Festival Review: AFRO REPUBLIK
On the 26th of June, WizKid made history as the first Afrobeats artist based in Africa to sell out the O2, joining the very small list of artists to sell out the arena at all. The Nigerian singer/songwriter has been beloved by Afrobeats fans since his Don’t Dull era from his debut LP Superstar but it was his sophomore LP Ayo that solidified his place as one of the best Afrobeats artists of our generation. Ayo featured the pop-y Jaiye Jaiye, the party starters: Show me the money, and Caro, and one of his biggest and personal hits thus far, Ojuelegba, that got the world wide coverage to put him on the international map. Since then WizKid has worked with artist from all over the world including DJ Maphorisa, Major Lazer, Drake, to create a versatile discography, all while staying true to his Afrobeats roots; making him the perfect headliner for the first ever Afro Republik festival.
Apart from WizKid, the festival featured an exciting line-up of the current to-watch-out-for African artists based in Nigeria, Ghana as well as the U.K. One of the standout acts at the festival was Yxng Bane. The East London artist not only has incredible stage presence, but also masterfully uses his sex appeal, to captivate the crowd when he performs. With songs like Shape of You, Rihanna and Fine Wine, Yxng Bane made sure he had the undivided attention of the women in the audience; even casually removing his shirt before moving closer to the front row as he serenaded us. Towards the end of his set, a female dancer joined him on stage for “Vroom;” she admittedly stole the spotlight from Yxng Bane, and quite frankly revived my interest in the 2018 single.
Maleek Berry, Tekno, and Not3s also opted for solo performances, while back up dancers and a live band accompanied Tiwa Savage and Mr Eazi for their sets. The dancers on Mr Eazi’s set were particularly memorable because of the way their costumes paid homage to certain bits of West African traditions. Their costumes as well as dance moves were put together to match the specific songs they danced to. Not to mention the live band that flawlessly matched the laidback, good-feel vibe his music offers; while adding their own personality to the songs. There was a very holistic feel throughout Mr Eazi’s performance; everything felt purposeful and well thought out. Another highlight was the surprise appearance by Giggs for their track London Town.
A noteworthy part of the festival was Tiwa Savage’s whole set. The Nigerian songstress entered the stage barefoot, so we already knew she was going to shut it down. Tiwa Savage opened her set with the hit single “All Over,” quickly getting the crowd on their feet and she made sure we stayed up and dancing for her the entire time. Having been a Tiwa Savage fan for years (15yr old me was convinced she could relate to Kele Kele) I was aware of her vocals, but listening to her belt out runs right after a perfect sequence of choreography made me appreciate her as an artist so much more.
Finally it was time for the headliner: WizKid, who had the pleasure of being introduced by the one and only Naomi Campbell. The Starboy entered the stage, sporting a fashion-forward black bedazzled tracksuit with a matching ski mask; the legend in him truly jumped out. Naturally he started off with his classics. “This one is for the OG WizKid fans,” he repeated before each classic, and to prove that we were indeed OG fans we shouted the lyrics at the top of our voices, as if to impress him. He gradually moved along the timeline and eventually got to his more recent singles, bringing Tiwa Savage out once again for Ma Lo. WizKid ended his set with Ojuelegba, which he dubbed as ‘the anthem.’ For this he had backup singers emulating a church choir, which added a soulful element to an already moving song. “I am feeling good tonight,” the crowd sang along, with nothing short of joy and pride.
Like the MC of the night Eddie Kadi said, “we are raising a generation of Africans who are proud of being African,” and it was more than evident on that night. Afro Republik made history all while allowing us to celebrate our African-ness in one of the ways we know best, singing and dancing with fellow Afrobeats lovers.