Getting to Know Adekunle Gold, Nigeria’s Afropop Treasure

After touring the world with his signature Afropop sound, while working through COVID-19 restrictions and delays, Nigerian Adekunle Gold is back with a story to tell. “Being on the road was fun,” he tells me with excitement in his voice when we call. “I’m comfortable now and feel like I’m where I’m supposed to be.”

It is clear from the start of our conversation that this two-year journey from his Afro Pop Vol. 1 The scrapped album was one of self-discovery, experimentation, building confidence, and trusting one’s musical instincts. AG has this palpable sense of relief as he talks about what it took to get his new music ready for release. It’s safe to say his new album, Catch Me If You Can, is an accumulation of sonic flight mileage points he earned by visiting cities and states in Africa, USA and UK. “The precious things I learned while on the road, I put them all into this album,” he says. The singer-songwriter has also managed to connect and work with some of the biggest artists in the world for the project, with everyone from Davido and Ty Dolla $ign to Stefflon Don and Lucky Daye appearing on the set of 14 titles.

Since the mid-2010s, Adekunle Gold – with his otherworldly vocal tone – has been known for his distinct, mellow vibe and hard-to-miss catchphrase “AG baby” that christens every track. His sound is soulful Africa: melodies heavily reliant on traditional percussion, alongside a penchant for bass guitar, sax and unblemished storytelling, which can be heard as early as 2016. Gold album. His latest offering, however, is ahead of what you might expect from Adekunle and what he does so well.

Listening to the album and hearing AG talk about the creative process behind it, it’s clear he’s unlocked a new level in his artistry. We caught up with the main man to discuss his musical progression and the importance of listening to your own voice.

“I no longer have the energy to act for anyone. I talk less now, for some reason, and I put all my energy into my work and my family.

COMPLEX: It’s been two years since you released Afro Pop Vol. 1 and cemented a revolutionary sound. Is Catch Me If You Can a sequel to this?
Adekunle Gold:
With Afro Pop Vol. 1, I was trying something new. It was very experimental. I was trying to prove a point with this album, like, “You know what? I’m a songwriter and I can also do pop records. After making a Highlife album twice in Gold and About 30, with Afro Pop Vol. 1I wanted to do something completely different and prove a point, but I won’t say Catch Me If You Can is a continuation of that. Catch Me If You Can is my current vibe; that’s how I feel right now. It’s pop, with a bit of soul, and a bit of highlife in there. It’s a completely different album in itself.

What changes in your personal life do you think influenced this new creative approach to music?
I started prioritizing my peace and made it a point to listen more to myself and whatever comes naturally. Like, I don’t have the energy to act for anyone anymore. I talk less now, for some reason, and I put all my energy into my work and my family. Everything that does not serve me can be relegated to the background. I got a lot bolder with my sound. Whatever I feel, I just say it. I’m finally free to say what I want to say, without fear of being criticized or wondering if people will like it. I live an exemplary life – to the best of my abilities – but I also don’t want to be forced to live a certain life, so I just make myself.

But I’ll be very honest with you: for the most part when I started making music I didn’t even have the balls to say a lot of the things I wanted to say in my head, but I’m growing now and I no longer have a filter. Sorry to disappoint anyone [laughs]. For example, with a song like “Fye”, it’s my meanest song. Before, I would have been afraid to release a song like that, but now it’s liberating. I don’t want to hold anything back. If I feel it, I will say. As I said before: no filter.

Even during the pandemic, you managed to do a lot of touring and traveling. Is this album inspired by something you have seen or experienced during your travels?
I did Catch Me If You Can in the United States while I was on the road. I think I wrote most of the songs there – in studios in Los Angeles, some at home – and I did some in Lagos as well. I was touring and going to different cities and always had my mobile studio with me; it’s one of the things that I to have have on tour with me. Even if I go somewhere for just one day, I have my studio with me because I don’t know when I’m going to find inspiration and put something down. While I was in America I was in a studio with different producers and they all challenged me sonically. During my travels with my boys, whatever came to mind, I would just put it on a song. If I see things that strike me, I want to talk about it in a song. Every night we played in different cities in America, then came back to Africa and went to Tanzania, Kenya and Rwanda – and it was fun! It was an amazing ride for me, and the peace I had and the things I learned were put into Catch Me If You Can.

How was the process of making this album? I heard you postponed a few dates for perfect things…
It’s always madness to set up one of my projects. I started making this album in 2020 and I had no idea what I was going to call it then, but I knew I wanted it to be how I felt right now. I wrote so many songs and it was hard to choose the final 14. It was even supposed to come out in September 2021 but, as always, I wasn’t really happy and didn’t really feel like I was drained yet so we pushed back the date. I’m glad I put it in theaters with different producers, though. I was very involved in the production.

Photograph by Candice Lawler

What did you prefer: working in close collaboration with the producers?
My favorite part of making this album… I don’t know, but I know I love writing and I love thinking about my rhymes, in particular. I love to play with words. The part I don’t look forward to is getting into the studio, because I like to be in the comfort of my own room, just relaxing, writing and creating music at my own pace. I don’t like being rushed at all. For example, a song like “High” took me 7 months after I wrote it. I just like to take my time.

It’s obvious that you enjoy traditional percussion instruments and a mix of genres native to your roots. I know you mentioned that you like working closely with producers, but how much? Were you almost an executive producer for the producers as well?
I’m still very involved in the production process. I tell my producer friends what I want to hear. I tell them I want to hear a guitar over there, a bass line over there, a saxophone over there. I have visions for each song and tell them how I want it to sound. I wish I could produce but I don’t think I want to learn because I’ll never sleep [laughs].

Your voice and cold tempos are hard to miss. How would you say you developed your own sound, and are there any particular artists, new or old, who have inspired or contributed to this development?
Growing up I listened to a lot of Highlife and juju music, a bit of Fuji and a bit of apala. They are all beautiful sounds from Nigeria, and they influenced my writing in the very beginning, but I always wanted to make pop records. I always wanted to write pop songs, but I didn’t get it and didn’t understand much about it. When I went out Gold, it was Highlife because that’s what I loved and it’s the only thing I knew how to do at the time, so it’s no surprise that it was my first offering. As I grow, I challenge myself to learn new approaches and new ways of doing this musical stuff. My voice is still distinct – even if I decide to rap tomorrow, my voice is my voice – but the music I listen to plays a huge role in the type of stuff I write. In 2019, 2020 and 2021 I listened to a lot of Post Malone and you can sort of hear it. So yeah, I was listening to him, Bazzi, and other amazing artists.

Which song on the album speaks to you the most?
There’s too much ! I know I’m supposed to have an answer here, but I can’t get it myself [laughs]. I like “Sinner”, I like “High”, I like “Mercy”, I like “Sleep”… Alright, I’m attached to “Sleep” because that’s the sound I envisioned really. It’s everything I ever dreamed of before I even did it. Shout out to Tay Iwar; I knew he was the guy who would understand what I wanted. We walked into the studio and it just flowed. It’s up there as one of my favorite songs on the album.

You also have great features on the album.
I am happy with my collaborations all the time. Stefflon Don, Fatoumata, Ty Dolla $ign, Foushee, Lucky Daye and, of course, Davido—they all played huge roles in the songs. They all really came for me, so kudos to all the artists on this album.

Can we look forward to catching you on tour?
I plan to go everywhere, man. Wherever the money is, wherever my people are. Let’s sing this album to each other! Let’s scream loudly! My plan is to do an African tour and a world tour, so stay tuned.

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