“It’s So Important To Give Back” Davido Interviewed

Talking diasporic connections, giving back, and his new Amazon Original Orchestration...

Davido is a unique figure in the evolution of West African music. Deeply embedded in the diaspora, he studied in the United States, spent time in London, but was forever embedded in the music and culture of Lagos.

Truly, he embodies the city’s energy – its confidence, flamboyance, its free-thinking nature, and its emotional appeal, the awareness of its roots. One of the biggest stars of his generation, Davido has taken those Lagos sounds global, while taking some global sounds back home in the process.

If 2020’s ‘A Better Time’ took him to the next level, this year’s ‘Timeless’ solidified his stature. A producer, singer, and songwriter, his work is organic and multi-faceted, naturally drawing together different strands in the process.

Making a brief stop in London, Davido recently shot a beautiful performance video for Amazon Original Orchestration. Working with the acclaimed Balimaya Project – who blend together afrobeat, high life, jazz, and beyond – he was able to reconfigure his anthem ‘FEEL’ in the studio, before shooting a lavish video, too.

Part of the ongoing Amazon Original Orchestration series, this new video is unique – unlike previous orchestrations, Amazon Music will create an African orchestration using African instrumentation and non-western conventional orchestration techniques. 

It’s part of the measure of the man; Davido is continually representing his culture, and continually giving back.

Your album ‘Timeless’ landed at the start of the year – how do you feel about it now? You must be proud of the impact it has had?

I am so proud of ‘Timeless’, and how the fans have received it. It was an album that was different from the way I usually work, with 20 people in studio with you partying, hanging. ‘Timeless’ I recorded at my home studio with just me and my producer. I wanted to create music that would truly be timeless. And so to see the reactions from fans, breaking streaming records makes me very proud.

You started 2022 by playing London – the O2 Arena, in fact. What does the city mean to you? And what are your memories of that show?

London will always be a special place for me. I’ve lived here, I’ve gone to school here. It’s been an important place for the global expansion of the afrobeats sound and the fans in the UK are like no other.  The fans here in the UK have supported me and my music from day one. I love playing here. I have great memories of that show, and lit to play again in January this year, and start this year off right.

How does songwriting work for you? Do you start with a beat, or a hook, or a lyric? What is the seed of a Davido song? 

I’ve always been good with beats and hooks; I started off as a producer. When I was younger my goal was to be a massive record producer, not to be out front. But when I would make demo tapes for other artists, folks kept coming back saying, “you sound better than the artist”. So I recorded a record, that took off in the clubs and from there it’s just been a wild ride.

Have you had a chance to go back into the studio since ‘Timeless’? Where do you think your music might go next?

With touring and working on the remixes and videos for ‘Timeless’, I haven’t been back recording yet. I’ve just been enjoying connecting again with the fans. You know, COVID kept us inside for over a year, so being able to play to fans all over the world has been a blessing.

Who amongst your peers do you admire? Who inspires you when you’re in the studio?

There are so many talent artists I admire that are making lit music, I’m big fan of Tuface, Dbanj, oh so many. Also new artists such as Morravey and her talent is admirable.

In fact, helping raise new talent is one of the reasons I started the A.W.A.Y Festival, which stands for Are We African Yet? It will take place in Atlanta on November 18th, 2023, at The State Farm Arena. It’s dedicated to promoting African artists, food, style, and culture. I want to give a chance for other incredible African artists to be heard.

If you had to pick one song to sum up your work as a musician, what would it be and why that song?

Hah, you can’t pick just one song to sum up 10 years of work. There are too many songs, experiences and performances, but I am just grateful to be able to represent the culture.

You’re a fantastic live act – do you have a routine before you onstage? How do you switch into that performance mindset?

I definitely have a different Davido at home with my family and the one that’s onstage performing. You feed off the energy of the crowds, you look out and see thousands of faces, singing your songs, dancing, just having a good time. I always start each performance with a prayer, to be able to deliver to my fans the show and the energy that they deserve. 

You head up the DMW label, working with countless new artists. Is it important for you to give back? What’s the best advice you were given as a young unknown artist?

It’s so important to give back and pass it on to the next up and coming. The best advice I have for any new artist, is to be yourself. I went to school in the States, and I love rap, so when I was younger, I thought maybe I should stay in states and pursue music, but something told me to go home to Lagos, to be myself, which is Nigerian and with Nigerian beats, and I think that was the difference that made me successful. I wasn’t trying to be someone else. So, I think I would tell all unknown artists, to be themselves and what makes them different is what makes them special.

How did this Amazon Music Original project come about? What inspired you to get involved?

This album is super special to me and we really wanted to create some unique moments through the campaign, do some ‘firsts’ and shake things up! We wanted to team up with Amazon Music on something around the track ‘FEEL’, so when the opportunity to become the first African artist to be featured came about, it felt like a great opportunity to showcase the culture. Especially as Amazon Music created an African orchestration using African instrumentation and non-western conventional orchestration techniques.

What was the shoot / performance like on the day? The shoot / arrangement is rooted in West African culture and traditions, something you have always represented. How special are they in your life and work?

Me and the composers spent two days in AIR Studios in London – working with around 80 musicians on a brand new version of ‘FEEL’. It was such a special moment watching it all come together from the initial demo,through to performing it in this amazing studio in London with everyone together.

We got Balimaya Project involved who are a super talented London-based collective who brought West African instrumentation to it and really made the track complete. I always want to shine a light on West African music and culture when I can, so it was a proud moment to be able to do this.

The shoot itself was such a unique experience at this beautiful location in West London – doing a one shot with so many people involved was definitely a challenge – the London rain threatened to derail it at one point – but we did it and I’m really happy to see how it has all come together!

Davido headlines The O2 in London on January 28th 2024 // tickets.

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