By Nelson CJ/TeenVogue
The voice of renowned Afrobeats star Davido — known best for hits like “Dami Duro,” “If,” “Fia,” and many others — is hoarse, as though he’s recovering from a severe cold. Sometimes, that voice will find itself stretching out and reaching up to conquer high octaves, taking a song like 2019’s “D & G” featuring Summer Walker from a steady tempo to a different, more riveting dynamic. At other times, that voice lets out breathy waves of laughter, carefree and uncalculated; the kind that comes from a man who embraces joy without speculation.
Davido’s decades-long career has been buoyed, not merely by his numerous hit singles or countless culture-shifting moments, but by his commitment to finding joy wherever it might be.
It is the first thing a Davido fan will tell you about him: his zest for life, and his infectious cheerfulness made even more endearing by his generosity. The kind of generosity that is so constant it has become an integral component of who he is. The kind that makes sense when you consider where the Afrobeats icon is coming from.
As a child in Lagos, Nigeria, Davido (real name David Adedeji Adeleke) grew up in a house filled with celebration. His mother, the late educator Veronica Adeleke, always had something to celebrate; their large family of immediate and extended relatives meant there were always people with whom to celebrate. Davido learned the importance of generosity from his parents, who willingly extended their home and resources to family and strangers alike. For a child who lived a sufficiently padded life, that may have been the best life lesson he regularly practices these days: having an understanding and awareness of his privilege and an openness to finding ways to put those privileges to good use.
Davido began his career in the early 2010s by releasing Afrobeats bangers whose thematic focus was on love and desire. He centered simple, unencumbered emotions and has, unlike most of his peers, maintained that pattern by exploring these same themes in interesting ways over the years. He’s dextrous, tapping into various sounds; he is often one of the first people to usher in new sub-genres from different corners of the industry, whether it be alté music or amapiano, and regularly lends his weight to emerging acts whose sounds are also significantly shaping the future of the Afrobeats industry.
Meanwhile, he seamlessly shifts between coy lover boy, philosophical romantic, and earnest wooer in his music. Each of the four projects he has released since 2010 — Omo Baba Olowo (2012), Á Good Time (2019), A Better Time (2020) and Timeless (2023) — has explored the simple thrills of romance and life. He manages to so in ways that feel new and accurately representative of the concerns — from modern love to bottle-popping culture — that rest atop the zeitgeist of African youth culture. At any given time, Davido keeps his ears close to the streets, attentive and allowing his work to reflect what it truly means to be young, African, and in constant pursuit of exhilaration.
As Nigerian music journalist Wale Oloworekende tells Teen Vogue, “There’s no one operating in the Afropop plexus that has made the pursuit of joy their raison d’être like he has, and we’ve seen him use this dedication to joy to navigate so many dark moments across his career.”
“The great thing with Davido is that even when he’s expressing emotions like regret or anger, it’s still geared towards finding that joy,” Oloworekende continues. “Maybe not for him in that instance, but he’s putting himself in the mind frame of his audience and knowing that they’ll find some semblance of happiness in his work.”
So what happens when a person whose career has been marked by his active involvement in joy and community-building becomes inundated with loss? And more importantly, how does this go on to impact the work they produce going forward? That answer, for Davido, lies in his latest album Timeless.
Between 2020 and 2022, Davido lost several friends and close colleagues to various illnesses and accidents, an experience that influenced him — as he mentioned to me in an interview a year ago — to become more health-conscious and uncharacteristically existential. Last year, Davido’s three-year-old son died after a drowning incident at his home. This caused the star, known for living out his experiences openly on social media, to go on a hiatus; he suspended activities across all of his socials, married his longtime girlfriend Chioma Rowland in a quiet wedding ceremony, and took a completely different approach to the album he had been working on for the past year.
Davido emerged from this hiatus with Timeless, a joyous, restorative, and deeply affecting project that came out on March 31. The star has described the motivation behind the album as an exposition on time. In an Instagram post announcing the project, the singer wrote, “There is a time for everything. A time to grieve and a time to heal. A time to laugh and a time to dance. A time to speak and a time for silence.”
Timeless feels like Davido’s time to find the light out of the darkness. It’s a tightly-curated project filled with established and emerging voices from Skepta to Angelique Kidjo, Neo-Highlife artists like The Cavemen, and newcomers like Morravey and Logos Olori amongst others. The album is classic Davido: fun, flirty, inventive with sound, clever in his assemblage of collaborators, carefree, and filled with aching desire. Yet it is also an active, understandable pursuit of distraction.
Beneath the surface of all of this vibrant, feel-good music, there is a sense of unease, a vulnerability that Davido keeps at bay, unaddressed. The only songs that attempt to veer towards the sentimental are “Feel,” an amapiano track that sees Davido expressing hope that he’ll survive his grief, and “LCND (Legends Can Never Die),” a tribute to those he has lost that is also a party-starter.
While it might have felt reassuring to hear how the superstar, who in truth has never really built the tool of vulnerability around his artistry, is processing grief and existentialism, his refusal to share that experience doesn’t make Timeless any less of an incredible body of work. If anything, Timeless is quickly shaping up to be one of the superstar’s most important to date.
Davido understands what he means to people; he is a symbol of lightheartedness, of timeless, feel-good music suffused with small, solvable emotions like unrequited love, romance, or braggadocio. In Timeless, he delivers that persona with a masterful hand, yet it is hard not to ask, at what cost?
Maybe, as a person who is on good terms with joy, this is the best way for him to process so many monumental losses. Maybe Davido’s language of grief is defined by how much of a joyful presence he can be to his fans and the people in his life.
“A lot of the time, he says that he’s able to rebound from pain very quickly because he makes his music for people to find joy,” Oloworekende tells me. “But it’s important to note that he’s not someone to keep still and that makes him eager to make those songs and go on tours and do all the things that have made him an omnipresent pop presence over the last decade.”
Maybe this — the pursuit of joy, the constant gazing up at the bright side — is his grieving process. He has created a vast landscape of African music, from Amapiano to Neo-Highlife and Afro-pop, populated with hits and small moments of joy and exuberance. Timeless is a reminder of his capacity to find and inspire unforgettable moments of joy in times of great unease — and a validation of our own capability to do the same.
- The article was originally published by TeenVogue