A triumphant, sold-out evening with stars including Skepta, Ella Mai and Tems, and a tribute to Virgil Abloh, is derailed by R&B singer Chris Brown
African music perhaps has no greater ambassador than Afrobeats superstar Wizkid. The most-streamed Nigerian musician in the world sold out the O2 arena in just 12 minutes: when he walks on stage, his backdrop visual of candle flames pales in comparison to the constellation of phone torches that welcome him to London. “Joro!” he sings – a contraction of the Yoruba term “joromi”, meaning “come, let’s enjoy”. Taking every opportunity to gyrate his hips and wave his arms, you get the sense that if Wizkid’s first love is music, his second is dancing. His stage presence is sexy and provocative, his presence intensified by a distinct lack of fireworks.
The core of the set is just Wizkid supported by DJ Tunez. They rattle through his classics in a medley – No Lele, Back to the Matter, Tease Me, Don’t Dull, Pakurumo – that spiritually transforms the arena into a Nigerian hall party: the tempo is unrelentingly rapid, the bouncy rhythms and lyrics setting the entire arena jumping. Tunez introduces it as a throwback set for the “day one fans in the building”, not the “Essence warriors” – a tongue-in-cheek reference to the tension between balancing Wizkid’s early work with the newer tracks that have made him a huge star. That said, they blow through these songs with such speed, they can’t help but feel slightly wasted.
A pause comes when Wizkid holds a minute of silence for the late fashion designer Virgil Abloh, news of whose death broke just hours before the performance. (Abloh had previously designed a special Made in Lagos fit for Wizkid from his Off-White brand.) He continues the tribute with Smile and Blessed: these tracks which honour love, affection and the glory of living take on a resonance reminiscent of Nigerian bereavement practices that celebrate life as a framework for processing loss.
Wizkid’s O2 headlining set, however, is primarily a victory lap – and one that comes with a strong supporting cast. “London, I came with my friends tonight,” he says, introducing the first of many guests: the city’s own Ella Mai adds stunning vocals to Piece of Me, from his 2020 album Made in Lagos. He affirms Black Britain’s cultural importance to his music when he reveals Skepta, who adds pace and swag to Longtime and Energy. The latter is easily the night’s most enthralling performance, with 20,000 people singing “bad energy stay far away” with gusto. But it’s Nigerian breakout star Tems who steals the night – gloriously strutting on for an enchanting performance of Essence, which has the crowd cooing in delight at the dovetailing of her and Wizkid’s elegant vocals.
One final surprise guest leaves an unavoidable stain on the joy that came before. Wizkid hypes up the next act as the first international artist to show him love and celebrates this moment as his “first London performance in 10 years”, then brings on R&B star Chris Brown. There are clear pockets of silence among the portions of the crowd well aware that this 10-year absence was due to Brown’s ban on entering the UK after assaulting his then-girlfriend Rihanna in 2009. (He has faced subsequent allegations of violence against women and others.) Unlike Kanye West’s recent performances with Marilyn Manson (accused of rape and sexual violence, which he denies) and rapper DaBaby (unrepentant after making homophobic remarks), it seems that Wizkid brings Brown on stage out of genuine affection rather than any attempt to shock. Either way, Brown’s appearance on Go Crazy is raspy and lacking.
That aberration over, Wizkid restores the night’s triumphant air with a sermon-like performance of Ojuelegba, gracefully singing “they know my story” and swaggering through confetti with imperial spirit. The closing song is accompanied by aerial shots of Lagos that show its markets, yellow buses and sandy beaches. Celebrating his origins and honouring the difficulties of ascending as an African artist, it underscores that while he’s happy to bask in the international acclaim, there’s no place like home.
Wizkid: Made in Lagos tour is at O2, London, 29 November, 1 December.