Label & Year: Starboy Entertainment/Empire Mates Entertainment, 2014
Fans and casual listeners waited for the second coming of Wizkid and when it showed up after years of postponement, the dominant emotion was disappointment. Superstar (2011), his debut, is today considered a watershed in the evolution of Nigerian pop music for its blend of local Yoruba rhythms with the bounce of US R&B. That is mostly an erroneous view: that moment belongs to Wande Coal’s Mushin 2 Mohits (2008). And the clearest idea of what debt Wizkid owes Wande Coal came on Praiz’s Sisi (2015), where he says, “Wande Coal tell dem say, ‘I can’t shout’…” channelling a song from the latter’s ‘Who Born the Maga’ (2008).
'Ojuelegba', the best track on Joy is also its most autobiographical. Named for the area of Lagos where Wizkid grew up, the song shows a different side to the young man. To be sure, it isn’t the first time Wizkid has infused his music with autobiography. But when it showed up as humblebrag on ‘No Lele’ - ‘dem no know how this young boy from Ghetto make am’ - on the debut, here it is contemplative and backed with subdued chords, with hints of Fela and specks of spiritual Nigeriana (Call on Daddy - Baba God!).
A self-conscious song, it was designed to be performed live: “Are you feeling good tonight?” he asks - the entertainer can’t help but lob crowd-pleasers over the speakers. Early this year he performed the song soberly, delicately at the Music Meets Runway event. This time the facts of his roots are not to be celebrated for having been escaped; they just are. But when you are a musician like Wizkid - or perhaps when you are rich, famous and young - reflection can’t be the dominant theme on an LP. Revelry is more fitting. And so you have that in different genres, highlife and reggae among them. And in several languages. The album detracts from the single’s accomplishment.
Yet, it is perhaps a testament to Wizkid’s ambition that he chose to release 'Ojuelgeba' as a single and shoot a video, propelling the song’s popularity to the skies. I have heard the song played publicly in Accra (Ghanaian rapper Sarkodie has now been featured on the remix). I have heard it as a ringtone in Ouagadougou. Unfortunately, the video is almost ruined by the decorous cinematography of Clarence Peters and a misguided narcissism that sees Wizkid in almost every shot. Mr Peters still isn’t quite comfortable shooting outdoors without his claustrophobically constructed sets, which in his early days were used to focus viewers on dancing women and posturing artists. Here he confuses minor-key narcissism for solemnity.
For what could have been, you have to go back to Olamide’s video for ‘Eni Duro’(2010) directed by DJ Tee. The difference is how the videos present the artist's identification with the environment. Olamide blended into his video's setting, singled out only by his colourful change of outfits; often the camera seemed to forget it was Olamide’s video. No such chance in Peters’ direction. In Ojuelegba, Wizkid stands out—which perhaps tells its own story of escape. Entering a danfo, Lagos's commercial buses, to shoot a video is a faulty shortcut to claming Wizkid still belongs.
It is a story of unintentional incongruence that Wizkid’s preceding video, for ‘Show the Money’, is a better fit for ‘Ojuelegba’. There he stands within the people of the locale dancing shoki, dance step du jour. He is wearing the popular Ghana-made outfit, worn by anyone in Lagos, from riffraff to rich. Yes, there are attractive female dancers around, possibly impossible to acquire for the average income earner. But unlike, say, the clique of Caucasians cavorting in the video for ‘In My Bed’ (2014), these ones are in the ‘hood not on some unobtainable boat on unnamed waters. Luckily, 'Ojuelegba' as a song works, spreading some of its magic dust on a wobbly video.
‘In Ojuelegba,’ Wizkid sings, ‘they know my story’. Someone needs to tell the man: Not just in Ojuelegba anymore. Now we all do.
Watch the video for 'Ojuelegba' below: