We enter this interesting alternative studio space in Valley Estate, Ojodu (literally an estate in a valley) and the atmosphere is filled with ground level humility yet a thick air of an important presence. There Adekunle Gold is, slouched on a couch, tapping and smiling at his phone. He is isolated from the small group chatting at the balcony entrance of the studio and I could swear this is the same position I met him in at a private party, 2 years ago.
Orente had just dropped 2 days before and Nigerian social media was still in a frenzy over the release and the reason was apparent. In a musical space where singles and albums ping-ponged from popping bottles in the club to the body parts of women, one young man snuck out to the mainstream with an indigenous piece that spoke of unconditional love, contentment, peace and virtue, all in less than 4 minutes.
He had previously released Sade; a cover of 1D’s “Story of my life” and even though it earned him Olamide’s attention, Orente earned him nationwide recognition. By the time “Pick Up” came in December 2015, (a song packaged as an emotional comic conversation with God, communicating the hopes, dreams and aspirations of every average Nigerian citizen), it was official. Adekunle Gold had become the SI Unit for responsible, quality and profitable music as his voice comfortably blared from clubs to churches to children parties: securing him a relevance that could not be tampered with.
Lucky enough to have an unconventional father, Adekunle gained more than a decade’s worth of music practice by singing in a church choir despite being Muslim.
‘My father would say religion is education’ he tells me, recounting the events that paved the way for music.
‘I joined the teens choir and it was very competitive. It was a thing to just hold the mic and I would try to impress my choir mistress for a chance then but she wasn’t having it. She’d say “you’re not there yet” so I kept doing the most to impress this woman. I think I was in the church for 11 years and it never happened.’
Thankful to his dad’s playlist of King Sunny Ade, Ebenezer Obey, IK Dairo and Kayode Fashola, Adekunle fell in love with the sound that would later create a foundation for his. “My genre is a fusion of Highlife and Pop and Indie. My manager says it’s Modern Highlife but I still say that it’s Urban Highlife.” Right behind us is Niyi, a young lady full of warmth and natural hair who had earlier introduced herself as his friend and manager. As accused by Adekunle, she repeats herself with a stress. “Moderrrrn highlife…”.
Later forming a band with his friends which they called The Bridge, Adekunle had reached the crossroads of doing everything he could for a music break. He joined the gazillion other underground artistes who did covers of songs, hoping to be discovered by piggybacking on the current of mainstream hits.
He recollects his band’s rendition of John Legend’s legendary All of Me and follows up with woeful tales from when he used to go for any and every music related game or reality TV show.
‘I went to so many auditions and I got so many NOs to the point that I was like ‘I’m done; I’m not doing these reality shows again. Let me focus on my own reality…See that line yeah?’ he pumps his index finger, nodding and smiling at his poetic usage of the word “reality”.
“You can’t substitute brass for Gold.”
The arrival of social media spurred a rapid creative wave in digital arts that popularized altering texts and photos for the purpose of comedy, engagement and followership. The streets of Golden Era Twitter were littered with tons of these digitally manipulated pictures; some of which were Gold’s handiwork. For him, this was just another means to gain some traction for his music.
‘It started out as fun, you know. One Saturday morning, I was in my house and I saw one particular photo of Tiwa Savage. I thought, I would love to take a picture with this lady, ‘cause I really love Tiwa Savage. Then I thought, you know, I can. So I told my friend to take my picture. He thought I was crazy. And I did as if I was holding her from behind and then I did the photoshop and people really liked it. I was struggling for people to hear my music so I thought, if I can be popular for this one, I might as well. It might find its way to the people I really want to work with as a musician. I went on to do pictures with Toolz and Tontoh Dikeh and it became a sensation. They started saying King of Photoshop. So, when I released a song, they didn’t take me seriously at first. This Photoshop guy, what can he sing?’
‘I studied Art and Industrial Design at Lagos State Polytechnic and I majored in graphics’ He says, explaining how a twist of fate landed him a job as the official graphics designer for YBNL.
‘I designed the YBNL logo. It was just a business relationship and I did stuff for Olamide. Though I remember sending him something that I wrote for him, but that was some balls because Olamide writes for himself but I just thought maybe he would like this one. There was no music relationship at all. Then I released Sade on my own then he said he would like to have me on board. I took the deal, before my guy will change his mind.’
We take a break from the music and plunge back to his personal life; starting with how his faith conversion to Christianity happened.
‘Girl. My life has been about girls. Everything girl! It was 2004, I went to see a friend and she said they were having a midweek service. I said, why not? Is it not to go and get the girl? But then, I found Jesus. You get the greater God then you now get the girl. Interesting story right?’
Seizing the moment, I nudge for some Simi details using a fan’s question about whether he had written Orente for her…
“I thought I said this already. I wrote Orente about Simisola, it’s not even news again. But it’s for you as well “, he adds with a cheeky laugh.
Worrying and not getting enough sleep due to work, make his top 2 bad habits to change but Niyi and Donald- the stylist of the shoot are sighing hilariously behind us, as if to hint about something he isn’t telling. We slowly deviate to the recent photos of him on Instagram at the Facebook Campus.
‘I like to go to new places and learn new things. Facebook really inspired me. When you think about it, a young guy starting a campus that employs almost 4000 people. Everyone that works there and visitors eat breakfast and lunch. I don’t understand how you feed over 4000 people in a day! Twice! There are a lot of departments, it’s crazy. I found it interesting and I learnt a lot of things and found put about how these apps that we use really work.’
Guessing that the most active part of his social media would be his DMs, he playfully reacts to my “How many nudes per day” question.
“From the likes of the Kardashians? My conservative estimate will be like 5.”
His love for Africa he says, is the reason for his afro-centered style.
‘I am African af. I feel like we have a lot of beautiful things, fashion-wise and culture. So if I can be the ambassador to show it off, I’m happy.’
In 2016, Adekunle’s self-titled album Gold – which took him 2 whole years to finish, docked at no. 7 on the World Category of the Billboard Charts. ‘I waited till I felt something to do this album. I waited till I heard something. It took me two years’ he reminisces with emphasis on his quality over quantity belief.
Simi, his age long rumoured lover, mixed the entire project save for Sade, and made a notable appearance in “No Forget”: A song he claims gave him the toughest time on the project. For him, it was important that it came out right even if it meant re-writing it 2 more times and convincing both producers and even his guest artiste to believe in it. ‘This was one of the songs that gave me sleepless nights thinking about it because it was me and Simi. I thought…people have been talking about this collaboration for the longest, will it bang?’
It has been a little over a year since Gold and Adekunle is still riding off the high of its success. He’s toured 7 states in the U.S. and is currently in the middle of his own show with the theme “One Night Stand”. With London and Dublin in the bag, he recaps what he thinks might be the biggest highlight of his career yet.
‘I was blown away. I had been dreaming about it for a long time and I had been to London about three times before but it’s not the same as doing your own show. It was mixed feelings; I was scared then I was confident. But when it happened, it was like having 750-800 backup singers and dancers. He adds his encounter with Abiola, a lady said to be his biggest fan who burst into hot tears upon meeting him in Dublin, and the challenges of international shows and tours.
‘Dollar rate is going wayyy up! Before, promoters will think they want to break even, then they show you your bill and you think “I would rather stay home and do a show”. Sometimes you have to understand that you need to make money as well and the rate has gone up. I hope we get to a place that’s balanced and the rate does not affect you as the artist and them as the promoters.’
‘I waited till I felt something to do this album. I waited till I heard something. It took me two years…’
The problems of the Adekunle who wanted the world to hear his music at all cost are by many miles, different from the problems Adekunle Gold has now. He mentions a few such as being misquoted by the media, his ever so tight schedule and the false public perception that musicians are money trees. He also confesses to sometimes being faced with the pressure to adjust his musical style to fit a wider audience.
‘If I’m being honest, sometimes you think you want to reach more people or be like people whose names are everywhere. But it is good to not forget why you are in this business. I said it before, my goal is not to make disposable music, it’s to make timeless music. I can write anything but is it what I’m comfortable to do? Is it what will last me a decade or a century, when I’m no more? So when I think about that, I just make music the way it comes to me.’
Soon to hit the 3rd decade of his life, Adekunle tells me his forthcoming Album’s title is “About 30” and like its obvious title, it will be a chronicle of his life and times at age 30.
On the choice of his name as Gold, Adekunle believes his, is a stuff of divine christening. He had conceived what he wanted himself and his music to be but according to him, he wanted a name that would resonate and align with the ‘Dekunle that millions of fans have now come to genuinely love for the relatability and positive nature of his music. ‘I was in a sermon and this guy said, “You can’t substitute brass for Gold.” He said it like three times and I just knew there and then that this was my name. Ever since then, man’s been classic.’ He assures me -without any doubt in his tone or on his face- that his music, will stand the brutal test of time as long as he sticks to his simple formula of nonconformity.
‘What drives me is my goal and my goal is to be timeless. And to be timeless, I cannot do anything that is not stellar.’
Cover Story: Cynthia Atagbuzia
Photography: August Udoh
Styling: Donald Unltd