The trope of grass to grace is not Davido-esque. Instead, Davido’s run so far has been from grace to grace. His interluding humbling moments cater in part to his resilient spirit, his persistence in the face of multiple adversities, and his eventual solid status in the arena of African creatives, and hordes of them, each one striving to assert their voice in Africa, America, Asia, and Europe.
Editor’s note: This essay is available in our print issue, The Age of Afrobeats. Buy the issue here.
In May 2021, Kurt Alexander, the American radio host of BigBoy TV and a Hollywood actor, was on Real 92.3 FM (an American radio station) with the African Afrobeats heavyweight, Davido. It was an hour-long show where they had a run-down of Davido’s rise to global superstardom. In the chat interjected with jokes and laughter, Davido reflected on decisions, history and obstacles that energized him for success. The interview happened just three months after Davido released his new album, Timeless. Causerie like this provides platform for artists to broach their latest projects. And Davido was not hesitant to let listeners into his world, and how Timeless became his top shot. With Kurt’s occasional cut-ins, we have a strong feel of Davido’s background, and how delightfully his family’s love for revelry and art contributes to the formation of his personality. Appearing on big shows like this is not something new about Davido’s personality; in 2021 he was hosted by Trevor Noah on Daily Show where he vaunted how Afrobeats has taken a leap through his impact.
It is true. Afrobeats has taken a different turn in the last one decade, thanks to the global big shots like Davido, Wizkid, Burna Boy, Fireboy DML, and more lately Rema, Asake and others who have brought it many feathers of paean. It is a genre with eclecticism of melodies and sonics, making the world listen to African stories in different tunes, styles, and voices. These hit makers have mastered octaves and notes addictive for a global audience. Even within its short timeline and global assertion, several key moments have occurred in Afrobeats and Davido has been a key contributor. The 30 BG leader has numerous hits beginning with ‘Dami Duro’, followed by a streak of others such as ‘Aye’, ‘If’, and ‘Gobe’, to mention a few. With constant global headlines, charts, and multiple laurels including BET’s, MTV’s, World Award Music, and three nominations for Grammy 2023, Davido has cleared his name as an African music titan, a cat with nine lives, ‘elemi nine plus’.
Ede, with its flourish of greens, the aura of rainforest and brown rusty roofs of houses that spill into the red earth of Osogbo from the south might be the place where you begin the story of the Nigerian Afrobeats enigma, David Adeleke, with stage sobriquet, Davido. His grandfather, an Ede-born, Ayoola Adeleke, was a Second Republic senator, during Shehu Shagari’s buffer period (1979-1983) after the military power shuttle. Known for his merry-heartedness and enthusiasm for revelry, Ayoola Adeleke frequently hosted company and community revellers, minstrels, loyalists, and musicians in his illustrious compound. A possible theory, therefore, is on the ground, rooted in this familial patronage of local artists and singers. We may conclude simply that the fierce artistic impulses of Davido came from this background. We can further solidify this assumption if we go by Davido’s constant remark of the mother’s footprint on his musical life. Davido had claimed in his Big Boy interview in May 2023 how enamoured he was by his mother’s interest in gospel music and the number of albums on her shelf. The Clarke-educated business magnate, Veronica Adeleke, spurred his interest in music early. Where music is the staple of the home, building a social capital as an artist becomes easy—partly accounting, unsurprisingly, for Davido’s eventuality as an Afrobeats melody lord—the doddering step would later change the face of the Nigerian Afrobeats industry. But that is not all.
Back in Oakwood College in Alabama, the US-born teenage Davido was to start the pursuit of his degree at the Historically Black University. America, rife with its hip-hop culture, loud stereos from the local clubs with students in their big titanium chains and baggy trousers and loose T-shirts, one may just say this was a concrete launch of Davido’s big step into the $80 billion Afrobeats industry. The story has been rehashed often by the artist himself. In May 2023, Davido revealed to Kurt of Big Boy TV in his interview that he heard the woofer of his neighbour shaking the wooden and red brick wall of his apartment. Davido knocked on the door and found out that next to his room was a small studio inserted into a corner of his neighbour’s crib. He, from that moment, accepted the need to move into this rite of passage of learning the physics of sounds and the chemistry of lyrics and to switch to a new whole career path. This came with so many breaches, hurdles, and ocean-jumping between America, Nigeria, and London—where fresh voices were DJ-ed to multicultural audiences. Absconding school put him in crosshairs with his father, Adedeji Adeleke, a Nigerian billionaire, who Davido admitted privileged education above Davido’s musical interests. But convinced as an eagle with an eye on the chest of the mountain, Davido reached a compromise with his father who, according to Davido, ‘built the best studio in Nigeria,’ on the pledge that he would finish his degree at Babcock University. In 2013, Davido released ‘Dami Duro’, an upbeat sound pumped with the mood of club gyrations. With much virtuosity, ‘Dami Duro’ became a street banger and youth anthem and an FM-favourite on Nigerian radio music breaks.
Within a few years of his rise, Honourable Kings of New School Record Label was established by the Adeleke quad, Sina Rambo, B-Red and DeeKay, and Davido as a platform to advance their artistic careers. However, bad blood spilled between the Adeleke brothers—Dremo, B-Red (his cousin), and Davido. In 2016, the Afrobeats superstar established his own record label branded as Davido Music Worldwide (DMW). Apart from Mayorkun whose success brought the label more prestige, DMW was home to several artists including Peruzzi, Lola Rae and Idowest. Although both Mayorkun and Peruzzi left the label to establish themselves as independent artists, new acts like Lagos Olori, Morravey, and Liya later joined the label. Since 2018, DJ Cool has become the official DJ for DMW, joining Davido across his global performances in Europe, America, and Asia.
The heroic trope of grass to grace is not Davido-esque. Instead, Davido’s run so far has been from grace to grace. His interluding humbling moments cater in part to his resilient spirit, his persistence in the face of multiple adversities, and his eventual solid status in the arena of African creatives, and hordes of them, each one striving to assert their voice in Africa, America, Asia, and Europe. His face colossus on every front page, with his streak of feats and tours de force on the global stage, he has become a major stakeholder of Afrobeats—a king and kingmaker. But Davido’s cat life is beyond the seal of his success. Earlier this year, Davido, had made a controversial remark in a media chat on Brut, curtly referring to fellow artist, Burna Boy, as a ‘new cat’. The ‘Old Cat’ and the ‘New Cat’ binary is a metaphor for the history of his evolution in the industry, but also showed the flippant fingers, many have said, he has pointed at his arch-rivals in the industry. He is aware of this in ‘Over Dem’, his 2023 track off his album, Timeless.
With staying power more than a decade in the spotlight and steady records and peaks, the ‘Nwa baby’ love querist wants to blow his horn and many years of its echoes. Yet in many ways, Davido’s life estimation crosses the bar of this explanation. There are at least nine indices of his life that help us sum up his personality. These include: Afrobeats contribution, philanthropy, rivalry, fashion maker, star maker, political Davido, marriage and scandal, and a sprinkle of his spiritual life.
LIFE LED IN MUSIC, MONEY, AND FASHION
Unlike Fela Kuti—the credible ancestor of Afrobeat resurged in forms as Afrobeats—many present Afrobeats artists have weaker political stance and lyrical vigour, with little or limping narrative arcs. Their songs are more often display just assonance of words and rhymes that simmer in melody. What Afrobeats has lacked in this richness of verse and the poetry of it, it has made up in earful of sounds. It was for the form and the electric mood in 2012 when I started listening to Davido while rounding off my Bachelor of Arts programme in Ife. Like me, most fans came to know about Davido through ‘Dami Duro’—an echo of himself as a Nigerian bourgeois class member and a manifesto that frowns at any thwarts, doubts or biases against his talent. Davido has attempted to live up to this stride and released many globally successful singles.
Sometimes confessional in form, his love songs are intimate and private declarations for his lover, and the associated benefits attached to being in love with him. Consider ‘Fall’ which was included in his discography of his 2019 album, A Good Time. But his traction for the amorous and keen attention to emotional fuse in his song started early from ‘Ekuro’, also released in 2012, collected in The Genesis powered by his earlier singles, down to when he crooned ‘Assurance’ to his partner, Chioma. In all, there is a note of caution in the 2014 ‘Aye’ where love is not equal to material gratification.
Broadly speaking, writing about Davido or listening to his music returns one to what time is. So far, Davido has released three significant albums: A Good Time, A Better Time, and Timeless. The three albums stage different tunes, vibes, and riffs. They modulate time: one can feel and pass time whether in the space of the club, party or in the private kinky space of the bedroom. Satisfying as it seems, time is an endless running stream and philosophy in Davido’s utilitarian and hedonistic ethos, garnished strongly with rough sensuality as he serenades. However, how to listen to Davido depends on the orientation one wants to pursue in his song as gender and socio-political issues are also subjects of his song, but then fragmental. Davido’s sprint in ‘Wonder Woman’ is an adulation of womanhood, strength, and resilience. Davido belongs to that Afrobeats canon when the new century was just a decade and needed a new vanguard. The music critic, Dami Ajayi, has described them as the quintet of 2012, (Burna Boy, Wizkid, Davido, Tiwa Savage and Olamide) with Tiwa Savage standing out as the only female artist. Davido has been available, contributing immensely to the Nigerian cultural industry and piloting the genre as a global genre with a staggering number of facts and stats in streams in his most recent album, Timeless had been streamed as of April 2023, 144 million times and hit #2 on Billboard’s World Album chart. Form is the strength of Afrobeats, not the narrative arc of the lyrics that lacked agitational tenors of the artistic stocks of the 80s, genres ranging from highlife, Afrobeat, Juju, Apala, Reggae, and so on. Even then, Afrobeats’ ability to assimilate and harmonize other styles and beats—such as the South African Amapiano—while blending Nigerian Fuji with other genres is the lifeline of Afrobeats’ ingenious mode. This grafting might have accounted for Timeless doing more numbers than Davido’s previous albums — adding to Davido’s dithyramb as a megastar.
Davido, the artist, is one. Davido, the philanthropist, is another. Still nascent and slightly known, in 2012, he tweeted at Linda Ikeji to support an X’s user who went by the name Oke and health challenge with his leg. Davido, in his cheerful manners, promised to donate a substantial amount. Davido has remained a kind and generous figure in the public space. Charity, they say, begins at home. On Nigerian public socials such as Twitter (now known as X) Davido’s image could pass substantially for a philanthropist. Many occasions of his benevolence make me reckon Davido’s personality beyond his musical contribution. On 23 July 2023, for instance, a Twitter user (Dami’ Adenuga) had posted on his timeline that Kekwaaru Ngozi Mary, a staff of Eko Hotel, had returned misplaced money amounting to $70,000 to a customer at Eko Hotel. In paying kindness with kindness, Davido had quoted Dami’s tweet donating $10,000 to the young woman. Beyond Nigeria, in 2018, Davido visited a music school in Rwanda and donated $5,000 to the school. His most notable display of philanthropy was, perhaps, the initiative organized around his 30th birthday and tagged We Rise By Lifting Others. Through it, Davido generated around $200 million from friends and affiliates. In real time, he sent a viral X’s post at his friends, contacts and other entertainers to measure the level of their generosity, and how well they valued his friendship and memory. The return of the light-hearted tweet was the $200 million. The disbursement of the funds eventually included donations to selected orphanages throughout Nigeria under his foundation called David Adeleke Foundation. His simplicity and playfulness have been remarkable. Born with a silver spoon in both hands and a cup running over his earnings from music and father’s liquidities, if he has to beg for anything, it won’t be for money, but for the attention of his distracted lover as he does in ‘Jowo’.
It is hard to ignore Davido’s gregariousness most of the time. Fashion is his cognate. With the heavily stoned diamond ice chain, 30 Billion Gang, clanking on his chest and a pair of studs on his ears, Davido cares as much about his look as much as his music. He is a committed fashionista. In the music video for his 2023 song, ‘Feel’, shot by T.G. Omori, Davido is shown putting on a brown leather jacket. His fingers adorned with rings, and flashily gripping his well-manicured fingers. Davido’s statement of fashion not only exudes through his clothes but also through his brand partnerships. Most obviously, Davido’s Puma. Since 2022, Davido has been collaborating with Puma, founding his own limited edition of Puma products. In April 2023, Davido announced that his Puma Line is now live—different designs with elegant green, black, and white colours. He has also participated in different fashion weeks to represent Puma. At a New York fashion show in 2022, he wore conically patterned reds and blues sweaters and baggy joggers of Puma with two wristwatches fastened to his left hand. In September 2023, he gave his support to the supermodel, Naomi Campbell, by appearing at her fashion launch her new collection with fast-fashion retailer, PrettyLittleThing. On the runway, he delivered a stellar performance of his all-time peaking hits such as ‘Fall’ and ‘Unavailable’.
SCANDAL, RANCOUR AND POLITICAL MANIFESTOES
Davido’s political manifesto is not in his music but in the practical dirty field of politics. The likelihood of him running for a position in Osun, his home state is not zero. All conjectures may be dismissed except that Davido is also a highly political character and does not shy away from the tense and toxic political scene in Nigeria. One cannot blame him; his uncle, Ademola Adeleke, is currently the governor of Osun. In the events leading up to his election, Davido’s X timeline moved from being about the promotion of his music and tour to becoming strictly a publicity platform for his uncle who was contesting for the gubernatorial seat. He also organized performances in Osogbo, where the seat of Osun’s government is, and shamelessly engaged oppositional vitriols in the tarnishing game against his uncle’s political ambition. Politicking as an aspect of Davido’s life is not a trajectory that his uncle, Governor Ademola, began. Davido’s deceased uncle, Isiaka Adeleke, was a two-time Osun senator who was in office from 2007 to 2017. He had only followed the dynasty footsteps of Isiaka Adetunji Adeleke who was also the governor of the state in 1993.
What is a star without a scandal? Of course, scandals are not peculiar to Afrobeats; juju, highlife, and Apala, Fuji vocalists have also had their fair share. Fela the ancestor of Afrobeat had 27 wives and often talked brashly about sex. Davido has been viral for salacious reasons as well. Davido trended on social media in the middle of 2023 after his ‘sexcapade’ with Anita, an African American, was leaked by the latter. In a series of Instagram posts, Anita accused Davido of failing to live up to his promise of taking responsibility for taking care of his ‘side chic’s’ alleged pregnancy. Other spurious insinuations followed. But could Davido’s deliberate shun of these allegations be as a result of his grief of his son, Ifeanyi or deep investment in his new project, Timeless? A relief from this dent of amorous episode has been followed by more eclipsing news of his highly charting songs and a short video of his father ushering his wife, Chioma, into a Lamborghini after giving birth to a set of twins in the United States.
The ubiquity of Afrobeats is also because of its feuds. I spent my childhood in Nigeria listening to heated exchanges between different artists of the indigenous Nigerian genres such as Fuji, Juju, Sakara and Dadakuada. Davido’s success has stoked up millions of loyalists, fans, and disciples who continue to share the tempo of rivalry about who deserves the title of king of Afrobeats. There are many major household names in the Nigerian Afrobeats industry that have fiercely competed on the global scene with Davido. One of them is the Grammy award winner, Burna Boy. One would remember that Davido’s remark about the ‘old cat versus new cat’ was an attempt to confront audiences with the history of Afrobeats, which many believe started at from 2010 onwards—a ‘class’ that includes artists like Olamide and Wizkid. So when ‘the old cat’ statement was made, it travelled across disparate constituencies of fandom, with 30 BG, Davido’s fan zone, in a crossfire with that of Burna Boy allies who were quick to remind everyone of the colossal success the African giant has bookmarked globally in the present age of Afrobeats. Davido attracts his own enemies, because, sometimes, he does not spare the rod on social space — one visible hubris he carries. But he has also fastened his allyship belt from local to the global, featuring directory of artists such as Popcaan, Skepta, Asake, Teni, Peruzzi, Mafikizolo, and so on.
Usually, most Afrobeats artists hark back to their time in the church as a chorister whose love for music and passion for instrument led them to recognition of their talent. This background may not be true for the ‘Risky’ crooner whose chapel is love, and many homilies reaffirm this. The rise of Davido clearly links back to his time at Babcock University where he had gone to study music after his father had contributed immensely to the founding of the university’s music department.
Davido is not a choir boy who has mastered the polyrhythms of bass guitar, but his Adventist background continues to linger on even when his career hardly creates a footprint of his churchiness or Sabbath belonging. His association with Seventh-Day Adventists, the denomination whose foundation dates back more than a century in Nigeria and his commitment in part to the development of various Adventist institutions suggests him to be an Adventist. In 2022, Davido donated some money to various Adventist orphanages. His father, who owns Adeleke University in Ede, incorporates part of the ethos of the Church into the University’s operational structures. In October 2023, he joined the group of kids at Dreams Catcher Academy, an Adventist NGO ‘transforming the lives of orphaned/homeless girls,’ to perform his song ‘Feel’.
Is it morning yet on creation day for the Afrobeats superstar to borrow the words of African literary heavyweight, Chinua Achebe? Davido has released three albums that have survived tough criticism from the public and rave receptions across the world with cutting-edge shows such as the Hayya Hayya World Cup performance in 2022. When he released Timeless earlier this year, the album featured talents like Asake, Musa Keys, Angélique Kidjo, Skepta, and other A-listers. Timeless survives the storm of success and major streaming platforms by setting new records. But we also know that this is not the end for the Afrobeats superstar whose discography has crossed many waters. If we flip his music career, we meet him in another page whether as a Puma brand ambassador seething with his neck chains glistening under the fashion industry’s spotlight or returning to his legacy as an heir to a multinational family business⎈
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