In 2009, Wizkid was performing at the Future Awards nominees ball at a Terra Kulture hall in Lagos. The crowd had descended into a rapturous frenzy singing the chorus of Holla at Your boy, Wizkid‘s audacious, bling-cut single off his debut album Superstar. But it wasn’t just about the song, as I recall; it was about the cultural emergence of a new, exciting talent that was undeniable and unstoppable. And this was the feeling that stayed with me after his performance and throughout his continued ascendancy into pop stardom.
When, in October 2017, the Royal Albert Hall officially reported via their website that Wizkid’s Albert Sessions has made him the first Afrobeats artist to headline a sold-out show at the Hall, the significance of this feat was culturally massive, especially for Wizkid‘s native country Nigeria. As always, social media was engulfed with the news but it quickly (and sourly) devolved into a silly, disrespectful debate – a noisy, unstable pocket in Wizkid‘s fan base made the sacrilegious mistake of lionising Wizkid over Fela Kuti. And, over what? Filling up a gilded hall?
In Boiler Room’s Wizkid: Lagos To London, a recently-released 16-minute plus documentary that largely riffs off on his Royal Albert Hall performances, we see him in the same bubble of exposure as with any other garden-variety footage of the show uploaded on YouTube. Blonde hair, Gucci sneakers, 90’s-inspired round-shaped eyewear, and that crocheted long-sleeved multi-coloured wool T-shirt from British designer JW Anderson. I had thought that the short runtime of the documentary would be creatively spliced away from all that gloss and noise, and rather delve into the psychology and the strenuous, debilitating hours before the concert, which would subsequently become a milestone in his career.
Wizkid: Lagos To London abandons the rich storytelling potential embedded in that singular piece of history for a faux reality TV model drenched in nostalgia. And even when it tries to foreground Lagos and Nigeria for a semblance of familiarity and trajectory, its portrayal doesn’t exactly ring true when juxtaposed against current realities. “I can’t trade my relationship with my country for anywhere else in the world,” he says in the backseat of a moving car. It sounds sentimental and silly. He is smoking. The setting is dim because it’s nighttime, and the female interviewer beside him is speaking with a polished English accent.
Wizkid can trade his relationship with Nigeria for anywhere else in the world, if he wants to; he has the luxury of options amassed from a rewarding pop career and juicy brand endorsements. Furthermore, the tragic, unfortunate stories of Nigerians illegally fleeing the country for a better life proves that Nigeria is a failed state. And Lagos is dirty, overpopulated, and ranks as the third world’s least liveable city based on a 2016 report by The Economist. Last year, it ranked as second. Activist and writer OluTimehin Adegbeye’s brilliantly rousing 2017 TEDTalk shone a light on gentrification in Lagos and its negative impacts on poor people.
This documentary, a project helmed by London-based director and filmmaker Raemon Anderson, could have been more expansive in this regard, and not the empty regurgitation of Fela’s words when Wizkid says “suffering and smiling.” We also hear him appreciate the influence of the Afrobeat pioneer on his music with a video of his performance at the New Afrika Shrine for Felabration 2017. It’s like paying homage, this recognition of a higher power even stronger in death. While the documentary served to curate and preserve, it doesn’t fully utilise the chance to be so much more. But he isn’t done making history – and there will always be another opportunity to tell it with all the nuance it deserves.
Watch the documentary below: