black sherif

Black Sherif.

Necklace: L’Chanter | Earrings: Martine Ali | Jacket: Savant Studios | Rings: l'enchanteur | Pants: Winnie NY | Shoes: Doc Martens

Black Sherif, Africa’s Young Bright Black Star

We trail the Ghanaian superstar as he plays his first sold-out show in New York City.

“I leave my art to breathe. I don't apply no pressure,” Black Sherif shares one of his many philosophical principles with me in the OkayAfrica offices. The 21-year-old Ghanaian newcomer has only been professionally releasing music since 2019 but he has already become the youngest singer to win Artist of the Year at the 2023 Vodafone Ghana Music Awards.

He reacts to the news with a boyishly shy grin: “It’s mad.”

Last October, his breakthrough album The Villian I Never Was cemented him as a rising talent to watch. The sonic palette of his debut showcased an eclectic fusion of drill, Afrobeats, reggae, and hip-hop. Critical acclaim abounded, as well as collaborations with the likes of Popcaan and Burna Boy.

For as long as the West has smeared Africa with allegations of archaic laws and culture, Black Sherif has become the young bright Black star of what has been derogatorily referred to as the “dark continent.”

Uniting the Diaspora

Three nights earlier I had the opportunity to witness his electrifying stage presence firsthand. Palladium Times Square, New York City — stop number one of Black Sherif’s headlining tour and a long way from Konongo. Usually, concerts will open with a lesser-known artist from the same label, this one had about 20 acts.

From Nigeria and Ghana to Liberia and New York City, the diaspora united on and off stage. No one quite knew when the main act would arrive but the audience was too pleasantly tipsy to notice how much time had passed. At one point it seemed like the hosts were plucking attendees from the audience to perform — a real communal affair. Still, the crowd became restless waiting for Blacko, whose name they cheered in between pulls of smuggled cigarettes and blunts. When he burst on stage with a raucous performance of “Kwaku the Traveller,” the security guards were too enraptured to catch those health code violations.

Even without the pyrotechnics, Black Sherif commanded the stage with the combined energy of the 20 preceding artists.

Black SherifHat: Stetson | Necklace: Martine Ali | Shirt: Tanner Fletcher | Suit: Tanner Fletcher | Bracelets: l'enchanteur | Shoes: OAMC

Continental Domination

Here, in this almost 12 by 12 green room, he’s just Mohammed. A string of taxing shows has noticeably worn him down. While he scrolls through social media with his perfectly pedicured and bedazzled nails, his manager Aubrey Tetteh and OkayAfrica editor-in-chief Geo Hagan engage in philosophical discussion. You can’t get a room full of Africans together without some talk of continental domination taking place. Today is no exception.

“When Prada does it, it’s chic, but when we do it no one cares,” someone says while others nod in affirmation. “That’s why we need a superstar to spread to.” Everyone instinctively orients their gaze toward Sherif. Head down, tapping along to invisible drums with his fork and spoon, his sole concern is the fried rice on his plate and the beat in his mind. He takes a laissez-faire approach to life: “If it happens if I become the voice, it happens. All I can do is my fucking best.” This flexibility is what secured him a spot on the Creed soundtrack at a moment’s notice.

All walks of life seek refuge at his shows. As I stood in the back corners of the Palladium, multiple drunk attendees approached me raving about Sherif. “He’s the truth!” one man told me, gripping my shoulder as if to really get me to feel his words. Originally from Nigeria, the 25-year-old traveled across the Atlantic to pursue a career in fashion. Though he was in a precarious housing situation, he had spent the last bits of his money on the show. It was Sherif’s relentless drive that motivated this fan to persevere through homelessness in a foreign nation.

Hat: Kimmons Hatelier | Earrings: Martine Ali | Necklace: l'Enchanteur | Coat: Willy Chavarria | Jeans: SK Manor Vintage

Life in Ghana

Sherif’s not completely apolitical. “There’s so much hardship going on in Ghana economically, and politically. People are suffering from inflation. They can’t afford petrol or food,” he said. “But then when the sun sets, everyone comes out in a crowd like, ’yeah, man, we’re outsiddee!’ So, it's like there's so many complaints, but from night to dawn we are in the moment.”

Ghanaian nightlife, often soundtracked by highlife music, provides an escape from the daily turmoil. That’s ultimately the vibe he aims to curate with his music.

“I kind of talk for a frustrated figure in the city, a frustrated boy,” Sherif explains. “I'm not from the city, but I live in the city. I came to chase a life and dream there. From love to entertainment to surviving. Driving out there, I’m testing my limits.” Many people, myself included, are unaware that Sherif was unhoused while recording his first album. “I learned how to skate in 30 minutes. I taught myself BMX freestyle in an hour. I feel like nothing is impossible in this world,” he swears. His palms face the sky as if to ask the universe why not? “If I want to be a pop star, I can fucking be a pop star. This is how I thought since year two of school.”

Reaching this level of optimism requires battling some demons. On stage, he adopts the persona of a ruffian. As he jumps around the stage in a frenzy, sinister images of figures in plague doctor masks trudge through barren woods on the screen behind me. When most of the world was introduced to Sherif, they associated him with three words “villain,” “kwaku,” and “traveller.”

Black SherifEarrings: Martine Ali | Sweater: Agbobly | Pants: Theophilio | Rings: l'Enchanteur | Shoes: Camper | Necklace: Martine Ali | Luggage: Savant Studios

When he was a child, Sherif’s mother left to live with his father in Greece. “I didn't have a constant home after my mom left,” he confesses. At this moment, Sherif regresses to his 10-year-old self. Eye contact is minimal. He fidgets with his rings. Still, he can’t find the words to explain how his mother’s departure impacted him.

In the anime Naruto, a character named Sasuke is known for his Susanoo, an aura-like figure that protects its host. His is a massive skeleton, the same one Sherif employs in his tour visuals. “I used to be very timid as I grew up with my mom. The people in my community were very crazy. She would tell me ‘Don't go outside.’ You know, ‘we are not like these people,” he speaks of his childhood. “When my mom left me, I started getting bullied and I didn't have no one to go to. You understand me? I needed to adopt some craziness.” In Twi, Kwaku refers to a boy born on Wednesday but also one that is evil. With a “Kwaku the traveller” tattoo on his knuckles, it has also become his Susanoo.

Necklace: L’Chanter | Earrings: Martine Ali | Jacket: Savant Studios | Rings: l'enchanteur | Pants: Winnie NY | Shoes: Doc Martens

Artificial Intelligence

Big-name Western artists like Drake, Beyoncé, and Ed Sheeran adopting Afrobeats in their music is difficult to ignore. Sherif understands the irresistible appeal. He even performed at the Black Star Line festival earlier this year.

But he’s not as open to artificial intelligence taking over the music industry: “That's taking people's foods.” Artists rely on the community to support them during their early days. A friend will create cover art, another will sew costumes, and a family member might cook up some instrumentals. He says this fruitful interdependence would be shattered by AI. Plus, Sheriff doubts that technology could replicate the lively regional sounds of Africa. “African languages are boldly spoken and very different, very rhythmic. When some people speak in Yoruba for example, it sounds like they are singing when they are just having a conversation.”

Earring: Martine Ali | Shades: Duvine | Necklace: Martine Ali | Shirt: An Only Child } Pants: Theophilio | Rings: l'enchanteur Shoes: Camper | Luggage: Savant Studios

AI isn’t the only thing Sherif has to worry about these days. People in Ghana have made careers out of plagiarizing his image. “This one guy actually got me pissed, because he got booked, man,” he laughs incredulously. Honestly, who could blame them? Every outfit Sherfi puts on looks like it was custom-made even when it’s pulled from the rack. Posing for photos in the OkayAfrica offices, he looks incredibly comfortable in a white cowboy-esque suit adorned in flowing black tassels — a stetson completes the look. Sherif is a huge proponent of “taking the piss,” so he can’t be mad at these grifters. Plus, he takes comfort in the fact that they’ll never be able to replicate his voice.

Truthfully, he’s proud that he’s been able to inspire those from his hometown. Coming-of-age stories seem to be the next step in his artistry. “I want to make Africa-centric movies, to tell stories from the perspective of an African kid,” he uses the U.K. show Top Boy as an example.

Spending his early years as a nomad untethered to any person or place, Sherif is ready to build a foundation that can benefit those who come after him: “I don’t just want to make a bridge. I want to be the bridge.”

Hat: Stetson | Necklace: Martine Ali | Shirt: Tanner Fletcher | Suit: Tanner Fletcher | Bracelets: l'enchanteur | Shoes: OAMC


Photographer:Marquis Perkins

Stylist: Tiffani Williams

Makeup/Grooming:Tenelle Veira

Videographer:Brendan Miller

Accessories (Luggage): Savant Studios

Creative Direction:Geo Hagan & Marquis Perkins

Writer:Heven Haile