Nataal meets Nigeria’s golden boy in London to discuss his much-anticipated second album and impending global stardom
“Every year I come to the UK to do one gig and it’s always alive,” says Davido in a husky voice. We’re sitting backstage at London’s Koko just two hours before show time and his entourage are itching to do the soundcheck but tonight's headliner appears calm and collected. “Back home is crazy as well but here my fans know how to have a good time. Today is going to be personal because I feel like I’ve grown a lot since the last time I was here. You know, I’m on a different journey now, taking this African music to the planet, so it’s going to be a different show.”
2016 has indeed been significant for Davido having inked a deal with Sony in January and spent much of his time since then developing his sophomore album - the follow up to 2012’s Omo Baba Olowo. “When I signed I had the album ready but I began to experience so many new things that I thought, okay let’s go back. Since then I’ve gone out of my range when it comes to production and been in studios in Belgium, Jamaica, France, Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa... and right now I’m working on visiting Russia. This is going to be a world album.”
“The fame gon’ cost you sometimes. In Nigeria, if you’re rich, people are not going to support you. So my music had to be extra good to be accepted”
This is big talk from one of Nigeria’s biggest crossover music stars. Fuelling the current international interest in contemporary African sounds alongside the likes of Wizkid, Yemi Alade, Sauti Sol, Cassper Nyovest and Sarkodie, the pressure is on him to raise the stakes. “How I’ve been doing it in Africa is just move by move. Nothing is planned. Today I record a song, tomorrow I shoot the video, the next day I put it on Twitter and in a week it has 2 million views. But now there’s way more people watching, so this shit has to be on point.”
The first taste of things to come is his recently released Son Of Mercy EP, which exhibits the range of influences that feed into the self-styled genre he calls afrofusion. From the afrobeat inflections of Gbagbe Oshi to the trap-heavy Coolest Kid In Africa featuring Nasty C via the smooth love song How Long featuring Tinashe, and with lyrics coming thick and fast in Yoruba, Pidgin, American and English slang, it’s an infectious pop package. The EP’s songs are also accompanied by suitably slick videos, most of which feature fast cars and even faster women. “Whooo! Yes,” he laughs heartily. “I did that to say to people, don’t think I’m coming to America or the UK to look for a wife. We got enough of them back home.” Are you the coolest kid in Africa, I ask, somewhat rhetorically. “Yes.” Is his braggadocios response. And few would dispute it given Davido's breath-taking trajectory over the past five years.
Born in Atlanta in 1992, David Adedeji Adeleke was brought up in Lagos by his mother, a university lecturer, and father, a hugely respected businessman. Theirs was a very wealthy, very religious household within which his musical aspirations were not recognised. “I was a bad boy with good intentions,” he says. “I’m not going to sit here and lie to you that I was in the church choir. I wasn’t. I went to church every weekend with my parents but it was at high school where I started doing music. All my friends were older than me so by 12 I was mixing and mastering stuff and it went from there. Wande Coal was my mentor when I was coming up. And Dbanj is a legend. He paved the way for everybody. Forever respect to them both.”
He attended Oakwood University in Alabama, where he studied business, but eventually dropped out and went AWOL in London for six months to pursue music. “I couldn’t say to my dad’s face that I wanted to do music so I ran away. He was crying every day; he locked everybody up who’d been around me. ‘Go get my son or you are not going to see daylight!’ I knew I couldn’t go back to my family in disappointment. So instead I went back with 1 million records sold. I went back with the biggest song in Africa (his 2011 single Dami Duro). So he was like, okay you killed it.”
Davido finished his studies in Nigeria (his father helping to establish the university’s music department in the process) while developing his career and that of his HKN Music / Davido Music Worldwide roster including Sina Rambo, Deekay, B-Red, Dremo, Mayorkun and Lola Rae. It’s been non-stop hits ever since, such as 2013’s Skelelwu, 2014’s Tchelete (Goodlife) featuring Mafikizolo and 2015’s Fans Mi featuring Meek Mill. Add to that around 30 awards and over 10m social media followers and you could say life is pretty sweet for this 24-year-old. But with the smooth comes rough. There’s been the inevitable beefs with other artists, a very public custody battle with the mother of his baby daughter and all the usual naysaying that celebrity status attracts.
“The fame gon’ cost you sometimes. In Nigeria, if you’re rich, people are not going to support you. So my music had to be extra good to be accepted. So one track it’s called a fluke. But I did it again, I did it again, I did it again. Now it’s 70 deep,” he says, sitting forward and fired up on this subject. “Let me give you a story. My dad goes to President’s Buhari’s house and there’s process. It takes hours to be granted access. I show up and it’s like ‘Oh Davido!’ Thirty minutes and I’m in. So you see, this music can take me way further than money ever could. It takes a billionaire all day to get in but with my music, the door opens. I have the grace.” While his lifestyle is certainly blessed back home, Davido claims to also be able to work his magic across the spectrum of society by giving back. “I didn’t grow up in the ‘hood but I can go the streets and I’m accepted. I ensure everyone around me is good. That’s a no brainer. Every day is charity, that’s why I have good will. And in my house there’s 20 musicians coming in and out of the studio, just vibing. Everyone eats together. If there’s alcohol, we’re drinking together. If I have it on me, I’ll give it to you.”
He’ll have heaps more to go around in 2017 if all goes according to plan. The long-come album, a major tour and much more besides. Is he ready? “I’m not on a thing like I want to be the biggest artist in the world. Do what God brought you here to do, take your country as far as you can but don’t kill yourself because that’s how you fall. If I do become the biggest then hey, good for everybody, but you know, what I’ve done so far is amazes me alone.” And with that I’m given the nod and Davido dashes out of the door and onto the stage. As always, the bright light beckons. He’s ready.