WurlD, the Nigerian artist is not only charting a path for the brand of music he does. He is confirming the fact that you can make your mark without aligning with what is in vogue. For WurlD, afro soul is the future sound and he is already hoisting his flag on this lane before it becomes a wave. He is an afro fusionist who is not afraid of experimenting with the varied musical influences that have shaped his musical buds.
For some, WurlD beeped on the radar courtesy his infectious, timeless classic “Show You Off”. Produced by Shizzi and Walshy Fire of Major Lazer fame, the success of the saccharine love anthem which blended elements of afropop, soul and electro music partly influenced his decision to immigrate back to Nigeria, after spending years in Atlanta, US, where he honed his musical craft as a songwriter for the likes of Mario, B.O.B and Timberland.
As the 33 year old WurlD would soon find out, the afropop saturated Nigerian scene- where melody and ‘vibes’ are prioritized over lyricism – is hard to punch through with his afro soul-inflected renditions. Candies won’t be handed out to you just because you are talented. It takes much more to find your spot. WurlD, who has not hidden his feelings about the monolithic nature of the scene is still optimistic of breaking through. (WurlD still feels the door of acceptability is half shut on him and others pursuing alternative sound of music, something he tackles on the opener of “AFRO SOUL”).
The singer, songwriter and producer has been active, using his talent to good use while in Nigeria. Not only is he one of the most hardworking artists on the scene – he has released three projects between March 2019 till date, WurlD is also grossing high points on the songwriting charts, co-penning two records for Davido – the Chris Brown assisted “Blow My Mind” and “Sweet In The Middle”, where he also contributed vocals.
The career of Sadiq Onifade, or WurlD as he is known, has been gathering steam from last year, commencing with the release of “Love Is Contagious” (March 2019), an EP that belted influences from afropop, soul, electro-soul, hip hop. The tape spurned records like “Contagious” and “Wishes and Butterflies”. But, it was on the Sarz collaborative tape “I Like Girls With Trobul (ILGWT)”, released in November 2019 that the artistic qualities of WurlD came alive. Matching the production magic of Sarz, WurlD would find his zone, writing sonnets that matched the sonic ambience of “ILGWT”, as “MAD”, “EGO” and “TROBUL” epitomized.
Like any consummate artist who knows the importance of riding the momentum, WurlD would go a step further to release “AFRO SOUL”, his 7-track EP in May 2020. Like the title expresses, the EP is WurlD’s ‘I Got Something To Say’ declaration. On the EP, soul music is the caustic agent that melts other genres into an ear candy sonic solution. “I named this project Afro-Soul – merging the African elements with soul music. I love songs that are nostalgic”, he revealed in an interview with Motolani Alake of Pulse Nigeria. The nostalgic drip pours on “National Anthem”.
“National Anthem (Growing Wings)” is heralded by its attention grabbing drums and horns reminiscent of the afro-cubano bands of the 70s. The high tempo calypso rhythms evokes a street carnival ambience. The pulsating feel of “National Anthem” strikes accord with his 2017 single “Paranoid” – a song that made me a fan. The lyrics, however skids between hope and frustration about his career (the long road towards acceptability). Lyrics like: ”Them pray make I fail, make I fail/ Don’t test my fate/ Mi no fail, mi no fail” and “Them put thorns on our way/ Dem no watch us go higher” sums up his feelings. Incorporating pidgin and employing a catchy bridge in the song cast WurlD as a songwriter who is able to read the room (Nigeria) and noting what works.
The pulsating sound would give way to the soulful “Can’t Come Outside”, where he discusses the unpredictability of love (“Baby you give me one level/Na, you change it to no level”). WurlD’s R&B side strikes bright on this track. “Ghost Town”, one of the standouts on ‘’AFRO SOUL’’ is a perfect fusion between R&B, Roots rock Reggae and hip hop. The opening guitar chords chime like a beating heart. Fans of Bob Marley would notice the similarity with the riffs on ‘Natural Mystic’. “Ghost Town” smokes of urban reverie, courtesy the hip hop drums that serves as an embankment for his textured vocals. Wins, losses in life and career are the themes tackled. “Ghost Town” is WurlD’s own story as an artist finding his way through the cloggy music scene. He feels like a loner in his quest (“Living in a ghost town/ Gotta find a new meaning”). The honesty in his voice can’t be missed by the listener.
On “Love Nobody”, he wears the cloak of a possessive lover who doesn’t ‘’want my baby next to nobody”. His vocals glides along what sounds like amapiano rhythm, the South African variant of electro-house sound. The sonically seductive “Story” mirrors his afropop artistic qualities. “Wayo (Kpe Le Wu), produced by Kel P is the most chilled song off AFROSOUL. The production and WurlD’s crooning amplifies his soul-ful side. “Wayo” brings into sharp focus” Show You Off” minus the electro aesthetics. This is one record you would love to see performed live.
“Birthday Song and Palmwine” could not have been a better song title for this “toast her” record- WurlD is ready to give his lover all she wants. As a Ghanaian, this song fills me with happiness for two reasons: WurlD pulling a feature from Lazzy, of the legendary group VVIP, and two, the horn interpolation of the classic highlife song “Serwa Akoto” by Yamoah International Band. (I’d love to hear the back story on how this song came about).
AFRO SOUL is a well tucked-in tape, one that brims with love helmed by afropop, reggae and highlife sonic, all knotted around soul music. WurlD exhibits craftiness in his lyrics- like leaning a bit more into the Nigerian fold by incorporating pidgin and catchy bridges in a song like “National Anthem”. In terms of song sequencing, the abrasive “National Anthem” could have been replaced by “Love Story” as an opener to reflect the title of the album. After releasing three projects in a couple of months, WurlD has succeeded in making his voice noted. Just like his demeanour and vocal texture on songs, WurlD is crafting a sound and advancing a genre in his own image.
Words by Swaye Kidd