After an electric performance in front of an eager crowd, the Nigerian singer Oxlade considered spending his last day in Cyprus exploring the island’s pristine beaches, but instead opted for some indoor bonding with old friends from back home that now live in the Mediterranean country. “I was like, nah, I think I need to regenerate. I’ve been in seven cities in one week,” Oxlade says over Zoom. He’s resting on a brown couch, wrapped in a wooly plaid fabric given to him by the grandmother who raised him after his mom passed away when he was three-years-old. “Before my flight tonight I just decided to leave the whole superstar Oxlade outside and come and meet my brothers.”
Though he’s built a respectable repertoire of tender Afrobeats jams since 2018, Oxlade is a recent international sensation, thanks to his viral hit “Ku Lo Sa,” in which he contours his delicate, refined voice around lovelorn pleas. Originally recorded in a Lagos studio with the prolific Afrobeats producer Ozedikus, the song debuted in June via a clip from a live performance for the German music platform Colors and took off from there. The hashtags #kulosa and #kulosachallenge have amassed over 920 million views on TikTok, where people mimic Oxlade’s impassioned Colors set or make the song their own. The buzzing singer recently posted a note on social media thanking listeners for 100 million streams, which could have accounted for just Spotify and YouTube alone. Oxlade dropped a studio version and official, cinematic music video last week.
The “Ku Lo Sa” phenomenon, of course, relies on how brief and exquisite the song is, the way some of his trills seem to waft in the air like feathers, the way it both pleads and parties. It also relies on that Colors video, which came to be through a small series of misadventures and mysticism. Asake — the Nigerian street-pop star who’s had a dominant year — was the first person to Oxlade played “Ku Lo Sa” for when he was done with it. “Back then, myself and Asake used to really roll together,” says Oxlade, who put it on for him in the car. “He was like ‘Yo, the song is going to go crazy. It’s going to go crazy.’ I was like, ‘Ehh, every song, everybody says it’s going to go crazy.’”
Originally, Oxlade was invited to Berlin to perform for the video, but couldn’t get clearance to travel. “Due to the reputation of the Nigerian passport,” he says before suggesting Nigerians are stereotyped as scammers, a misgiving he implies could be corrected with better representation, “I think our visa was denied.” To his surprise, Colors then chose to come to Lagos and capture him and other artists like Ayra Starr and Bnxn FKA Buju.
As the day to perform approached, Oxlade felt called to switch out the song choices he and his label had already submitted to Colors. “Everybody in my label thought I was going crazy for just changing impromptu at the end the day before the concert, but they also know I believe in my inner source,” says Oxlade, who grew up singing in church choirs and calls his family “full-time Christians.” “I believe in how God passes messages to me, and I just listen to his messages and instructions. So they listened to me.”
But Oxlade also experienced a tragedy he’s still not open to talking about in detail the day before the shoot. “I cried before the performance,” he says. “I cried after the performance. The boy you see on that green screen is a boy that has nothing to lose. I was at my lowest.” That pain seemed to translate into the song’s longing lyrics and perhaps kept his movements, while fluid and animated, close to his core – the type of dancing that fits perfectly into a TikTok frame.
“I knew I did something,” he says of that day. “But did I know it was going to get this big? Hell no.” Still, he’s prepared. He has a stash of unreleased music he’s giddy to share and fans he’s ready to put on a show for. “I’m not trying to bask in the moment because I’m an artist that is never satisfied with just that,” says Oxlade. “I’m trying to be one of the biggest Afrobeats exports, and it’s not just by one song, it’s by a full catalog actually.” He says his debut album, Oxlade From Africa is finished and coming soon.