually used to crowds for JLS or Tom Jones.
“Tonight, we celebrating,” said the artist born Ayodeji Ibrahim Balogun. The night wasn’t just an opportunity for Wizkid to bask in his own success, but a chance to pave the way for what comes next.
He used his 80-minute set to show off the talents of rising Nigerian stars Tems, Buju and Tay Iwar with a trio of energetic, emotional collaborations (Essence, Mood and True Love). He also livestreamed the whole show back in his home country. If his chart success hadn’t already inspired the next generation, this euphoric, production-heavy show definitely would have. Making use of confetti cannons, indoor fireworks, lasers and the sort of light-up wristbands you’d expect to find at a Coldplay concert, it was a gig full of ambition.
Still, Balogun was a cool, confident performer who looked at ease on the huge stage and bounced off special guests Skepta and Ella Mai like they were the best of friends.
With songs about love, brotherhood and the importance of community, Balogun is a star driven by compassion. Onstage, he made sure fans in the front row were cared for by security and made a plea for the whole arena to look after their brothers and sisters. A moments silence for Virgil Abloh – the American fashion designer and entrepreneur who died the same day as the gig – was followed up by a raw, heartfelt rendition of Smile. Moments later, a gospel choir took to the stage and added magic to the bass-driven Blessed. He was never afraid to wear his heart on his sleeve.
For the most part though, Wizkid’s Made In Lagos tour is an excuse to party. His music draws influence from African dancehall and reggae but, backed by a six-piece band and three backing vocalists, he also found space for EDM, Eighties pop and free-flowing jazz. It provided the soundtrack for an almighty rave, with the crowd abandoning their seats and taking to the stairs. A mid-set medley of older tracks was both lavish and hectic with Wizkid’s DJ Tunez declaring he had “too many hits”. Not that I heard anyone complaining.
From the moment Wizkid took to the stage, he created a feel-good atmosphere for this euphoric, communal get-together. However, that all unravelled when Chris Brown joined him for his first live appearance in the capital for over a decade. The singer was banned from the UK following his arrest for assaulting Rihanna in 2009, and his surprise spot during Wizkid’s set felt uncomfortable.
There was no chemistry between the pair (Wizkid spent most of the performance side of stage, drinking water) and Brown’s aggressive, braggadocious run through of his own Go Crazy twisted the joyful mood into something ugly. Once he’d left the stage, the bad vibes lingered, and not even the usually triumphant closing trio of tracks could revive Wizkid’s party.
The evening was proof that Afrobeats is a global phenomenon, and Wizkid is already a star. It didn’t need a guest spot from Brown to demand attention – the music spoke for itself. His appearance was a singular moment of self-doubt in an otherwise flawless and fantastic Wizkid show. Next summer, he plays a huge outdoor show in London, and, if Sunday night was anything to go by, it’s going to be an absolute triumph – as long as he’s more careful with the guestlist.