Domestic life for Africa’s top pop singer has become complicated.
Wizkid is phoning from Accra, Ghana, where he has been for several months because of severe travel restrictions that have prevented him from returning to his own Nigeria, according to a recent interview with GQ.
“I was in Ghana for a two-week vacation and now I’ve been here for six months,” he adds in the pidgin of Lagos, his native city.
“So I’m just here working, making music, spending time with my family and son”.
“Just taking each day as it comes”.
Born Ayodeji Ibrahim Balogun, he started making music in the mid-2000s.
It’s a career that runs parallel with the emergence of Afrobeats as a distinct genre, or at least as a distinct wave within Afropop.
The genre fuses the song structures of R&B with the distinctive melodic energy of West African palm wine music, pushing them hard, offbeat pulse of Jamaican dancehall into a more polyrhythmic clave.
In the 2010s, Wizkid was the scene’s standard-bearer a position only solidified when he collaborated with Drake on “One Dance,” which became the most-streamed song in the world.
It was also around this time that Wizkid’s fans stopped referring to him as Little Prince, and instead started calling him Starboy.
By the time Beyoncé released her Black Is King visual album for Disney’s 2019 remake of The Lion King, there was really only one artist she could have called to provide the proper Afro-diasporic stamp of approval on “Brown Skin Girl,” the track on which her daughter, Blue Ivy, made her musical debut.
He was raised in Surulere, a central district of the Lagos mainland.
Born to a Muslim father and a Christian mother, Wizkid is the youngest of 11 children and his mother’s only boy.
His older sisters were both his first audience and his first team, covering for him when he went to the studio instead of school.
By age 11, he had formed a band—Glorious Five—with friends from his Pentecostal church, who, like him, were more into rap and R&B than spiritual hymns.
Glorious Five pressed up a seven-track EP and sold enough copies to put some money in young Wiz’s pocket.
His talent was evident enough that, by the age of 15, a Surulere-based producer named OJB Jezreel took him into the studio to observe the sessions he was recording with artists like D’Banj and 2Face Idibia, and advised him to hold off on releasing music until he was ready.
“Whenever I make music, I’m kind of in my own world,” he says.
“I can be anywhere. You can put me in India, I’ll make exactly what I’m there to make”.
“Nothing would influence my sound. So me being in Ghana is more just where it’s comfortable for me, making the most amazing music that I can make”.
Accra has long had a twin-like relationship with its bigger, brasher neighbor Lagos.
Home to the highlife sound that inspired almost all modern West African music, Ghana was especially attractive to African musicians during the reign of Kwame Nkrumah, who actively promoted and subsidized the incorporation of traditional musical forms into modern pop.
As a result of his programs, everyone from Fela to Hugh Masekela did extended stints in Accra during the golden era of the ’60s and ’70s, and it remains a creatively inspiring—and somewhat calmer—second home to many African musicians.
“Wiz has been here so many times, I would even say he’s more Ghanaian than most of us”, says celebrated photographer, Prince Gyasi.
“This is where he takes his vacation, records most of his music”.
“This is where his kid goes to school”.
“I am working on a new album, but I never like to be, like, in a rush,” says Wizkid coolly.
“Sometimes it takes me a year, two years, to make an album.
I always record in terms of albums, not just songs.
I like to make music that way because it gives you a sense of direction”.
Pressed on what that direction might be, he simply states, “Well, in the next album, I’m just trying to enjoy myself with the music now, because of the reception from the fans for my last album”.
“I just keep evolving with the sound”.