By Ali McPherson
Photographer: Emmanuel Mensah Agbeble; @apmworldmag
On August 8th, New Yorkers gathered in Lincoln Center to support an artist who is redefining the gold standard. African and black youths stood in line to show their support, enjoy the festivities and shine a light on their love and pride for their culture. This artist not only brought out fellow Nigerians, but fans of all races and ethnicities. The diverse group of people had one thing in common: their love for Adekunle Gold.
Rising Nigerian Afro-pop artist Adekunle Kosoko, also known as Adekunle Gold or AG has been heating up and gaining popularity internationally with his catchy songs and unique voice. A Lagos native, Kosoko was born into the Kosoko royal family of Lagos State, Nigeria. Originally known as the “King of Photoshop,” a name celebrating his graphic design skills, Kosoko now focuses on his career as a Nigerian highlife singer/songwriter. The artist gained popularity for his hit song “Sade,” a cover of One Direction’s hit single “Story of My Life.” His first studio album “Gold” rose to number 7 on the Billboard World’s chart. AG has done well for himself in Nigeria as the recipient of a Best Song award at the Nigerian Entertainment Awards, among other national and international accolades.
Lincoln Center’s ‘Out of Doors’ free summer festival is filled with dance, music, film, poetry, and conversation. This year’s festival began on July 21 and ended August 11th. At the 4th edition of OkayAfrica’s annual show at Lincoln Center’s Out of Door summer concert series, called “Gold & Soul,” DJ Poison Ivy wowed the audience as the opening act, before Adekunle Gold and his band the 79 Element took the stage. R&B artist Olayinka Ehi, hip-hop artist Moelogo, artist Shirazee, and DJ Michael Brun performed as well.
A quick rainstorm that had us all on our feet running to find shelter was the prelude to AG’s performance. After about fifteen minutes, the rain let up and we ran back to the concert. No one cared that there was a chance it would rain again, because the only thing that mattered was Adekunle Gold taking the stage. During his performance, the thirty-two year old singer made a joke about how the “rain tried it,” grateful that we stayed regardless of the weather. He was humbled that so many people would persevere through rain, sleet, and shine to see him. Gold sang his popular songs, “Sade,” “Orente,” “Before You Wake Up,” “IRE,” and his newest single, Kelegbe Megbe (Know Your Level)”
As a new listener of Afrobeats and Afropop music, I was definitely in for a treat. I attended the concert with my best friend/super fan who was born and raised in Nigeria. She, among others, knew all the words to his songs and all of the dances. AG’s urban high life and pop-infused songs are sung in Yoruba, English and Pidgin English (Pidgin is a grammatically simplified means of communication that develops between two or more groups that do not have a language in common). Although I couldn’t pronounce the names of his songs, I was hooked. The rhythm is enough to get you moving the minute the song comes on. The talent that the Lagos native exudes is remarkable.
As an African American woman growing up in a city as diverse as New York, it brought me joy to see such support for African music and African culture. I saw some women wearing African garments, and I watched as young women, including myself, danced to songs that have taken over the summer air waves. The entire night, I felt like I was digging into my African roots, and being surrounded by such a prideful group of people and beautiful music made the night even more magical.
The Lagos singer has a presence onstage that is rare in the rising talent of today. He knows how to keep the crowd on their feet dancing, while also knowing the right chords to make us feel each emotion that he feels while he is singing, whether it’s love, or simply the desire for a good time. I enjoyed every minute of his performance because his performance didn’t feel scripted; it seemed like he genuinely was having a ball, which made the crowd feel the same.
Toward the end of the concert, he asked for the crowd to raise our phone flashlights, a modern replacement of the lighter held aloft. At that moment, it was as if we were all one, swaying side to side with our “lighters.” AG has a unique energy that unites people, and despite language barriers, I realized that in music, we all speak the same language. We sing the same song and all enjoy the same sweet moment. The Nigerian native paid tribute to African American culture by including favorite tunes and incorporating them into the Afro-pop songs. This wasn’t a night about building walls or focusing on one group of people; it was about supporting the artists who encourage us all to come together as one.
Based in New York, Ali McPherson has published her work in HuffPost, The New School Free Press and Eleven and a Half Literary Journal. She is currently earning her Journalism M.A. at the Craig Newmark School of Journalism.