Rapidly emerging as the first global pop superstar of the booming Afrobeats scene, Wizkid cemented his close ties with London by playing the first of three huge O2 shows on Sunday. Arriving atop an elevated platform ringed by candles, the 31-year-old Nigerian singer spent the next 90 minutes dancing and twirling along an extended catwalk stage. Featuring vast video screens, pyrotechnics, confetti blizzards and international guest stars, this grand-scale production was a spectacular affirmation of Wizkid’s growing commercial clout.
Born Ayodeji Ibrahim Balogun, Wizkid’s fusion of West African musical and lyrical elements with R&B, reggae, hip-hop, house and more has earned him Grammy awards and famous collaborators, including Beyoncé and Drake. This show drew heavily on his globally feted 2020 album Made in Lagos, a UK Top 20 hit which signalled a shift towards a more polished, sophisticated, silky-smooth R&B sound. But some tracks from the album, including Sweet One and Smile, sounded anodyne and bloodless live, perhaps because they were played by a band whose arrangements shaded into easy-listening lounge jazz.
Older material, particularly a fast-cut medley backed by Nigerian-American DJ Tunez on the turntables, brought more libidinal party bounce to the evening. Don’t Dull, Fever and Tease Me sounded especially punchy with their raunchy polyglot lyrics, nimble dancehall beats and heavily Auto-Tuned vocals. Judging by audience reaction at the O2, Wizkid’s kinetic club bangers still outrank his syrupy love ballads in booty-shaking popularity.
Among the global guest list, London was well represented by singer Ella Mai on the sultry R&B number Piece of Me and grime lord Skepta, himself part of the Nigerian diaspora, on Energy and Longtime. For his biggest hit single so far, the sensual duet Essence, Wizkid called on the song’s co-writer Tems, aka young British-Nigerian singer Temilade Openiyi. These starry cameos added welcome sizzle to the onstage chemistry, although big personalities like Skepta made Wizkid’s own understated brand of charisma look pale by comparison.
American R&B singer Chris Brown also made a brief appearance. Long barred from entering Britain due to his 2009 assault conviction against former girlfriend Rihanna, Brown remains a divisive figure. But Wizkid has performed with him before, and the O2 crowd gave him a rapturous welcome.
After pausing to pay tribute to groundbreaking fashion designer Virgil Abloh, whose death was announced just hours before, Wizkid rounded off the evening with Ojuelegba, a jaunty homage to a boisterous bohemian district of Lagos. Despite a few blandly tasteful lulls, this impressively mounted show ultimately felt like a triumph for African music’s increasingly globalised reach, reconnecting an entire century of Western pop back to its ancestral roots.
O2 Arena, Greenwich