Leveraging the power of digital media, Africa’s beat ambassador is taking Nigerian culture worldwide.
It’s early April, and Davido, the 30-year-old musical superstar, is about as jet-set as you can get. The global Afrobeats sensation, whose music has been streamed more than 2 billion times, has just released his fourth studio album Timeless and is in the middle of a promotional odyssey, bouncing between Lagos, Johannesburg, New York and London to excite his increasingly international fanbase.
Just days after the album’s release, Davido, who was born David Adedeji Adeleke, packs New York’s famed Irving Plaza for a launch concert. The next night he performs a mash-up of hits on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, before hopping a plane to London to host press events for his label, Columbia Records, and a parade of kickoff parties. Soon, he’s back in his hometown of Lagos to debut his new fashion collaboration with Puma, the $9.29 billion (2022 revenues) German sportswear giant. Davido shares every step of his gruelling pan-continental press tour with his 30 million followers across Instagram and TikTok.
“I can remember when it wasn’t cool to be from Africa—people would lie and say they were Jamaican,” says Davido, who will headline the Forbes Under 30 Africa Summit in Gaborone, Botswana this weekend. “Now we have our own Billboard charts in the US and UK—that shows how serious the Western world is taking our music.”
Afrobeats, a broad West African music genre that mixes jazz, driving drums, reggae, pop and hip-hop, is going global. Sparking the growth: a flourishing African diaspora, digital streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music, and viral social media trends on Instagram and TikTok. Streams of Afrobeats music on Spotify have surged nearly 300% from 2019 to 2022. Meanwhile, Amapiano, a South African style of house music, saw streams grow 150% to 2 billion plays between 2021 to 2022. “African creators are ready for business and are using digital music services to get their sound across halfway around the world,” says Spotify’s head of music for sub-Saharan Africa, Phiona Okumu. “Because of how people now consume music, the appetite for discovery is great and this music is finding new audiences much quicker.”
The frictionless and borderless state of digital media is helping Davido, and other Afro stars, including WizKid, Burna Boy, Tems and Rema reach millions of new fans and lucrative markets. These top acts now fill stadiums across US, UK and Europe and collaborate with Western pop icons like Beyonce, Drake, Selena Gomez, Justin Bieber and Ed Sheeran. “It gives songs which have been on the African charts for a year or two a new shelf life and a big audience that extends their growth even more,” says Christian Adofo, author of the music history book, A Quick Ting On Afrobeats (Jacaranda Books, 2022). “It’s local culture driving music’s global growth.”
And it’s driving Africa’s music industry. In 2022, the region’s music revenue surged 34% to $94 million, according to recording industry expert IFPI. Last year, as measured by revenues, Africa was the world’s fastest-growing music region, far outpacing mature markets like the US (5%), European (7.5%) and Asia (15%)—although it’s still very small in absolute terms. “The global music industry is investing in artists and producers from Africa and authentically leaning into what people are listening to,” says J.J. Italiano, Spotify’s head of global hits. “It’s a truly global sound, and the industry is responding to it in a way that’s super cool and encouraging.”
Davido, who broke onto the scene in 2011, has been pioneering—and profiting from—the trend. Davido’s management team predicts he’ll earn more than $20 million in 2023 from royalties, touring, merch sales and endorsements. (Not that he needs the money: His father is one of the most successful businessmen in Nigeria with interests in banking, energy, farming and real estate.)
In 2016 he signed with Sony’s Columbia Records, becoming one of the few African musicians to join a major international label. Last year, with musicians Trinidad Cardona and Aisha, he created the song Hayya Hayya, the official anthem for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, and performed at the global sport spectacle’s closing ceremony.
His new album Timeless has already attracted critical praise and digital plays. Within the first ten days of its release, the album had been streamed over 133 million times (with 43 million streams in the US market alone) and hit #2 on Billboard’s World Album chart.
Off the stage, he’s inked endorsement deals with Pernod Ricard’s Martell Cognac, smartphone maker Infinix Mobile, and Puma. “Davido and his music represent a modern fusion of African and international influences,” Puma General Manager, Johan Kuhlo, said in an email. “We teased the collection at pre-launch events in our flagship stores in New York and London, and people were queuing around the block.”
He also runs his Nigerian record label, Davido Music Worldwide, which gives him better leverage and economics in deals and develops upcoming local artists. “My career has been so blessed. I haven’t been like signing artists because I want to make money from them,” says Davido. “I just like to see them grow and know I was part of the success.”
Davido was born in Atlanta to Nigerian parents and grew up in Lagos. At home, he was primed to sit in the boardroom, not at the soundboard. His father Adedeji Adeleke founded Pacific Holdings Limited in 1983, which has grown into an industrial conglomerate whose power plants generate most of West Africa’s electricity. His family boasts plenty of political power too. Davido’s paternal grandfather was a Senator, and his uncle Ademola Adeleke is currently the governor of Nigeria’s Osun state.
And then there’s Davido’s godfather, the business mogul Aliko Dangote, Africa’s wealthiest person with an estimated net worth of $13.5 billion. Davido says that Dangote drove him and his mother home from the hospital after his birth. “I learned so much from being around my dad, watching him in the office, hearing him on the phone, seeing how he handled life,” says Davido. “He’s very humble, principled and a strong Christian. Before I step on any stage, my team knows not to mess with my prayers.”
While attending high school in Lagos, Davido became obsessed with American hip-hop artists like 50 Cent and JaRule. A cousin owned a music studio, and after recording a song one afternoon, Davido was hooked. “I hid it from my family,” he says. “The normal thing was to go to school, graduate and then work for my dad.”
At just 15, he enrolled in Oakwood University, a historically Black school in Huntsville, Alabama, before dropping out to focus on music. (He eventually earned a degree in music from Nigeria’s Babcock University in 2015). Davido broke into the Afrobeats scene in 2011 with the hit song Dami Duro and followed up with the 2012 album Omo Baba Olowo. For the next few years, he released a string of popular singles, often collaborating with famous African artists, which he amplified with music videos on YouTube and social media. In 2019, he released his hit studio album A Good Time. His next album, A Better Time, dropped in 2020 and featured US hip-hop stars, including Nas, Nicki Minaj, Lil Baby and Young Thug. Then in 2022, tragedy struck when his 3-year-old son drowned in a pool. Davido took off six months from touring, recording and social media.
His latest album Timeless marks Davido’s return to music and public life. Over the next year, he plans to tour the globe, including stops in New York, Boston, Toronto, Chicago and LA. He also wants to expand from music production to filmmaking and launch a media company to back stories from Nigerian writers and directors. Now that he’s out of his 20s, Davido is feeling a tug to become more involved in the family business. “I want to get into my dad’s company and learn more about electric generation,” says Davido, who sits on Pacific Holdings’ board of directors, often Zooming into quarterly meetings while on tour. “I’ve gotten to meet so many important people and Presidents from around the world—so I have some leverage to expand the
business to new places where people are fans of my music.”
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