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Davido Speaks About His Upcoming “Are We African Yet?” Festival, African Music Popularity, Relationship With Akon

By Lola Shibambo; Frank Ulom

American-born, Nigerian-raised Afrobeats star, Davido joins Zane Lowe on Apple Music 1 for a candid conversation ahead of his upcoming “Are We African Yet? (A.W.A.Y.)” Festival in Atlanta this weekend (Nov. 18). The two discuss where the idea for the festival came from and where he sees it going in the future. A.W.A.Y is described as a single-day “music festival and cultural experience” that “urges the African diaspora and non-Africans to celebrate each other’s roots and experience African culture like never before.”

During the interview, Davido touches on his most recent album, “Timeless”, success in the US and abroad, his relationship with Akon, and more. Additionally, Zane and Davido dive into how African music is steadily gaining popularity globally and the energy Davido feels when in Lagos.

Davido on his ambitions beyond music and his festival “Are We African Yet?”…

So years ago it was the other way around where it’s like the same way we have people coming to Africa, which we love, investing, bringing their own culture over there. Having festivals, in the same way, we should do the same over here. And that’s why I’m having this festival that’s going to be coming every year – I want to give [different artists] the opportunity to come every year, different times to come and perform. Because they have fans here and they don’t know. Because internet, all you have to do is just drop a song out on TikTok and it’s gone. Somebody a billion miles away, it could be their best song and you wouldn’t even know.

I feel like we got to own our culture too. We can’t wait for somebody to bring the idea and be like, “Yo, Afrobeats is growing.” Let’s go register African Coachella or something like that. I’m like, “No, we got to do this ourselves because this is ours. So we got to own it.” Down the line if somebody wants to partner…

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But the vision I have, I’m talking 10 years, 20 years down the line. The vision I have is to create it to be something that is for the culture, not particularly mine. I might be behind it producing it, All of that. But it’s something I’m doing for the culture, which Atlanta definitely is going to have the first couple, but we’ve spoken about definitely moving it around because we are everywhere. So definitely I can see maybe LA, I can see Toronto, definitely. So we’re definitely going to move it around.

Davido on Lagos and the energy in comparison to other major cities…

Yeah, [Lagos is] like New York. Okay. I’ll say these are cities that I’ve been to that I can say, New York. I haven’t been to Tokyo, but somewhere like Tokyo. London, definitely Kingston. Kingston. Lagos is very, very fast-paced. The horns. The market. And everything is in Lagos. You have the parts in Lagos where it looks like Miami. You got the parts in Lagos where it looks like … You know what I’m saying? So everything is Lagos. That city is a whole country in one, kind of. And I’ll say this every time, if you can survive in Lagos, you can survive anywhere in the world.

The vibe in Lagos, musically for me, that’s where I go back. And it is also called tapping in with the streets. We travel so much. We are touring. You know what I’m saying? We never really get time to be at home. So every time I get home, I’m so excited. I’m like, “Yeah!”

Davido Speaks About His Upcoming "Are We African Yet?" Festival, African Music Popularity, Relationship With Akon

On how the perception of African music has changed…

Now, I met somebody in the airport, he was like he grew up in America. “And years ago, the narrative of being African was not as cool as it is now. Thank you. Now we’re proud. They can ask us, ‘Where are you from?’ And I’ll say, ‘I’m from Nigeria.’ And they’re like, ‘Oh, I love Nigerian music, man.’ Or they’re like, ‘Oh, I love Nigerian food, man.'” So it is different from years ago where people weren’t really proud to say where they was from.

The shows, before I left, nobody will buy a show, to a Nigerian artist’s show, except that there was an American artist like Usher. We’ve had Chris Brown come previously, we’ve had 50 Cent, Ja Rule, name it, Shaggy, anybody. But when I got back years later, it changed. They wasn’t playing western music anymore. The radio was playing all Nigerian music. The shows were booking all Nigerian artists, crazy shows. That’s when D’banj, 2Face, PSquare, and it started going crazy, like coming to America, making a $100,000 a show type. So I’m looking like, “Boy, I’m about to switch.” Because I’m like, “This is really where I’m from.”

Davido on his success and where he is in his life right now…

Definitely. I’m definitely in a different space. You know what I’m saying? I think to attain this level, it takes a lot of concentration as well over the years. Music is fun to me. You know what I’m saying? That’s the beauty of it. For me, the way I fell into being an artist, it was kind of … I don’t want to say a mistake, but I was just called to be an artist. I started off as a producer, engineer. I wanted to be behind the scenes for various reasons. I was still in school.

Davido on how his album “Timeless” felt like a healing process…

Me and the engineer. I actually recorded most of this album in my house where I live with my wife. So it was really only me, her and her sisters at the time, and then I had one of my boys staying with me. But it gave me time to really calm down and yeah, it was a healing process because I was happy that, oh, I’m waking up today. I’m making music today. You know what I’m saying? I’m excited.

It felt like I was just an artist that just got signed and just given the opportunity to show what he can do with this record so I was really, really excited about it.

Davido on how “Timeless” came to be…

I used to wake up, I remember, sometimes I’d be tired. So, what I used to do is that I’d play, because I was in the gym, the songs that I had made for the album. It was 28 songs after we’d kind of trickled it down, so I’d play the album from one to 28. So the whole time I’m gyming, I’m happy, it’s new music, I’m already imagining. I’m already imagining how people going to react to it. I’m imagining, I was a little kid, and I’ve been doing this for 12 years and it felt like this is the first time I’m ever going to drop music. It’s the first time I’m about to go back on the road. You know what I’m saying? And I wanted the music to be so good because I already knew, me coming back, a lot of people were really, really expecting the album. But I didn’t want to just come out and be like, “Yeah, he’s been through a lot. We’re going to support him.”

Yeah. So, like I was saying, in the gym, I’d play it, play it, play it. And we finally picked the songs and everything just came together. Everything would just come together, even with the ideas. I had signed two new artists at the time, that I was working with, Morravey and Logos. They’re on the album as well. She drops, I think, this month or next month. So, I was excited about a lot. I’ll go to Morravey and she’s on Track 3, In the Garden. So, I’d wake up, you know what I’m saying? Because this is two months till I got to turn in my album. So, I ain’t leave the house for seven months. So, I’m kind of leaving the house a bit, going to the studio and back, coming home early. But you know what I’m saying? Still stepping out and just watching her record, she gave me inspiration to, yo.

Davido on how the “Timeless” project was different from his previous albums…

Recently, it’s changed. You know what I’m saying? I’ve always been that artist that I want to be at home. I’m trying to be home except I’m touring. But with this Timeless album, I put so much into it, and it came with so much emotion because I was out for six, seven months with my family, so I had time to really … This is the first project where it was like, normally we in the studio with 50 people. You know how it is. Drinking over here, smoking over here, partying. That’s how it’s always been. Even the type of music I make, if you listen to it from back, it’s party music, it’s pop, pop, pop. But with this record, it was me one-on-one with the producer.

I remember when we were doing the cover for Timeless, I was like, “Yo, what’s this timeless music? Yeah, it is going to have something to do with time, but I want to also represent patience.” So, that’s how I thought of the hourglass. You know what I’m saying?

Davido on being a producer and an engineer first…

Yeah, because when I make music, I’m already thinking, “Okay, how’s the EQ going to be on the high hat? How’s everything going to sound?” I’m really, really big on, I do like five, six mixes per a record, whereas an artist just leaves all that to the producer. I’m in the studio with the producer. We’re going back and forth. Even if I’m not physically there, we on WhatsApp, we talking like, “Yo, this doesn’t sound right.” blah, blah, blah. I call my friend up, my friends that own a lounge or whatever. Like, “Yo, empty the club or give me a room in the club. I’m coming.” And I just play the album.

But I’m happy that me being an engineer, not only for me from an artist, for the artist I work with, I’m saying, I’m like, “Yo, I think you should do it like this. Do it like this.” It’s helped me, I say, 300%.

Davido on how he’s changed and has a mission…

You asked me that question about how I move back home. You know what I’m saying? The regular me, I’d be home right now. I’ll be like, “Yo, can we do this on Zoom?” But I’m saying, now it’s like, not only me, even my colleagues, we have a mission. We’re like ambassadors now. You know what I’m saying? We’re ambassadors to the culture now. They’re like, “Yo, yo, flat go out there and change the narrative.” You know what I’m saying? So, when we go home, it’s now a thing of, yo man, I love when people come up to me and be like, “Yo, thank you man. You guys don’t know what you guys are doing for us.”

Davido on having a place where he can listen to music away from being a “superstar”…

Yo. So funny. I concentrate the most on a plane. I don’t join no wifi. I put my headphones in and I just go through records and I just really listen. That’s when I’m really tapped out. That’s one place I really focus.

Yeah, I like that. But I definitely love when it comes to recording and curating records, I love being at home in Lagos. Even if I record in a studio out here or in Atlanta, the idea is always from, I always bring it from Lagos.

On his relationship with Akon…

Even just back home, the people that really opened my eyes. It was like, Akon, of course, we knew he was African and he used to definitely come back home for shows. I’m talking about an artist that we saw in Nigeria, grow up with us and take over the world. My first vision of that was D’banj Oliver Twist.

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Frank Ulom
Frank Ulom
Frank Ulom is an experienced Journalist, Blogger and Writer with several years of experience. His stories are based on community development and have brought positive change across board.

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