“I’m not talking about no ‘Essence’ fans,” the Afropop sensation Wizkid playfully told the sold-out crowd at Atlanta’s Tabernacle on Tuesday night as he scoured it for true devotees. “Essence,” an international hit which this week became Wizkid’s first U.S. Top 10 single, has catapulted the diligently prolific musician into the stratosphere — but embracing fans old and new, Wizkid made sure to spend parts of the evening reveling in the highlights from his career of over a decade.
For the eager crowd of stylish, young, Black supporters, it was a welcomed recognition. During Wiz’s performance of his early hits, like 2014’s “Show You The Money,” or 2010’s “Don’t Dull,” the 2,600 capacity concert venue felt more like a joyous rave. It’s no wonder that, due to high demand, an additional date was added to this particular stop on his North American tour.
As one of the hottest acts in music today, the Afropop star has risen alongside an explosion of new listeners for the genre worldwide. Millennial first-generation Americans of African heritage have seen a seismic shift in the popularity of African music and culture in the U.S., particularly from Wizkid’s native Nigeria. In the past three weeks alone, Atlanta has hosted performances by an eclectic range of the nation’s talent — Davido, Tems, Omah Lay, Adekunle Gold — and all of the city’s excitement around Naija pop was coalescing around Wizkid, a behemoth in the scene.
The night began with a set from DJ Tunez, who spins in-house for Wiz. Early on, while a line of attendees still flanked the venue’s downtown block, Tunez ran through hits that spanned time and geography across the African diaspora. He played tracks by a new generation of artists like Rema, Koffee, and Lojay, and songs we learned from our parent’s hall parties, Magic System’s “1er Gaou” and Awilo Longomba’s “Karolina.”
“It’s a beautiful time to be African,” Tunez told the crowd with romance and wonder.
After we lovingly belted the chorus of Teni’s “Case,” around 9:30 P.M., Wizkid took the stage. Clad in an airy tan two-piece along with bouncy, bright, bejeweled chains, he moved with radiant ease, deeply enjoying the products of his labor — songs that compel hips and feet to sway and step. And while there’s little doubt that the success of Made in Lagos’s “Essence” helped Wizkid pack out the Tabernacle, the audience’s thunderous singing during throwbacks like the urgent “Pakurumo” and the dancehall-tinged “Tease Me/Bad Guys,” prove his early efforts have been held close.
As the night went on, Wizkid skipped and sailed across the stage, traveling with high knees to his 2018 hit “Fever” and dancing in a slow grind towards eager onlookers at the edge of the stage for “Anoti,” from Made in Lagos’s recent deluxe edition. Wizkid’s strongest vocal performances often came from Made in Lagos, currently sitting at the top of the World Albums chart, where it has lived for nearly a year. He trilled songs like “Sweet One” and “Smile” with an endearing passion for the record that has made him a true king of crossover.
In the solo show, he repped for a bevy of his collaborators, infusing Skepta’s “Longtime” verse with his own energy and chanting Damian Marley’s “Blessed” chorus with might, his band crawling into “Blessed,” before letting it ring throughout the room. The band plodded along quietly during Wizkid’s emotional performance of “Brown Skin Girl,” making the ode to women a serious one. Right after, they got the party back on its feet with a reverberant rendition of Wiz’s Burna Boy collab “Ginger.”
In one of the last performances of the night, Tems’ “Essence” vocals rang out alone before being accompanied by keys and eventually Wizkid. While “Essence” paints a picture of where Afropop is heading, with new stars like Tems under the tutelage of more established ones like Wizkid, the actual last song of the evening was not a testament to Wizkid’s present or future, but an homage to his past. Unshrouded by the colored lights that coated most of the show, Wiz sang “Ojuelegba,” which is named for the stomping grounds in Lagos that made him. Seven years ago, the song gained ground internationally, attracted star-studded remixes, and marked a turning point in his career — not unlike this one.