Adekunle Gold Wants to Make Timeless Music

We sit down with the Nigerian artist for a wide-ranging interview about his London O2 concert, his two albums, and his philosophy & growing fame.

In both music and public persona, Adekunle Gold is measured, thoughtful and engaging. In person, a strong current of resolve and self-belief emerges, one that doesn't belie his image but in fact reaffirms these qualities that have made him a much-loved musician and personality, now more than ever.

"I still find myself convincing people that I have something" says Gold at his lodgings in London Dockland, the regenerated riverfront and once the largest port in the world "after that show I said,'You know what? I'm done.'"

He was speaking in June, soon after his triumphant Adekunle Gold + 79th Element Live in Concert at London's O2, a weekend of Nigerian highlife music that also hosted a headline concert by Sir Shina Peters, Nigeria's top proponent of pop-juju who first found fame in the early 1990's. Gold sold out the "restricted capacity" of Indigo's concert hall and drew from his latest album About 30 and 2016 debut Gold for his set. Guest appearances included Simi and Dyo and Gold was backed by a seven-piece band that included celebrated guitarist Femi Leye, a hype-man, and hypewoman Adekunbi Kosoko who is also the artist's sister.

Triumphant, and also relieved from the tyranny of personal and public expectations, Gold is a revelation in this wide ranging interview about his concert, two albums, philosophy and growing fame.

Congratulations on the selling out of the concert at the Indigo at O2 and for a well-received show. How does it feel?

It feels good to have a dream, and then see it come through.

When did you decide to headline a concert at Indigo, and what was the first thoughts or situations that informed the decision?

It was in 2016 that I knew I wanted to do my own headline show. I did one in 2017 and sold out O2 Academy Islington and then I said, "Okay, let's take it to bigger heights, let's do it times four," and then we did O2 Indigo and it's big for me.

Tell me about some of the planning that went into planning the show.

My team we put this together and I reached out to the dancers here, shout out to Kaffy from Nigeria, the biggest dancer. She put dance videos together and then the costumes. She directed how it was supposed to be on stage and everything, and then my band of course. Me and my band, we've been rehearsing for a year for this show—a year. This show won.

Who you think are the great Nigerian highlife musicians?

Ebenezer Obey is number one definitely and then we have Bright Chimezie. In the new generation we have Flavour. I love these three brothers.

Your album About 30 shares a similar title with Before 30, the TV series about a group of young Nigerians and their anxieties about turning 30. Do you watch the show? What were your anxieties about turning 30?

I asked myself "so my twenties just passed like that? What did I even do, you know?" I was thinking "Did I live? Did I enjoy?" And somehow, I remember that I was always regretting that I didn't do enough at some point, but then I remember the things that I did that got me here and I'm like, "I think I did pretty much very well."

I think you did amazing.

Yeah, so it feels good to finally be 30 (now 31 years old) and be proud to say it because, yeah, I'm happy and I am responsible for everything that I do. I'm getting closer to my dreams daily. And with 30 comes a little more responsibility and a lot of life to live. So it, it feels good.

How did you celebrate turning 30?

It was pretty fun. I went to the beach—that's my favorite place in the world—with my friends. We stayed over the night and it was really, really amazing. We did a lot of fun stuff. I love to kayak so it was a beautiful one—the kayaking, swimming, games and a lot of things.

Do you consciously think about making timeless music?

I do. I don't have to lie, yeah I do. Because sometimes I want to jump on trend. The trend is very enticing but then, I think about it, this music, these songs are disposable waste. I mean one to three months they are gone and that's it. And then the ones I'm making, people still talk about it till tomorrow. I still make money from "Orente " (2016). People still get me to come to perform "Sade" (also 2016) which still plays on the radio until now. So, yeah I make conscious effort to meet timeless music, because the goal is to be timeless and it's not easy to do that.

Are you content with your music being called "highlife?

I don't think I want to say I have genre any more. But then, I think the most established thing is that I make popular African music. But the thing is I will put myself on every, any kind of sound. The difference "Call On Me" has is the music, but it's still my vibe basically and then if you watch the video it's still me so. I will work in my own form, but then I make sure that it's something that would represent me.

I think that also applies to "Original Gangster".

Yeah exactly. It's still my vocal presence. The song was built on what I wrote. Then maybe more different music, maybe more different vibe, but when you hear it you know, this is Adekunle Gold. Wait till you see the video.

Thematically and musically, what was your thinking and intention when making About 30?

Okay so, I planned About 30 when I was writing Gold (2016). If you notice how I did my track list, it starts from 17 and that's intentional. Gold ended at 16, About 30 starts from 17. I wanted to create the whole experience of my life through it.

With About 30 I took it up a notch. I have afrobeat proper with Seun Kuti. I have more pop sounds, one is "Down With You" with Dyo. I have "Surrender" which is very pop. And then there's "Remember" and "There is a God" with a choir. This one I try to spread a bit more and I featured more people, like four people; and then we re-mixed "Ire" featuring Jacob Banks.

Do you play any instruments?

The guitar is the one thing I'm learning so far, because people assume I play with the way I write. I spent the most part of my life learning how to understand my voice. So, I didn't have time to learn, I wish I did.

I'm actually glad you told me that, because it would be interesting to hear how you found your voice.

I think I was going to participate in Project Fame and I spent a lot of time trying to understand my voice so I was always singing. I became more confident to even enter the competition and get as far as the audition. So since then, I was confident.

I sing every day. So with that I learn, you know how some, before they go on stage, they don't talk, they do slow moves and everything. I don't say it's not good but, I don't do any of that, because I feel like, I do it everyday anyways. I sing and I'm not a coward that I need preparation to be able to sing now.

No special waters or fruit mix?

No, I know it's bad but I'm not even going to be like other artists that will say, "don't drink cold water." Bro, I drink anything. But I feel like because I sing every day, my voice is prepared anyways. I can work two hours, three hours performing on stage.

Was About 30 recorded in in one place or studio?

Oh no. It was recorded everywhere. I recorded some here, I went to Ghana to record, I recorded in America, I recorded in Lagos, everywhere. And I wrote most songs on the plane. "There is a God," I wrote that one on the plane, if you listen to the second verse of the song it says, "I'm looking down on the world from 24,000 feet." I was writing on the plane and it came down so easily.

Does being high-up in a plane do something for you?

It does, because that's when I get to write. That's when I don't get to press my phone. If I fly in a plane and there's WiFi, that's a problem. I can't write. The plane is where I have moments where I'm by myself. Even if I have company, there's only so much you can say. I want to write, I want to think.

Who do you think has the best live act in Nigeria?

Adekunle Gold, I don't care bro. Trust me.

Can I tell you why not? I saw Sir Shina Peters' concert in the same O2 venue and two days after yours.

I'm talking about in recent times, I'm talking about young people, bro. If I do say so myself, I am the best man. My band is amazing and we rehearse every time

We make songs together, we put "Money," "Damn, Delilah," "There Is A God" and "Mr. Foolish" together. I made this album pretty much with the band and the producers. Shout out to every member of my band, they are superstars. And there are some of them that are artists in their own right like Femi Leye who is a superstar. We're doing this for life.

Jacob Banks gave the remix of "Ire" a real charge. Why did you choose him for the remix?

I wanted something different in that song, I didn't know the recording could even sound better. I've been at his concerts, I've been to his shows and he's pretty amazing. I've seen him live, I listen to his music a lot of times. I love his voice, I love the emotion in his voice, and I kind of wanted somebody to give that emotion and put all that in the music.

Adekunle Gold's 'About 30' is out now.

Anjel Boris, Question Mark, 2019, Acrylic and posca on canvas, 133 by 7cm. Image courtesy of Out Of Africa and @artxlagos

What You Need to Know About ArtXLagos 2019

We talked to artistic director of ArtXLagos, Tayo Ogunbiyi, about Lagos's unique art scene and what's to expect from West Africa's biggest art party.

OkayAfrica is a media partner of ArtXLagos 2019.

In three years, ArtXLagos has successfully established itself as West Africa's premier art fair, cementing its reputation as a center of culture for the entire region. Since its founding by Tokoni Peterside in 2016, the art fair has attracted exhibitors, art buyers and members of the West African art scene and beyond—providing a platform for both emerging and established artists and playing a notable role in the global art ecosystem.

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Courtesy of Nadine Ibrahim.

In Conversation with Nigerian Filmmaker Nadine Ibrahim: 'The local stories matter the most.'

The filmmaker talks about the art of the short film and the evolution of Nollywood as an industry.

Nadine Ibrahim is a rising Nigerian filmmaker who is passionate about telling what she feels are the "real" stories of ordinary Nigerian people. In a country (as is the case with many African countries) where it's expected that one becomes a doctor, a lawyer or an architect, Ibrahim already knew that she was not interested in academics. After she was introduced to media, she soon realized that she was drawn to telling stories, and soon after, her filmmaking journey began. Her two recent short films, I Am Not Corrupt and Marked, have respectively explored the political landscape between citizen and politician as well as the traditional scarification practices in various states across Nigeria. More recently, however, she's currently documenting terrorism in several Nigerian states and working on her first feature-length film—a coming-of-age story of a young boy from rural Nigeria who moves to the city.

Speaking about the genre of film she ultimately sees herself in, Ibrahim says she doesn't want to be boxed in or limited to just one genre—she wants the freedom to explore and to inspire other filmmakers to do the same. "What I've noticed is that we stick to the dramas and the comedies but there's no Sci-Fi, fantasy or action," she says.

We caught up with her to talk about her current projects, what it takes to create a short film and the kinds of stories she wants to see more of in Nollywood.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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6 Things We Learned About African Migration to Europe in 2019 From a New UN Report

UNDP representatives presented their "Scaling Fences: Voices of Irregular African Migrants to Europe" report last night at Okay Space. Here's what we found out.

Yesterday, Okay Space hosted a discussion between UN luminaries Ahunna Eziakonwa, Mohamed Yahya and OkayAfrica CEO, Abiola Oke about the new UNDP report, Scaling Fences: Voices of Irregular African Migrants to Europe. The report examines young Africans who are leaving their homes to make the dangerous journey to Europe for economic opportunities—not solely for asylum or to escape persecution. The evening was both enlightening and sobering, and the main findings may be a little different than what you might expect.

Immigration to Europe from Africa is roughly 90 percent lower than what it was in 2015.

In 2015, slightly over 1 million Africans left for Europe. In 2018, it was just over 100,000. However, the percentage of those who drown on the journey has increased. In 2015, it was 1.6 percent of that million, while it grew to 2 percent in 2018. Meaning just over 2,000 people died enroute in 2018 alone. It is a disturbing factor that, four years on, more people are dying proportionately than when the large migrations began.

Even though most of Africa is rural, most of the youth leaving the continent for economic reasons are from the urban areas.

85 percent of those who the report identified came from urban cities or towns, though only 45 percent of Africans overall live in those urban areas. This means that most of them are coming from regions with "relatively low levels of deprivation." Analysts believe the rapid urbanization of many African cities could be a contributing factor. Benin City, Nigeria, for instance, has urbanized 122 percent in only ten years. These cities cannot actually support the people—and their ambitions and talents—who live there. It plateaus and does not allow for further upward mobility.

Only 2 percent of those who left say knowing the dangers would have deterred them.

This means 98 percent would do it again, despite the knowledge of fatalities and difficulties in crossing. The appeal of elsewhere is greater than death. This realization is crucial for all nations to better comprehend the true elements belying migration, particularly for those that this report is concerned with. Of the 1,970 migrants from 39 African countries interviewed for the report, almost all of them are willing to face death for economic opportunities abroad than stay home. As most of the migrants had relatively comfortable lives at home, they are not migrating to flee death or persecution as with asylum seekers. This prompts great questions and led the report to look at the issue from four angles: home life in Africa, motivations for leaving, life in Europe, motivations for returning.

58 percent of those who left were employed or in school in their home country.

Not only that, in almost every demographic and country, those who left had a considerably higher amount of education than their peers. From Malu, those leaving had an average of five years of education, compared to one year with peers in their age group and two years for the national average. In Cameroon, those leaving had an average 12 years, their peers had seven and the national average of six. Even when broken down by gender, both men and women who leave have about nine years of education while the national average is five and three, respectively.

Though the average African family size is five, most of those who leave have an average family size of 10.

When asked, migrants said their main motivation to leave is to send money home. This information is important as it may impact the motivations for needing to leave. The report reasons that an increase in population may also be playing a role in the motivations to leave. It was also reported that those who go abroad and find work send an average 90 percent of their earnings to their families. Essentially, they are leaving existing jobs to live on 10 percent of their new wage, highlighting that working below minimum wage in Europe is more prosperous.

Though 70 percent of those in Europe said they wanted to stay permanently, those who were working were more likely to want to return to their home country.

Conversely, the majority of those who did want to stay in Europe were not earning anything, 64 percent of them, and 67 percent did not have a legal right to work. Over half of those who did want to return home had a legal right to work. Analysts reason that those who did want to stay would likely change their mind once they had an income. This correlation speaks to a significant relationship between work and migration permanence. It also underlines the claim that migration for this group is focused solely on economic results as opposed to social factors.


What was most striking about the event, however, was the strong feeling communicated in the space about exchanges between Africans regarding what needs to be done. The discussion did not only surround the facts and figures alone, but also the humanity behind understanding why people migrate. At one point, when addressing the crowd of various influential people on the continent and in the diaspora, Eziakonwa said "What are we missing here? What are we doing by leaving young Africans out of the development discussion? Our programs are clearly failing our African youth."

Later, Yahya responded to a question by stating there was certainly a cultural barrier in which Africans do not often address, listen to or respect the youth. "I can say by looking at you that no one in this room would be given a true say," he said. "This is clearly part of the issue." When asked what can be done by others, the response was to work to change the narrative, to focus on prosperity rather than charity and to provide better access and platforms for African youth to share their stories so that the idea of who migrants are shifts. And so we, as Africans, can better know ourselves.

Check out some photos from last night below with photos from Polly Irungu. Follow and share in the changing of that narrative via #ScalingFencesUNDP and #MyJourney.

Photo by Polly Irungu

Photo by Polly Irungu

Photo by Polly Irungu

Photo by Polly Irungu

Photo by Polly Irungu

Photo by Polly Irungu

Photo by Polly Irungu

Photo by Polly Irungu

Photo by Polly Irungu

A person holds an umbrella bearing the colors of the rainbow flag as others wave flags during a gay pride rally in Entebbe, Uganda. August 09, 2014. (Photo: ISAAC KASAMANI/AFP/Getty Images)

A Lesbian Woman, Who Fled Uganda for the US After a Homophobic Attack, Is Now Facing Deportation

The Trump administration does not believe she faces a threat in Uganda, despite the country recently threatening to re-introduce its "Kill the Gays" bill.

A lesbian woman who fled Uganda in the face of homophobic violence, now faces being deported from the US by the Trump administration.

According to a recent report published in Rolling Stone magazine, a Ugandan woman by the name of Margaret sought asylum in the US after being beaten and raped at a festival in Uganda known as a gathering place for the country's LGBTQ community. Following the attack, she entered the country through the US-Mexico border—a dangerous, yet increasingly common route for migrants coming from the continent.

In the Rolling Stone article, she recounts several of the hardships she faced as a lesbian woman coming of age in Uganda and as an African migrant seeking refuge in the US. "I pray that everything works out," Margaret told Rolling Stone. "Because it has been so tough. Ever since I was 13, I just wanted to be free, instead of hiding who I am. I just want to be free, that's all. And happy."

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