Davido: ‘I’m starting my career all over again in the USA’ – singer says
It’s been half a decade after the Nigerian artiste entered and elevated Nigeria pop music, and now, new things are happening for him. He explains how life at Sony Music Entertainment feels, and why he is starting over.
“Why are people saying it’s taken forever, infact, shey na only me never drop? Abeg, make them free me.” These were Davido’s first words to me. We were sitting at the Signature Lounge in the Filmhouse Cinemas IMAX, in Lekki, Lagos. Young, hearty and humorous, the 23 year old African superstar had arrived in a luxury black Audi R8 sports car, surrounded by a contingent of friends, assistants, managers and hangers on.
This was a special occasion for man. His new video, the first in over 8 months was to be shown for the first time in the public. Davido had signed to international major label, Sony Music in January 2016, and had become the first in a growing list of African stars to get a major deal with the record label. Over the ensuing months, he had spent a lot of his time in the US, working on international collaborations, with Usher, Future, Popcaan, Trey Songz, Tinashe , and many more stars, with the aim of breaking into the US music market.
“I was cool, I was travelling, I doing things, I was recording, I was living life, I was in America. It kind of was very fast for me, because I was moving so much, I was just setting up plays. I was setting up plays for the future.” Davido remarked when I pressed with his whereabouts during his ‘absence’ from Nigerian music . “Killing them crazy though, everything big budget, Kamal, send the email now.” His excitement was contagious in a room filled with people who turned out for him.
Kamal Ajiboye , his manager, was in charge of screening all who were in the room. His bodyguard, Tijani, loomed, a towering figure who never left the singer’s side.
His recording in America and the insistence by Sony to withhold new material had taken their toll. Back home, Davido’s relevance had taken a beating. A star of his magnitude can rarely survive an extended period of drought in the market. Davido had failed to release new music, subsisting on past glories, and guest spots in third party collaborations. He needed to fuel his rated position at the top of the music industry with new music. Something for the home fans.
“ I was hyped that they (Sony) came to me.” He says, as he reaches for a bottle of water. Talking to the press after all, was a thirsty business.
“When they told me that this is going to happen, it’s a sacrifice that I had to make. I did so much in four years, I did a lot, every award, I have it.”
In many quarters, Davido’s deal with Sony had polarised opinions. While the general feeling about the deal had been one of celebration, few critics had expressed reservations about a Nigerian signing up to a major label. A few Nigerian artistes had earlier been involved with major labels, and their stories had failed to inspire trust in the international music business models.
Nigeria is blessed with a rich history of music stars who have had business with international recording companies. Signing an international deal hasn’t exactly been a tale of sunshine, rose petals, and everything nice. It has often resulted in the downfall, wane of influence, and stagnation of the artiste.
Majek Fashek , the guy everyone loves to point at as a pariah, and the SI unit of how-not-to-live-your-life-as-a-musician, is a genius who exported Nigerian music in the same vein as these new breeds. His clout rose internationally, and his fame was rewarded in the early part of the 90s.
Tracy Chapman, David Letterman and number of others were interested in his story, which hit a height when he was signed to Interscope Records. But that didn’t work right. He went through a downward spiral, which was gradual at first. His music slowly lost the signature influence, and at home, things fell apart. The record label dropped him, Island Records tried a failed rescue mission, as he poor handling of his music, and all that it means to Nigerian, alienated his fans.
Another local pop star, who was a direct influence on Davido is D’banj . He too has been a recipient of a major label mismanagement. His deal with Kanye West’s GOOD Music ruined what was a good run for him at Mo’Hits Records. The effects of it has been enduring, and knocked his music off. This year, he was officially dropped by the label, after his profile, music and career took a beating.
“You will see, I can’t explain, you gotta see the work. At least I don’t have to pay for my videos again. I’m always thinking: ‘spending $250,000 on one video, that’s what I’ll never do. That’ll just take it to another level.” Davido says.
‘Gbagbe Oshi’ is his first single made public from Sony Music. The new release isn’t the first song from the “Son Of Mercy” EP that we would have been bumping to. The original promotional and roll-out script had the collaboration with US singer Tinashe – ‘How long’ – as the first of its kind. But as has been the case since he signed, the release was scrapped earlier in the month, with the singer embracing discontent and displeasure on social media.
He has his chance now; The EP has been announced, and everyone can now pre-order the 5-track special. ‘Gbagbe Oshi’ » is the gift that comes with the pre-order, and it is such a delight. Davido reprises his familiar role as the Shizzi’s partner in the studio, and the duo proceed to make magic. Thankfully, what hits you first is a refreshing feel. We have missed Davido, and all of his energy and signature vocals. For all the fears that his creative control will be ripped from his hands as the label seeks a blend of music drawn from influences that are foreign to the Nigerian market, on this new song, we still have our own good old Davido. He sounded genuinely Nigerian, although with an attempt at Jamaican patois.
“I have creative control, it’s a joint thing. Most times, whatever I send them, they are ready to go,” He explains of his situation with the deal.
Davido talks about the feeling of breaking into a new market. In 2011, A younger Davido had done something similar when he broke into the Nigerian market. ‘Back when’ was his debut single, which preceded his first major hit song, ‘Dami duro’. A debut album titled “Omo Baba Olowo” had quickly followed in 2012, as he began his rise to the top of African music. That mission had been accomplished in 4 years. By December 2014, Davido has received a total of 29 awards from 74 nominations. He is the recipient of a BET Award, a KORA Award, a Channel O Music Video Award, a Ghana Music Award, a Nigeria Music Video Award, 2 MTV Africa Music Awards, 2 African Muzik Magazine Awards, 5 The Headies Awards, 7 Nigeria Entertainment Awards and 2 Dynamix All Youth Awards.
His current base is the USA, where he is still an unknown artiste. Interviews and press rounds have become a humbling experience, as reporters seek to know his name, before hitting him with questions about his beginnings. He is not the swashbuckling darling of Africa anymore. This is a fresh new start in the country of his birth.
“It’s like I’m starting again. That’s how it feels, that’s what they keep telling me. They say: ‘Yo David, we understand that you have this and that, and you are big. But you gotta start again.’ When they are interviewing me, they aren’t saying ‘Yo Davido’, they are asking ‘What’s your name? Explain Afrobeats to me?’. So it’s like starting again, but it’s cool, I’m just 23 years.
One of the reasons why Sony Music chose to put their investment in Davido was due to the penetration and acceptance of his music. But they will need to test the waters with a project first, before committing him to work on a new album. “Son Of Mercy” EP is the product of that test experiment » . The EP will contain 5 tracks, which will bear collaborations with US singer Tinashe, South African rapper Nasty C , and Nigerian songstress, Simi . As for the rest of his international collaborations, Davido says he is saving it for the album.
“All of my international collaborations Usher, Future, Popcaan, Young Thug, and more are on the album. Everything is on the album. Think about it, the end of the year is here. Why release all my missiles now, and the next year everybody turns over a new leaf?
“So I’m coming, doing my African thing for now, giving them the Tinashe record, so let them feel that for now, next year, just come through. That’s why I had to do this EP. I can’t do what they are doing better than them, and they can’t do what I am doing better than me. So I just have to do this EP, and drop it down.”
Davido’s new vibe will be and a glimpse of his artistic direction will be contained in that EP. Davido’s music has the ability and power to meld with numerous heterogeneous societies, and introduce the Nigerian way. But first he has to penetrate on this inside. The singer will have to internalise global pop music, and pass it through his Nigerian filter to produce a mutated sound. That’s why this is exciting. We get a chance to finally be a part of a new and inspiring journey for Davido, one of the continents biggest exports to the global stage. He feels this excitement too, as he rounds off the interview, but not without reiterating that Africa will be his main focus.
“ For me it’s just to keep going, help other people, drop the album, destroy. I love this my African thing. I love it. I will never leave Africa for nowhere. Ever! ”