Wizkid at the O2 Arena — Afrobeats fireworks from Nigeria’s finest

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Wizkid sold out his O2 Arena show in 12 minutes. Two more dates were added at the 20,000-capacity venue, both of which proceeded to sell out as well: the second in just two minutes, according to a celebratory tweet from the Nigerian singer. There were reports of unticketed fans storming the entrance gates for the first of the shows.

This sort of fervour is usually reserved for big UK or US stars. Underpinning it is an album proudly advertising Wizkid’s own geographic locale, Made in Lagos. With more than 1bn streams, a marker of top-tier success, it underlines Nigeria’s consolidation as a global pop music hub, like Jamaica in the 1970s. The Caribbean sounds of reggae and soca are among the components of Wizkid’s music, which also draws on US rap, R&B and west African genres such as highlife. The style is known as Afrobeats, a successor to the Fela Kuti-led Afrobeat scene that dominated Nigerian music 20 years before Wizkid’s birth.

The singer, real name Ayodeji Balogun, 31, made his entrance crouched on a hydraulic platform that rose from below a catwalk, the stagecraft equivalent of the arrival of a supernatural being. A short but incident-packed set ensued, unfolding in an atmosphere of high fervour. There were pyrotechnics and confetti, a DJ shouting hypeman slogans and vast backing screens with artfully shot live footage. A diasporic array of guests made appearances: UK singer Ella Mai and rapper Skepta, Nigerian singers Buju and Tems, and a problematic but rapturously received figure from the US, the singer Chris Brown, appearing in London for the first time in 12 years.

Wizkid’s singing had a modern crooner’s lilt © Joseph Okpako/WireImage/Getty Images
Wizkid was a mellifluous centre of attention amid all this, a cajoling vocalist rather than an overbearing one. Opening with a seductive romantic song, “Joro”, his singing had a modern crooner’s lilt, filtered through Auto-Tuned vocal processing effects. He was accompanied by a seven-piece band, the DJ and three backing vocalists. A smooth interplay of horns, guitar, bass and percussion was to the fore in the Afrobeats numbers, while DJ Tunez took over for a medley of hard-edged dance music tracks.