Nigerian singer-songwriter Adekunle Gold's Afro-pop sounds have topped the charts both in Nigeria and around the world. In regards to his show tomorrow night at Lincoln Center Out of Doors—his first headlining performance in New York—Gold said, "This is a place that I have seen in papers. People who I am inspired by have performed [at Lincoln Center], and it's just amazing to walk in their footsteps."


One of Adekunle Gold's earliest memories is of his grandmother, who used to sing old Yoruba folk music to him. Born as Adekunle Kosoko, Gold has had this music ingrained in him ever since. "I remember loving how the sound of the instruments came together at a young age," he said.

Though he has been writing music since his early teens, Gold's transition to professional singer wasn't linear. His rise to fame began when he started posting his graphic design work on Instagram. Dubbing himself the "King of Photoshop," he released images of himself interacting with various Nigerian celebrities, which made him a viral sensation. He eventually met Yoruba rapper Olamide and began creating graphics for him. He even designed the logo for the record label YBNL, with which he'd eventually sign.

Gold was doing all of these side jobs while simultaneously making music. As is the case with many up-and-coming artists, he faced many roadblocks along the way: working with producers who promised to further his career but never did; putting in countless hours recording music that was never commercially released. But in 2015, things began to change.

"If a song has an Afro element to it, credit has to be given to the Afro side of things, so I'm fine with my music being called Afro-pop."

"I just happened to have the chance to play my music for Olamide, who is the head of the label [YBNL]. The rest is history," said Gold. That music included Gold's breakout single "Sade." Inspired by One Direction's "The Story of my Life," Gold reimagined the comforting melody by taking out the heavy bassline and adding a new drum part that made the song distinctly African, and distinctly Gold's. He was signed to YBNL in 2015, and released a video for the song the same year.

"I've always known musicians to travel on a body of work, but in today's age it seems you can tour on one song. That's exactly what happened to me. I was booking shows on one song, "Sade," which was very exciting," said Gold. From there, he went on to release an album with YBNL called Gold—a mixture of pop, indie, and highlife. Each song on the album has beautiful harmonization on top of acoustic and percussive instruments, thoughtful lyrics written by Gold, and absolutely no filler.

These days, Gold is constantly writing new music. "My writing process is very sporadic, although I found one consistent place. I always find myself writing on the plane because it's quiet. I usually don't have internet, and it's peaceful for me to think and write clearly without worrying about anything else," he said.

This constant writing—and collaboration—are how Gold keeps his music fresh, and though he doesn't believe people should be made to fit into one genre, he does describe his sound as Afro-pop. "Afro-pop for me is any kind of genre that has elements of Afro in it. I think it's sufficient as an umbrella term," he said. According to Gold, no one holds the monopoly on pop music, and anyone can add their own flavor to it: "I think that classical singers should be able to sing a popular song even though they're classically trained. I also believe that if a song has an Afro element to it, credit has to be given to the Afro side of things, so I'm fine with my music being called Afro-pop."

 

Adeklune Gold's Road to Greatness
Yitschaq Abia
Adekunle Gold and the 79th Element

After two years with YBNL, Gold transitioned to a new label that he runs with his own team. He also added band members—known as the 79th element—to his new musical era. "I do not see myself giving my best performance without the 79th element, because I believe in live interaction and opportunities to modify what is happening onstage," he said.

Authentic instrumentation and lyrics are running themes in Gold's career. He prides himself in being Yoruba and Nigerian, and you'd be hard pressed to find a song in which he doesn't speak his native Yoruba language. Gold always incorporates Yoruba melodies as well, and it may be this understanding of self that resonates so well with his listeners.

In his sophomore album, About 30, which he released in 2018, Gold's vocals glide seamlessly over the rich arrangements, the instruments and beats never overshadowing the lyrics; it's so easy to hear the beauty of the music—there's no need to work for it.

Gold is solidifying his place as a timeless Nigerian artist who will leave a lasting impact. Following the performance at Lincoln Center Out of Doors, he has a secret collaboration in the works, set to be released in September of this year.


Chinekwu Osakwe is a writer for Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.