The Afrobeats Star Davido, an Upbeat Voice in a Turbulent Time

Against his parents’ wishes, Davido left college and moved to London and then to Lagos to make music, determined to prove he was not merely some wealthy dilettante. He released his first album, “Omo Baba Olowo” (“Son of a Rich Man”), in 2012, when he was 19. He had hit after hit in Nigeria, and he drew collaborators from Africa and then beyond: Meek Mill and Rae Sremmurd on non-album singles, Tinashe on his 2016 EP “Son of Mercy,” Chris Brown and the Jamaican hitmaker Popcaan on his 2019 album “A Good Time.” Meanwhile his tour venues kept getting larger; in 2019, he headlined the 20,000-capacity O2 Arena in London.

While his international audience expanded, Davido found himself singing more, not fewer, lyrics in Yoruba rather than English. “Back in the day, I’d say everybody really had the mind-set that, ‘Oh, the more English you sing, the more they understand you,’” he said. “But my biggest records in America are records where I’ve spoken my dialect.”

The new album includes a twinkling affirmation of deep affection, “Very Special”; the breezily suspicious “Something Fishy”; a touch of 1990s hip-hop with appearances from Nas and Hit-Boy on “Birthday Cake”; and “So Crazy,” a midtempo duet with the Atlanta rapper Lil Baby that seesaws between heartbreak and come-on. Davido also has African collaborators, including the Kenyan band Sauti Sol, the South African rapper and singer Sho Madjozi and the Nigerian singer and producer CKay.

Davido secured a collaboration with Nicki Minaj, “Holy Ground,” when, drunk after a night at a club, he sent her a direct message on Instagram, where she follows him. “I’m like, ‘Hello, Nicki, I’m a big fan. I got a hit for us.’ She says, ‘Send it.’ I’m like, what? And then I send it. And two days later she sent it back. That’s exactly what happened: no label in between, no mutual friend, nothing like that. It was just plain magic.”

Despite his excitement about the new work, the pandemic has left Davido, like countless other musicians, frustrated about what comes next. “I’m not even sure if I’m going to be able to perform in the near future — and I’ve got all these banging records,” he said. “It’s taking a toll on me.”


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