On the 20th anniversary of his death, we look at how Fela's music has helped create Nigeria's brightest pop star.
Wizkid and Fela are like two sides of a coin. Whatever way you toss it up, you find similarities in their behaviour and music.
Just like Fela, Wizkid loves his women, smoke, and music. Much like Fela too, Wizkid is pushing the boundaries of the culture in this era, but he is achieving that partly by taking elements from Fela’s music and reworking them for this generation for great effect.
The biggest artists draw inspiration from the world and sounds around them. They search through cultures and art to find elements that can be combined to create a hybrid of what can be the beginning of a new genre or simply a moment in the music history of their locality. Take Drake, for example, he is the biggest pop star in the world due to his extensive blend of music and cultural utilisation (appropriation? Vulturism?)
Fela created music in a similar manner. Out of luck in the US, a frustrated Fela channelled elements from Funk, Jazz, Highlife, and traditional Nigerian chanting to create the genre that most of our music is based on. Such an amalgamation of sounds gave us a musical identity. Fela made that happen.
“Every artist has that one person that inspired them or a group of artists that inspired them,’ Wizkid told Hunger Magazine.
“Fela happens to be a very big inspiration to my music, Bob Marley as well. So I’m just here spreading good vibes. I’m not trying to live like Fela or do what he has done. I just appreciate everything he did when he was alive and I am here to create my own legacy.”
Sure enough, Wizkid is creating his legacy, but he is more like Fela than he likes to admit. His entire career trajectory from the grime and rawness of Ojuelegba to the posh spaces of Sony Music’s New York might have been a combination of fate, talent, hard work and luck. Looking through his movement through life, there’s no advertent aping of Fela, or a blatant desire to be like him.
But in Wizzy’s art, you can find intent. You can find a desire to utilise Fela’s tools in creating music.
With the exception of his debut album, the next two Starboy projects have Fela’s music interwoven into their fabric. It’s a deliberate attempt to benefit from the genius and legacy of them man respected across cultures.
“Ayo (Joy)” album bites from Fela directly. The marketing which was led by the album cover which would have fit perfectly with any of Fela’s famous artworks if he were still making music in this generation. The most enduring photo of that cover has Wizkid dressed up in traditional outfits reminiscent of Fela’s fashion style. He was flanked by beautiful women, just as Fela’s classic imagery has women flocking his den and shrines. Fela loved women. He adored them, welcomed them into his home, took them to performances, and rather selfishly made 27 his wives at some point.
Wizkid won’t dream of a 27-strong harem, but the kids have begun to roll in. He has two already from two different lovers.
The music on “Ayo (Joy)” album has two crucial tracks with overwhelming Afrobeat influences. ‘Jaiye jaiye’ was crafted straight from Fela’s playbook, with the horns supplied by Femi Kuti, Fela’s trusted heir, who once a part of the famous Egypt 80. The single which was released in 2013, still stands as one of Wizkid’s greatest hits.
But while ‘Jaiye Jaiye’ was a forerunner, it was ‘Ojuelegba’ which carried the name Starboy across the continent. The single produced by Legendury Beatz, drew from Fela once more, with a mellow universal bounce providing an environment for Wizkid to tell his story. The song found its way to Drake, who jumped on it for a remix and officially kicked off Wizkid’s international campaign. It’s fairytale stuff, made possible by Fela’s legacy.
Other singles ‘Expensive shit’, ‘Sweet love’, and ‘Sexy’ have continued to dip into Fela’s work, providing Wizkid with a comfortable, safe genre to express his art.
These days, he is flying high with the release of his mixtape “Sounds From The Other Side” via his deal with Sony’s RCA Records. Much like Fela did in his prime, Wizkid is regarded as Africa’s pop music messiah, due to his work in global markets. Whether he accepts it or not, the choice to be seen in parallel with one of Africa’s greatest performers isn’t his to make. It’s the logical culmination of his career so far.