Groomed for greatness since the earliest days of his career, Wondaboy’s success should come as no surprise to anyone who’s had their eye on the west African master of Hip-Hop, Funk, Soul R&B and Afrobeat. Having worked with established artist Sarkodie and having toured with legend, Lauren Hill, Wondaboy has established himself as not only an influencer but also a bonafide musical talent with an appeal that stretches across oceans. We caught up with the rising star and got the lowdown on why he’s poised to become one of the legends of tomorrow.
Words: Tshiamo Seape
Let’s start simple: Who is Wondaboy?
I would have to say he’s a really complex dude. I have so many different layers to me and I wear a variety of different hats. First and foremost, I am deeply spiritual and have a powerful and committed relationship with God. Secondly, I am a true musician and devoted music lover. I live and breathe music every single day. If I am not creating music, I am listening to it. Music is truly who I am. Thirdly, I love fashion. I experiment with different trends, textures and designs. In all, I am just deeply passionate and laid back but when I hit that stage for a performance, I take it to another level and am inspired to really entertain my audience. I am like a caged animal set free.
For those not in the know, how did you break into the industry and was this always your dream?
In 2008, my former band, The Diamondz and I were crowned the winners of the Star Quest Singing Competition. We were signed to Kennis Music label, and released a studio album, shot three music videos and toured Africa. It was an exciting time to have those experiences being so young, but I embraced it and am grateful because it provided a solid introduction to the music industry. We remained together for close to five years before breaking up as a band and pursuing different things.
In 2013 while pursuing my solo career as a singer/songwriter/producer, I met Lilian Blankson-Bossman from BET International Networks and eventually got signed to her label, LNB Entertainment. I have created amazing music with her, travelled different parts of the world and has been exposed to experiences people only dream about. It’s been a slow process, but we are very meticulous and want to grow my brand organically.
I originally wanted to play soccer professionally because I was a very talented player, but once I joined the choir at my church in Delta State (Nigeria) and began to really move people with my voice at a young age, the dream to pursue music was born and has never left me. I play drums and piano and take pride in being a true musician.
You just came back from your most recent trip to the U.S. Tell us more about the experience.
I love the States and I am there often to experience and get involved in the music scene up close and personal. I have attended the BET Awards and BET Experience a few times for example, and met artists such as Rihanna, Kendrick Lamar, DJ Khaled, The Game, Lauryn Hill and many others. I enjoy watching them perform and how they approach and own their musical styles. I also listen to a lot of different genres of music and attend concerts to see how their bands are set up and how they perform live on stage. I have learned so much from being immersed in the music industry and I am also learning a great deal about how music works in the states. Though it’s really tough, there is a sense of freedom to pursue music wholeheartedly and independently and that has helped me grow as an artist. Aside from headlining and supporting shows, I think it’s important to study, learn and grow musically and I can honestly say that I have done that.
When I hit the stage I take it to another level…I’m like a caged animal set free
How have audiences abroad received your music?
It’s been such a great process because my sound is always being introduced to music lovers from different parts of the world. I love that music is so universal. You may not understand the language, but you can definitely vibe to it. My releases this year, FELICIA, PERSONAL & TAKE IT, got me a lot of attention and love in the states and in Tanzania for example. I meet people all the time after a show in the states who tell me how much they love my sound. It’s really an amazing feeling and I love listening to and watching their reactions. This is truly why I make music!
What were your perceptions before touring abroad and have your trips confirmed or changed them?
I honestly thought it would be a lot easier than it is and that it would pay African artists so much more than it has. The reality is that you can’t just assume that audiences in the States are going to be familiar with you as an artist or your sound. There is a strong diasporic presence but there are also African Americans and Caribbeans and even Caucasians who are discovering and loving African music. It is a slow process and because the US is so vast, it will take quite a bit of time before it becomes unilaterally successful. I think touring is a start, but not enough to really break ground in a major way. We need heavy radio play for it to make more headway. That’s just a start. So in short, my perception has changed from what I thought the experience would be, but it has still been an amazing learning experience so I am appreciative of it.
The popularity of “African” music as it pertains to so many genres has gained popularity abroad in recent years.
- Who do you think is the biggest driving force behind this?
I would say artists such as Fela, Hugh Masekela, King Sunny Ade, Miriam Makeba, and Osibisa started the process back in the 70’s. The BET Awards Best African Artist category also definitely paved the way for all of the big names in Africa that have been nominated. Having artists such as Drake, T.I, Ne-Yo, Rick Ross, Fetty Wap, Akon, Wyclef Jean, Ed Sheeran, Swizz Beats, Alicia Keys, Diddy and so many others either collaborate on songs or showing support for our music on social media has definitely brought it attention and great interest. Marketing and promotion and record deals with US labels by our African superstars such as Davido, Tiwa Savage, Burna Boy and others have also made the music relevant.
- Which have been your favourite transcontinental collaborations thus far?
I really enjoyed Davido’s collaborations with Meek Mill as well as with Young Thug and Rae Sremmurd. Diamond Platnumz and Morgan Heritage as well as with Rick Ross was super dope as well. I am really proud of all efforts made because it’s a great look for Africa.
- What do you think foreign acts are trying to find when they look to African artists to collaborate?
I think they are trying to broaden their sound and make themselves relevant. African artists have a huge following in their respective countries and they are breaking barriers so that is a whole new market they can break into in a major way.
- What’s the biggest thing stopping other African artists from getting their work out there?
I would have to say finances for large-scale promotion, radio and airplay and performing on really large and prominent award shows such as the Grammys, American Music Awards and so much more. Those are just a few things that stand in the way of making our music mainstream abroad.
Is there any pressure to alter your sound to appeal to an international audience or is it about staying true to yourself?
Sometimes I really do feel the pressure because I want to connect with every single music lover out there. It really helps though that I easily flow in almost every genre of music so I can create endless varieties of music. I love Afrobeat so much, but R&B and Soul are my first love. I am torn between making different sounds and styles of music for the western and African markets, but I would really hate to confuse the fans. It’s essential that I make a decision and stick with it and that will be determined in time. For now, I am just trying to give both markets something to enjoy in each of my tracks.
I’m exploring some interesting collabs. For now, I would just like the fans to wait patiently and know that I have a few really big tricks up my sleeve.
Do you think there is a lot of that going on elsewhere – people trying too hard to create a sound that is not their own?
I think it’s really hard for African artists who want their sound to be relevant and musically current in the US and Europe. Although making music is a passion, we also have to make a living so there is that definite pressure to be commercially successful so you can survive. It’s a tough decision to make, but we all just want to be great at making music and we want to be able to reach fans worldwide and have them love what they are hearing from us. There is definite pressure and sometimes even conflict within yourself as an artist. Everyone is striving for success which is so important and you want to make sure your music leaves a legacy, that addresses us in Africa. Industry-wise worldwide, there are also some parallels. Artists tend to be influenced by what is trending because they want to tap into success and stay current. It’s extremely challenging to stay relevant and keep fans engaged. Even A-List artists in the US have to take notice of musical trends so they can continue to expand their fan base and appeal to audiences worldwide. If you’re not creating trends like Rihanna or Beyonce, then you’re left to be inspired by them!
What is your process like when going into the studio?
My process varies for the most part. When I either hear someone’s beat that I love or I am in the process of creating one for myself, I literally come up with a melody for it right away. Once I figure out the melodies, then I start to structure the layout for the song – like the verses, chorus, bridge and sometimes an intro or outro. Finally, I write my lyrics – I ALWAYS write all of the lyrics to every one of my songs. Then I record my vocals and do my adlibs and harmonies. I am very very soulful and melodious so I spend a lot of time on getting that process just right. It can be very tedious, but I am committed to making quality music, so I really pour my soul into so that I can really deliver my best work to my fans. And sometimes after all that work, I just scrap it – unless I think it sounds absolutely perfect!
As a producer yourself, is it ever difficult to let your guard down and let other artists take the reigns?
No, it’s not and that’s mainly because I really embrace different sounds and types of music. For example, I am loving the South African sound right now and East African music has such an amazing vibe to it. As long as the music has a soul and great depth and energy, I can jump on it. I don’t always need to produce my own music although I find that process very rewarding as well.
Who are your favourite collaborators currently, and who would be a dream collaboration for you in the future?
I respect and admire Sauti Sol from Kenya, they’ve had some really amazing collaborations this year ranging from 2Face Idibia to Patoranking. They have so much soul and they make amazing music so their collaborations are really beautifully executed. I think Davido from Nigeria and Diamond Platnumz out of Tanzania have also made some really great collaborative efforts in Africa as well as the US. The music has been awesome. There are tons of artists I would love to collaborate with from all over the world: Bruno Mars, Rihanna, Jason Derulo, Justin Timberlake, Quavo – Pharrell Williams is an absolute must, and of course, if Beyonce or Kanye ever reach out – I would be all over it! Lol!
With a special focus on young, up and coming talent, who do you want to collaborate with in the future? Which artists are on your radar?
There is so much talent in Europe, the States and Africa. Collaborations for me really have to be organic and not just solely based on big names or artists who are trending. If I met an artist that wasn’t really well known but had an amazing connection with me in the studio, we would work together for the love of music. For commercial success, it, of course, makes sense to collaborate with mainstream names to get your music across on all the various platforms and countries so I am clear on the value in that perspective. Let’s just say I recognize the talent and am exploring some interesting collabs. For now, I would just like the fans to wait patiently and know that I have a few really big tricks up my sleeve.
What is the future looking like for Wondaboy? What do you have planned for the next year?
I am very very excited about 2018 because I have some really AWESOME music coming out, dope videos and some bodies of work. My fans don’t really get to see all the different musical sides of me, so I want to give them the opportunity to hear and experience my versatility via mixtape projects and a full studio album. 2018 is mine and I am BRINGING SOME SERIOUS HEAT TO THE MUSIC GAME!!!! Lookout for Wondaboy, because I am always going to be in the building!