Every day, Afrobeats is expressed beyond the limitations of how the world defines it, and some musicians often referred to as ‘new wave Afrobeats artists’ are the wands behind this magic. These young music creators cook up fusions of genres in premium resplendence, producing oomph African sounds that trigger every ear that hears them to tingle. Topping this list is Nigeria’s Chukwuka Ekweani, known popularly as CKay.
Working hand-in-hand with the music to steal the hearts of Nigerians is his lifestyle which is so different from the regular, that he is considered to be Alté [alternative] – describing a gang of liberal, Lagos cool kids.
His colored hair, eyes that stare to pierce, and particularly inviting gesticulations make CKay a typical musical lover boy. His ability to command emotions, especially with female folk has earned him the unofficial continental title of ‘Africa’s Boyfriend’, with his latest EP, Boyfriend, securing his throne as the prince of romance in the hearts of music lovers and the reception of this different, provocative sound of his seems to have been very much accepted by the market.
With three successful projects and scores of equally thriving singles, CKay could be unarguably termed fast-rising on a global scale. This is a credit to his style of Afrobeats that leaves listeners with emotional expressions of love, fantasy, and lustful desire.
“Afrofusion connects most to my roots as an African. I consider Afrobeats as a template and an artist is supposed to put his or her own energy into it. So for me, I’ll cook Afrobeats with my energy and emotions and it’ll come out differently. My music has to be different because I am different.”
We talk about the journey so far, contracts, Boyfriend, and the future of Afrobeats.
I know you grew up in Kaduna. Talk to me about your childhood, what it was like growing up in Kaduna and how music came into the picture.
Growing up in Kaduna was very regular. It’s a small town. My dad, doctor, my mom, nurse. My dad used to play the piano and was the choirmaster of his church. I learned to play the piano from him and I used to sing. I guess I just gravitated towards music and as I grew, I found myself drawn to it all the more. I kept entering new levels. From just being a singer to playing the piano, then the guitar, and then I started producing, and then I started putting out songs. It was all a process.
Everyone who has followed your career could argue that your Chocolate City days formed your artist development stage. We’ve seen you grow and evolve. What impact would you say this period had on you? How were you able to keep the faith during this period?
I hear people say this thing about Chocolate City and development, but it’s actually untrue. It wasn’t a development contract. It was actually one where many things went wrong. I feel like I didn’t have creative freedom for the most part of my contract. I can say that the first project that I’ve really had 100% freedom was my first album, CKay the First and that was when Chocolate City had a partnership with Warner Music. For instance, for the first part of my contract, there was a huge financial problem with Chocolate City. I wasn’t getting the promotion and PR I needed, so I had to jump on a street song, Container which blew up on its own. That wasn’t my original sound. Still, I do not regret the song. It was a very big song. Street music most times does not need too much to become big. I was talented enough to make a song like that which blew up on its own, but it wasn’t my original sound. Chocolate City was definitely an opportunity, but it wasn’t a development for me.
How has the reception to Boyfriend, which contains your original sound, made you feel?
Boyfriend has been crazy. It’s my first number one project. It became number one in 24 hours. It’s number one in so many countries. It’s so crazy.
Your sound over the years has gotten very experimental particularly with Latin influences. What’s the rationale behind this? Walk us through the process.
I won’t call it experimentation. It’s fusion; deliberate fusion. It’s me expressing all my experiences in the most melodious fusion I can create. I’m an avid listener of music and I listen to a wide range of sounds. So I guess when I’m making my music, a couple of those influences kind of show up in my sound. And Chocolate City did not contribute to my EP at all. They didn’t even want Felony to be released. I’ll still say it was an opportunity and you know, they recognized my talent from the very beginning. I respect and appreciate that.
What was the creation process of the EP like?
Most of it was made during the quarantine. It was me reliving some experiences I have had and making the music. It was me reliving the passionate moments and toxic moments in my past relationships. It’s a mixture of all these emotions. I was in my zone, turning these emotions into songs. I worked with a couple of producers on the project. There was Lilerixo who made Mezebu, Auxxie made Felony and Show My Side with Amaarae, and BMH who produced Kiss Me Like You Miss Me’ and co-produced Felony. I made the remaining songs on the EP. And it was all done online. We couldn’t meet up due to the quarantine so everything happened through email.
What did you put into consideration while choosing collaborators for Boyfriend?
It was basically about energy. The only person I linked up with physically was Oxlade. It’s even funny because I and Amaarae haven’t even met physically, but we have two records together. How the records come out amazing is because we connect on like, real energy. It’s not like most times in the industry where collaborations are made for purely commercial reasons. For me, it’s first about if the person fits in the song, and then about the energy and my relationship with the person. I feel like no matter how big or small the person is, if we don’t have a vibe, we can’t do music together. That’s how it was with the EP and I trust that people can tell that it’s all just real energy.
That Davido feature was very well received and helped catapult you into another stratosphere. How did that record come about? Did you foresee it finding the success it has?
Oh yes! For sure. We all did. It was a crazy record from day one. It’s so crazy how that song happened. It happened from a random meeting with Asa. I went to Boj‘s house and met Asa [Asika] there. We talked about random things and then exchanged contacts. We had met so many times before then, but that was the first time we really had random conversations. Some days later, I was working on some record ideas and La La came. It was so crazy and I was like, ‘yo, I hear David on this and it’s going to be crazy.’ So I sent Asa a text and I was at Davido’s house in the next two hours. It was surreal for me because David is somebody I have always looked up to. He’s like an icon. It was a huge privilege for me to be on that album and make that classic record. We shot the video for it a few days ago and I can’t wait for the world to see it.
You’ve been tapped by Warner Music. How has that process been and what difference has being signed to an international label of this size made to your process?
With Warner, there are literally no questions. I literally just bring the music and they are like, ‘great, put it out!’. It feels amazing having a team of people that understand what you’re trying to achieve. The guys at Warner are really great people. From time, we have always had this great relationship even before this contract. It wasn’t even an orchestrated thing. It is more like me doing business with people I have a great vibe with.
Oh, yes! Very much. For sure. Afrofusion connects most to my roots as an African. I consider Afrobeats as a template and an artist is supposed to put his or her own energy into it. So for me, I’ll cook Afrobeats with my energy and emotions and it’ll come out differently. My music has to be different because I am different.
Do you consider yourself Alté?
If Alté means ‘different’, then I guess so. I see everybody that is considered Alté – Lady Donli, Odunsi and the rest of them – and they are being themselves. They sing what they want to, act like they want to, take pictures like they want to, dress like they want to, and I do the same. I am myself and do the things I want to, regardless of society and external pressures. I don’t give a fuck about what anybody thinks and I make Afrobeats. I don’t know if that’s Alté, but that’s me. That’s CKay.
Photography: Bolaji Odukoya