48 hours spent in the company of Emmanuel Adebayor and Wizkid was always going to be special. But it was only when an articulated bus – filled with girls, boys, DJs and a sound system pumping out Afrobeat tunes – as well as a convoys of SUVs pulled up outside the dusty airport in Togo to greet the Nigerian superstar and his entourage, that we started to realise quite how mad it could be.
We were there to film the SEA Youth Festival, a two-night party where Wizkid and a host of other stars from the west coast music scene were going to perform at Stade Municipal in Togo’s capital Lomé. It had been organised by Ade as a celebration of the music scene that he loves so much but also as his chance to give back to young people in Togo. We were all there to shine a light on the incredible potential young people represent.
And given that 48% of Togo’s population is under the age of 18, that’s a hell of a lot of people and a hell of a lot of potential to celebrate. It was going to be a big party.
It was also a moment for Ade to get a bunch of his mates on stage and have a good time. But first he had work to attend to, and so did we. The festival was happening on the same weekend as the Africa Cup of Nations qualifier between Togo and Liberia. We’d been invited to film it. We were just hoping, along with the whole of Togo, that Ade would score.
Our team was from all corners; Dom, our creative director, and I had flown out with the video director Matt from London to Ghana. We were going to link up with our photographer Neil Massey who was flying in from Vietnam – you’ll see; he really is that good – and JP, Matt’s cousin who owns a creative agency in Accra. From there we’d drive to Lomé – buy a bling coffin from the roadside stalls on the way – and arrive in time to catch Wizkid arriving at the airport.
Wizkid’s arrival was nearly upstaged by Terence. Tee’s the guy who gets things done in the SEA team. He has no official title but is one of Ade’s most trusted friends. He pulled up to meet us on the three-wheel motorbike he drives around on – it’s a kind of bat mobile built for Lomé’s roads. He spent the 48 hours attached to his phone, and several others, to coordinate Wizkid’s arrival, his tos and fros, and Adebayor’s schedule.
The articulated bus was soon followed by several 4x4s. But the Lomé–Tokoin Airport is no Heathrow. The stars calmly walked straight out of the main exit. Lola Rae and her sister came out first with Wizkid’s manager Sunday. But it was when Wizkid and his girlfriend drove out via a side entrance in Ade’s Hummer, that the screaming really hit decibel levels that would make a dog flinch.
In a Togo top and a du-rag cap, Ade welcomed us all. Togolese hospitality is renowned and he never lets the side down.
In a scene that became familiar over the weekend, the eager hordes descended on the vehicle. Wizkid acknowledged the attention with grace but he’s obviously well used to it. The Hummer drove off, convoy following, towards Ade’s house. In a Togo top and a du-rag cap, Ade welcomed us all. Togolese hospitality is renowned and Ade never lets the side down.
Later that night, everyone reconvened at Marcello beach: dark, dust, sand everywhere. There were at least 500 kids there already to greet Wizkid as he rocked up in the Ade’s matt black and gold Rolls Royce Phantom. The lights of the Rolls lit up the people mobbing the car. Neil was in the middle of the crowd getting pictures, while Matt and JP manoeuvred the equipment out of the car to start shooting. The SEA team ended up reversing the Rolls Royce out because there were too many people, just so Wizkid could make a stage appearance. It was a semi-stampede. The crowd were massively hyped. And this was meant to be a warm up to the main event tomorrow.
The game the next day didn’t let down on intensity. About 40 of the Sparrow Hawks’ official supporters club were riding on scooters through Lomé in Togolese colours. Kids outside the ground were rocking Man United, Arsenal and Chelsea shirts too. Everyone was cheering. Vuvuzelas were hooting. Voodoo men were drumming. We walked through the tunnel filming Ade as he strolled on to the pitch. He was calm. He was confident. He scored in the 87th minute.
Models were milling. The music was nuts.
The SEA Festival that evening was a feat of ingenuity. About 30 young people in the SEA network had been helping organise it and everyone was pulling their weight. It had been raining all day; it had been delayed; it had been hectic since we had arrived so we all felt strangely relaxed and a bit high thanks to the local energy drink everyone was drinking. We were backstage ready to start filming. Models were milling. The music was nuts. There was Afrobeat but some of the tunes had an old-school UK rave feel to them. Dancing girls shook their asses.
Loads of up-and-coming artists – NIA, Snaky da Future and Dieudonné Willa – were representing Togo, along with Tach Noir who owned it. Lola Rae was fierce, while Bisa Kdei’s latest single Mansa showed Ghanaian Hiplife at its finest. Wizkid was outside, still hanging out in the Rolls. And when he finally got on stage past midnight, the crowd were ready. It all went off.
He immediately invited them in his low-key drawl to come right up to the stage. There was a semi-stampede though the VIP area right in front of the barriers. He played all his major hits, Ojuelegba, In My Bed and Jaiye Jaiye – which was crazy. There were at least 10 stage invasions as different artists came on to sing with him. Halfway through Show You The Money, Ade sauntered on stage. Again, we witnessed another semi-stampede.
The night wound up at about three am. The crowd dispersed, satiated. The SEA guys were still buzzing and ended up at Ade’s. He has a nightclub in his basement. Why not?
The festival captured the spirit that’s buzzing on the west coast of Africa right now. It captured the energy of the young people there: their aspiration, their style, their sometimes difficult circumstances and their desperate longing for people they can look up to. That’s why Adebayor and Wizkid are heroes. Those two guys represent a generation of the talented, the ambitious, and the brave. They’re both masters in their field. And they both came together to put on this festival to celebrate inspiration and peace.