NIGERIA: Sounds From The Other Side - WizKid
Updated: Apr 17, 2021
Wizkid establishes himself as one of the mighty trio of Afrobeats superstars, putting the genre into the Western public conciousness in style
Danny: In 2018 I had the absolute pleasure of living with a Nigerian Prince. Whilst in the wake of the Duke of Edinburgh’s recent passing, many of you might have read obituaries detailing the glamorous life of a royal, the realities of sharing a student house with royalty in the rather run-down Lenton area of Nottingham were rather different. That said, what living with Prince Jeffrey lacked in ‘traditional’ royal glitz and glam, was more than made up for with many nights of hilarity, always with music in the background.
“WizKid is not even pandering to a Western audience simply to boost his profile, but is making music that speaks to a young generation of Africans living outside of the continent as he flies the flag for both Nigeria and all of West Africa with style and swag.”
Whilst our music tastes often differed as I would often sit disapprovingly whilst he put drill music on the speakers before I would then retaliate with some top-quality ABBA tunes, there were areas of musical crossover within which we were able to bond as the year went on. One such area came through my curiosity to learn more about Nigerian music. Admittedly this area of discussion only came about due to my housemate’s absolute dismay at the fact that I was listening to his “grandmother’s music” when jamming to Fela Kuti’s Zombie in my bedroom. When I prodded him on this I realised that, just like for many young Jamaicans who only listen to dancehall as opposed to reggae, music from Nigerian legends of the past such as Wiliam Onyeabor, Tony Allen and Steve Monite was anything but ‘cool’.
When Jeffrey showed me the modern Nigerian music that he liked to listen to, we both realised that through my dancehall fandom I had already come across three Nigerian giants of the Afrobeats genre – DaVido, Burna Boy and WizKid. What these three artists had so successfully done, like numerous dancehall and reggaeton musicians, from the Carribean and Latin America respectively, had done in the previous decade, was put their music culture on the map by making it more palatable for a Western audience. None of those three Nigerian stars can be accused of making completely homogenous charts music without any obvious shout-outs to their West African roots. At the same time, as Jeffrey would introduce me to more local Afrobeats artists such as Wande Coal, Phyno and of course Olamide, whose track Stupid Love evokes memories of an incredibly happy period of my life after my beloved Tottenham Hotspur had reached the Champions League Final for the first time in their history, it was obvious that there was something diluted about the likes of WizKid.
Yet, that is not necessarily a problem, but rather shows an awareness of a globalised music market in which unfortunately the Western market rather brutally dictate whether something is palatable enough for their audiences for it to be deemed flavour of the month, and thus allow for more of its kind to come through. In recent years, one only has to look at the English lyrics on PSY’s Gangnam Style or Justin Bieber’s inclusion on Despacito to realise the benefits of diluting their respective genres’ cultural influences to appeal to a global audience, which enabled an invasion of reggaeton and K-pop into the Western public consciousness.
WizKid masters this perfectly, collaborating with stalwarts of R&B, hip-hop and pop on Sounds from the Other Side; an album that’s title even implies an understanding of its remit. Tracks featuring huge names such as Drake, Major Lazer, Ty Dolla $ign and even the rather questionable inclusion of Chris Brown are all great collaborations, with Naughty Ride being a personal favourite of mine. However, WizKid shows off his Nigerian roots with some classic Afro-rhythms on solo tracks like Sexy, Daddy Yo and the pick of the bunch Sweet Love. He successfully devises a series of songs that a Nigerian Prince can jam to unironically with a ‘pasty white boy’ like myself. I see that as a personal win.
Furthermore, the African diaspora across the West is large and though it is important to make authentically ‘African’ Afrobeats music, one might argue that WizKid is instrumental for the likes of Jeffrey who feel a strong attachment to their roots in their homeland but equally have fully embraced all aspects of life in countries like the UK and the US, and as such is the perfect middle-ground to feel at home in both senses. In this regard, for me WizKid is not even pandering to a Western audience simply to boost his profile, but is making music that speaks to a young generation of Africans living outside of the continent as he flies the flag for both Nigeria and all of West Africa with style and swag. WizKid is clearly a very talented young man, and his album hopefully helps continue to build bridges and see the rise in African representation on the global music scene, with irresistible African rhythms getting people to the dancefloor wherever they are in the world.
This is an album which, for the most part, leaves me completely cold. There is nothing really actively bad about it that I can pinpoint and say that I dislike or feel doesn’t work, it’s more that I find that it just is not for me. The genre itself is one I rarely respond to, and overall is not one I listen to very often. While I like a lot of afrobeats music, this sides more towards modern hip-hop , which is not a genre I have much love for, though there are some songs in the genre that I like, and to Wizkid's/ credit, there are a few songs here that I don’t mind. Come Closer and African Bad Gyal are all enjoyable enough, perhaps best suited to club nights, and when I enjoy this album, it’s mostly on the more upbeat, danceable tracks like those.
Wizkid’s voice is highly autotuned throughout the album, and while I recognise that has become an artistic choice among many producers of hip hop, it’s not necessarily one I like very much. It sounds synthetic and uninventive to my ears, but more so, I simply don’t like the sound of it. The vocoded voices of the Kraftwerk lads on songs like The Robots is similarly synthetic, but that worked for me because of the themes of the album and that song in particular. Here, it does not add much, at least to my view. My biases here leave me unable to enjoy the album as a whole, but on the odd occasion I like the individual songs, and there are songs that are fun and catchy.
While it’s not my thing, I am able to appreciate the work and talent gone into this, and I can understand why people who are aficionados of the genre might love this. The fact that it is in a genre I don’t very often click with means that when I am able to objectively look back on it and say that certain aspects of it do work for me, I consider that some kind of a win. And so, while this is not to my taste on the whole, and I find the whole album hard to enjoy in one sitting, there’s definitely a lot to commend it.