The first time I saw Nigerian singer-songwriter Wizkid perform live was more than 10 years ago at the Afrobeats Festival at Hammersmith Apollo.
Although a household name within the diaspora, his star was still rising internationally; there was heated debate as to who the real “Starboy” was – him, or Canadian singer The Weeknd who went by the same nickname.
For years, he’d perform at the 2,800 capacity indigo at The O2, which was the last decade’s premier London venue for Afrobeats artists before they were drawing bigger UK crowds.
Fast-forward and there is no longer a dispute about who the Starboy is.
In the past few years, his sound – a diasporic melding that draws from Afrobeats, bashment, Afropop, reggaeton, jazz, soul and funk – has been integral in seeing Afrobeats go global.
Wizkid has always been at the vanguard of a new type of artist in the genre: he’s romantic, serenading with sweet nothings in most of his songs and on stage, swaying his hips like a lustful noughties R’n’B singer.
But this is paired with the swagger, grit and braggadocio of a rapper. For the third time, he sold out the 20,000 capacity O2 arena, this time in two minutes.
Sunday’s show was in the wake of two Grammy nominations, and pipping the likes of Doja Cat and Sza, and Future and Drake to the post for a Soul Train award, winning Collaboration of the Year with Tems for the earworm of summer 2021, “Essence”. There was a lot to celebrate and “Starboy” made sure we did in style.
If there is one thing you can rely on Wizkid for, it’s consistency. In his discography (in earlier shows he used to crow that he had “too many hits”), but in his performance, too.
Whether he’s in front of 2,000 or 20,000, a Wizkid show is always a party and after an arduous wait thanks to sprawling queues and restless crowds (footage on social media shows crowds surging through a security checkpoint) the atmosphere was electric, Wizkid barely audible over fans screeching the lyrics to hits from his 2020 album Made in Lagos, such as “No Stress” and “Ginger”.
As predicted, he brought out a number of guests – Tems, Ella Mai, Skepta and controversially, Chris Brown all made appearances, which saw a wild crowd get even more so.
But while it was a night as much for newer fans introduced to him via “Controlla”, “Come Closer” and “Brown Skin Girl”, those of us who came of age to the 2011 Superstar album were in for a particular treat.
The audience chanted in one voice, resembling a sea of stars as a galaxy of smartphones added to the lights of production: fireworks, pyrotechnics and confetti added to the drama throughout the night.
I become oddly emotional every time I see Wizkid perform, as I imagine other members of his dedicated fanbase do. His growth as an artist has been incredible to watch; he’s become a more polished showman but his energy has never waned.
Despite international fame and acclaim, he remains, as per the album title “Made in Lagos”. His largely bilingual lyrics had the crowd, regardless of background, singing in Yoruba and pidgin as footage of his hometown was blown up on the stage.
He closed on crowd-pleaser, “Ojuelegba”, Nigerian flag waving on the screen. His pride at his roots only furthers our pride at his journey.