When Wizkid emerges into the packed O2 Arena, he tells his legion of screaming fans that tonight is not about him: “Tonight is about African music.”
Afrobeats, which blends African highlife with external influences from R&B to reggae, has a large following among Britain’s African diaspora. Only in recent years has the genre begun to break into mainstream British music. The London leg of his Starboy fest tour celebrates that expansion with a glittering gallery of sound.
On stage, it’s evident that Wizkid deserves his seat at the top of the Afrobeats scene. He’s a magnetic performer. Songs such as Tease Me and Don’t Dull, underpinned by snapping drums and jittery choruses, send feet stomping through the arena. Elsewhere, the crowds sway as he croons the softer, more melodic offerings of Come Closer (featuring Drake) and Energy (Stay Far Away), a collaboration with Skepta.
Throughout the evening, a range of surprise appearances sends raptures through the crowd. Rising star of UK Afrobeats Afro B enthralls with summer anthem Drogba and Tiwa Savage garners a similar reaction with 49-99, while Naira Marley tipped the atmosphere towards frenzy with Soapy.
The evening’s biggest surprise was reserved for the last stretch. Burna Boy emerged to the pensive piano-led chords of Ye and, for a few minutes, two of the continent’s biggest stars dance together, the ecstatic crowd thrilled and stunned at the unexpected union.
With energy at a high point, Wizkid brings the curtain down with Ojuelegba, the enchanting drums and biographical lyrics leading the crowd into sermon, topping a night that epitomises both his and Afrobeats’ continued ascent into the mainstream.