Afro-Exuberance: a fusion fashion style

The visual identity of Afrobeats is having an impact on fashion, says stylist Samuel Adekolu.

“My music travel no visa,” sings Wizkid in his song No Lele. Afrobeats is everywhere. Nigerian musicians, including Wizkid, Burnaboy, Davido and more, are registering in music charts worldwide, collaborating with megastars such as Beyoncé and Drake, creating explosive TikTok sounds and being nominated for – and even winning – Grammys.

But the fusion genre, blending Afrobeat, Highlife, Dancehall, HipHop and RnB, is having an influence further than that.

Consider the fashioning of these new icons. The world’s luxury brands are clamouring to dress its top stars – examples include Wizkid walking a Dolce & Gabbana menswear show and Botter making a suit for Burnaboy’s Grammy performance in March 2021. They’re attracted by the extravagance and evident gusto for life that Africa and its contemporary talent has. Not to mention the spending power of an emerging market with a growing fashion industry.

Take it from me, getting dressed for a night out in Lagos is a serious business. It is that energy that stars like Wizkid, Burnaboy, Davido and Tiwa Savage are now bringing to a global audience. From graphic tees and snapbacks to experimenting with fashion, wearing international designers as well as local fashion names, Afrobeats’ biggest stars represent a new kind of style icon. Musicians’ fashion style, much like their music, is a contemporary blend of African sensibilities, featuring the vibrant colours and rich textures synonymous with many Nigerian cultures, offset by luxury ease inspired by global influences – think silk shirts dyed with inky indigo inspired by traditional Adire or logomania offset by precise tailoring.

“It’s borderline sleazy – sweaty necks and chests, chilling outdoors on a cool Lagos night,” laughs designer Amaka Osakwe, who founded Lagos brand Maki Oh in 2010 and has now added menswear. “I mean, it just had to be the starting point!” Osakwe picks up on the euphoric, feel-good vibe that is the central tenet of Lagos nightlife and Afrobeats style on stage.

The evolution of African style and music is striking in a world that more open to new cultural energies. No longer is West African music restricted to the African continent; it’s felt and appreciated by millions around the world, led by a Black diaspora holding on to a part of their culture, and by non-Black fans who appreciate music that sounds different but feels familiar.

The relationship between Afrobeats and international fashion is clearly seen in Wizkid’s many fashion collaborations, with brands like Moschino, Daily Paper, Nike and Puma. He’s also a brand ambassador for Tommy Hilfiger’s Pass the Mic campaign.

Beyond a relationship between Afrobeats and fashion outside the African continent, there exists a different and more personal relationship – one with designers and fashion innovators in Africa. Celebrity endorsement for emerging and established designers can work wonders. “I believe it’s a way to support one another and it’s also a stamp of approval from the bigger brand,” says Nigerian designer Wana Sambo.

Stylist and designer Samuel Adekolu (also known as Uncle Soft) dresses a new crop of Afrobeats musicians, including Fireboy DML, Joeboy, Buju, Oxlade, and Rema ­– artists who have gained attention not only for the ways they subvert musical genres but the way they dress. He understands Afrobeats’ interplay between Western and African influences and is right at the centre of the emerging look.

Describe the process of styling each musician – where do you begin?

Samuel Adekolu: My process is subjective. Sometimes I’m scouring through the internet for similar personalities, for some mood boards. Other times, I pay attention to the client’s current image. Styling requires a lot of imagination and execution. I get these ideas and they are bright ideas, but as bright as they are, they have to be reasonable targets. For example, you don’t want an unattainable neckpiece in your mood board. A conversation doesn’t hurt as well, especially when you’re working with a client who knows what they like and what they don’t.

Is it fair for us to start describing Afrobeats’ musicians’ style as Afro-Exuberance?

Afro-Exuberance is as Nigerian as it gets. Being a Nigerian means you’re flamboyant, it’s in your genes. What makes this new style identity different is that we’re creating a balance to that innate loudness and quieting it just a tad with classy, luxurious pieces.

What is the main goal when you’re creating a look for an artist?

It depends on the project. If I’m styling a music video, then the clothes play a part in the storytelling. For a magazine shoot, it’s a different goal entirely, the clothes have to look good photographed. A major consideration when creating the look for an artist is that the end result starts conversations. Conversations mean that these looks are getting noticed, we’ve struck gold.

You’ve styled Zinoleesky, Ayra Starr, Oxlade, Lojay, and Cheque for Clout Magazine. What went into that?

Lately, I’ve been super into neutrals and so I’ve been playing around with a lot of black and beige. For this spread, I went with beige and denim. I really wanted to experiment with denim, to create street style looks that were athleisure but clean. I worked with Stom Fits to create these denim looks, probably one of my favourite parts of this whole process.

Where do you see the relationship between fashion and Afrobeats going?

Over the past year, Nigerian stylists have found it a lot easier to access international designers. It will definitely be symbiotic – pop culture spreads, the same way the music is growing, and so will the attention placed on the looks attached to the music.

Nigerian Stylists to know:

  • Ronami Oulu – the fashion force behind Burnaboy’s wardrobe. From a thrifted Versace shirt in his We Like to Party video, to the standout Kenneth Ize look for Coachella 2019, Oulu’s growth as a stylist is evident in Burna’s style progression both on and offstage.
  • Tee Dosumu – a key player in Wizkid’s style team, he is behind some of Wiz’s most recent game changing looks. From the suave all red outfit worn for his feature in Beyoncé’s “Brown Skin Girl”, to the luxe Gucci & Haider Ackerman look for the “Essence” video.
  • KK Obi – Nigerian stylist, creator and editor based in London. He has style shoots for many names including Crack Magazine, Sang Bleu and Urban Outfitters. In 2017 Obi launched Boy.Brother.Friend, a print publication and platform examining male identities through contemporary art, fashion and theory.

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