Interview: Adekunle Gold Channels Refreshing Truths Into Afropop Source; Okayafrica
Adekunle Gold achieves an artistic freedom that most mainstream artists don’t have through a smooth balance of introspection and club bangers.
A few years ago, Adekunle Gold broke out into the scene with a refreshing way of carrying himself, presenting his art and speaking his truth with music. His debut single “Sade” started this journey of chart topping releases, sold out shows, and the constantly evolving sound that graces African airwaves. Gold’s self assurance made him stand out from the very beginning, as his sound was delivered with intent, compassion, and stuffed with personal truths.
Not many artists are willing to try new things with their music, and in order to maintain mainstream success, some cling to one sound, one image and direction often crafted from fragments of their first hit. These artists get stuck trying to recreate a capsule in time, while true artists are open to the dynamic of change, and the necessity of renewal.
Adekunle Gold is one of a handful in his profession who draws on a spectrum of experiences to make honest music which is consistent with the self-revelations of a growing man. This has become his biggest strength, allowing him to craft contemplative songs like “Sade” and “Oreke” and still create afropop magic like “Something Different”
His latest project Afropop, Vol. 1, shows how much he’s grown as an artist and as a person. It was a guided progression from his last album About 30 where he chronicled the transition into his 30s and previewed the pop sound that we’ve come to love.
We spoke to Adekunle Gold about his growth as an artist over the last few years, his ability to constantly evolve his art without compromising, and speaking up against the government during the #EndSARS protest.
What was your childhood like? What were your inspirations?
Everything happened to me. I grew up with three sisters, I lost one. Grew up in a family with teachers as parents. We were Muslims but my dad allowed us to go to church. That’s where my love for music came from. So I have experienced both religions, I understand both the Quran and the bible. This helped me be a liberal person about religion.
I actually wanted to do law earlier on but I had to be serious with school and that’s the kind of person I am. I thought since I have a flair for the arts I’ll just study something along that line. So I studied Visual Arts at Lagos State Polytechnic, I finished as the best student in my class. I majored in Graphics, that’s what helped me be the ‘king of Photoshop’ until music happened. Music has always been there, I’ve been doing talent shows but I never made it through but kept working so hard and that got me where I am today.
Talking about my inspirations, my dad was a sculptor and painter, he was an all-around artist. So I watched him paint and do graphics, I found my love of art through my dad. For performance art, my dad played a lot of highlife, so I listened to a lot of them growing up. I think that’s why highlife is really natural to me. It was inside me. I didn’t have a choice, I had to listen to it. But as I grew I started listening to new genres. All of these things I took on earlier in my life really shaped me. That’s why I’m a visual person when it comes to the arts because I grew up around art so it influenced me a lot.
What was the definitive moment that made you switch from being just a graphic designer to a full-time artist as well?
The thing is there was really no transition because I’m still both people. I still design for myself, business, and people that I’m close to. As I was making graphics, I was making music. My love for music definitely came from joining the teen’s choir, it felt good to sing in the church. I knew I enjoyed music as a listener and someone that attempted to write music. I loved music so much it made sense for me to do it. I generally just enjoyed the process of making music, knowing you can write a song, become a legacy, and be part of people’s lives.
Tell me about Adekunle Gold before the Gold album and your first big break “Sade”?
Before the Gold album, I was with a band but the band ended in 2013 when it wasn’t really working and I couldn’t take it so I started to write my own songs. I wrote “Orente,” “Friend Zone,” “Beautiful Night,” before “Sade.”I was just writing songs and making covers, I did “All of Me” by John Legend, “Diamonds” by Rihana. I kept doing this hoping I’ll get discovered then I released “Sade” as a cover, Olamide showed interest, signed me and it’s been an interesting journey since then
After you got signed, you released your acclaimed breakout project Gold which was influenced heavily by your highlife foundations. What was your headspace like then?
It was natural to me because at the time I was making highlife, that was me then. The Gold album was mostly highlife and when I finished it, I knew I wanted the next project to be different, to be an upgrade because my ears were getting tuned to some pop songs, I sounded listening to more pop sounds. I decided the next album would be a bit of highlife mixed with a lot more pop. That’s why you have songs like “Call on Me,” “Surrender,” “Fame,” “Ire.”
Every project that I’ve made is how I’m feeling at the moment that I make them. It’s in my mind, where my head is at. That’s what informs the projects I make. Sometimes artists are afraid to try something new but on About 30, you were able to brilliantly fuse these two sides of you. How did you find the balance and understanding needed to grow? About 30 was inspired by life, I wanted to talk about my thirty years in this life. Made the album when I was about to turn 30. I wanted to talk about the pain, the struggle, the joy, everything.
It’s tricky for an artist to change their sounds when they’re afraid to try. Thing is, I’m never afraid. Maybe it’s because my art is my story, I always want to tell it my own way. It’s okay if people don’t get it, some people will. When I released the Gold album it wasn’t about how people were feeling, it was about how I was feeling. I’ll only make my art based on how I’m feeling. So when I decided to switch from full highlife to a bit more pop, it was my decision. As an artist, you’re meant to tell the story how they see it. Just like a painter, they paint their expressions, what’s on their mind and that’s how I see my art and music, my music is my painting. That’s how I was feeling when I made About 30, I didn’t care if people would like it or not. I’ve had the idea of Afropop since November 2017, and I was making About 30 when I started Afropop. “Call on Me” was meant to be on Afropop but I decided to put it on About 30 to tease people on what’s to come. In totality, my art is mine. It’s my story to tell. I’ll never make it to suit certain people.