by

Abimisola Anibaba

&

Oniye Okolo

 

Abimisola: This year’s Made in America lineup was a particularly big one, especially for Africans. It was the first time since its commencement in 2012 that not one, but four African acts were scheduled to perform. Tiwa Savage, WizKid, Maleek Berry and Kelela (Ethiopia) fans from all over the US coughed up the $199 that they needed to show up and show out for their people.

Tiwa’s performance was not preceded by any artist so it was quite a surprise to see a crowd of people already at her stage, 30mins to her performance. The composition of her crowd was also very surprising. I would say that about 30% was actually made up of Africans, suggesting that less than half of the audience knew who Tiwa was.

However, the unfamiliarity with her audience did not affect her performance. Her performance was just as exciting and colorful as all her other performances. She definitely repped Africa with her outfits and dance routines with her four backup dancers. Her performance included more of her recent hits like, All Over, Bad and Standing Ovation but not leaving out, Dorobucci, Eminado and Without my Heart. She even pulled out Young Paris, an artist signed to Roc Nation like herself, to perform Best of Me. Tiwa had the crowd heavily entertained. One concert-goer even managed to climb a nearby tree and dance shoki with her. Her performance was all around entertaining and engaging. She definitely gained a couple hundred new listeners to add to her 130,000+ on Spotify.

Half-way through the day, rumors had quickly spread that Wizkid was going to pull a no-show at the festival. These rumors were prompted by the removal of his name from the official Made in America app lineup. Many, including myself, were disappointed by the news but that in no way dampened our mood for Maleek Berry.

Maleek’s crowd was HUGE. Way more than any of us expected. I asked one of the media personnel to take a picture of the crowd from the stage and show it to me. I was shook. Unlike Tiwa’s crowd most, if not all of us, were persons of color who knew about Maleek and his music. Opening with Flexin, his performance was not disappointing at all. Every song was a sing-along. In the middle of his performance, he brought out Freeway, an American hip-hop artist signed to Roc Nation who performed his biggest hits from the early 2000s as well as some of his newer stuff.

Maleek Berry returned to the stage with some more bops for us like Bend It, Eko Miami and Been Calling but perhaps the best part of his performance (apart from his blowing some kisses directly at me) was when he performed Juice. But he didn’t do it alone, because YCEE was there to give us the performance in full effect. The crowd went wildddd. If anyone passing by hadn’t stopped to figure out who this guy was before then, they definitely did now. Berry closed out his performance with Kontrol and immediately the crew began to set up the stage for the next act. The 45 minute performance had flown by so quickly.

The entire experience reassured my hypothesis that Africans will show up to support each other, especially in unknown territory. I had a friend secretly save up money and pull a James Bond on her parents just so Tiwa wouldn’t be singing to an unfamiliar crowd. The audiences for both Tiwa Savage and Maleek Berry felt so familiar, despite the fact that we were all strangers. Once you start singing too much juice, too much sauce to the guy on your left, you are family.

*****

Oniye: I was definitely among the many people excited when this year’s lineup for Made in America (a popular two-day music festival curated by Jay Z, sponsored by Budweiser) came out with one of the main factors being that this year’s lineup included Nigerian acts. In more recent times Nigerian music particularly afro pop has received international attention, from music executives to music lovers alike and as such it was only a matter of time that our artists would take the stage at such a festival. Made in America is such that different acts happen concurrently on different stages and with the large crowds it attracts it was uncertain how many people would show up to watch the Nigerian acts.

All three acts where scheduled to go on Sunday the second day of the festival which was exciting for all of us attending as it promised better weather and the excitement of seeing Nigerians being represented. While it was disappointing that Wizkid cancelled his performance which would have been his first public appearance at a widely acclaimed music festival in America, this was still a huge deal and a step in the right direction for Nigerian artists.

On the way to the festival we were notified that Wizkid would no longer be performing and Maleek Berry now had his time slot of 6.15pm (which I personally think worked in his favour). At first it was unclear why Wizkid would drop the ball for an event so huge and hours later in [true Wizkid fashion] he apologized citing health reasons promising to make it up to his fans. The thing about festivals and why this was a monumental loss for Wizkid is that not only did he have his reputation to protect, music festivals are there to give artists a platform to a different audience as well as an opportunity for music lovers and people looking to explore and engage with artists they may not have heard of in the past, as a result it is beyond just the fans of the artist but a reflection of lost opportunities for artists to promote themselves. With Wizkid’s increasing popularity and collaborations with Drake, he definitely dropped the ball by cancelling an opportunity to pivot himself further into mainstream America.

Tiwa performed at 3.30pm and caught a decent crowd performing her more popular songs; My Darling, All Over, Eminado, Kele Kele Love etc. In casual conversations we had placed informal bets on what the turn out would be for the Nigerian acts and Tiwa was able to hold a nice crowd on her own regardless of having one of the earlier sets.

Maleek Berry performed at 6.15pm and it was exciting and refreshing especially for those who have followed his growth and watched him come into his own as an artist. Starting out the performance with Let Me Know, and then Eko Miami he was able to use the excitement of the crowd to his advantage while keeping us entertained. His set was definitely a highlight as his performance was moved to Wizkid’s original allotted time. He was able to pull a diverse audience ranging from Nigerians/Africans to friends of Nigerians who were encouraged to come as well as other concert attendees who were simply looking for a good time. In what looked like a bid to keep American fans entertained he brought out Philly native and rapper Freeway who was greatly appreciated by the Americans in the crowd as well as Nigerian rapper YCee to perform their hit single Juice.

Made in America has definitely boosted Tiwa Savage and Maleek Berry and exposed them to hopefully new listeners which at the most basic level is one of the functions of music festivals; to expose audiences to new and different types of music which in turn leads to more streaming for the artists. They have also opened the doors for other Nigerian and African artists at large. Tiwa Savage and Maleek Berry did a great job of representing the current Afro pop scene and it definitely serves as an inspiration to other acts that the world is watching and listening, our music is travelling in many more ways than predicted and this is just the beginning for Nigerians and Africans artists. As Nigerian music continues to grow, it is not far-fetched to expect more Nigerian pop artists to grace the stages at other major music festivals across North America going beyond Made in America to Governors Ball, Afropunk, Coachella, OVOFest and the likes with the right planning, management and team coordination.