Sarz Speaks on Producing for Wizkid and Afropop’s Global Reach
Afrobeats, where Africa meets pop
When the recent Wizkid and Drake collab “Come Closer” dropped back in March, the whole world was watching. This was their first time working together since “One Dance,” a tune heavily indebted to Afrobeats; that omnivorous West African genre that incorporates sounds like azonoto, dancehall, rap, and the original Afrobeat as made popular by Fela back in the ’80s. Since the success of “One Dance”—the first song ever to rack up over a billion streams on Spotify—the world has been waiting to see what came next. Wizkid has, understandly, become the international poster boy for Afropop. While the scene as whole remains strong globally, many Western listeners look to Wiz and his Starboy Entertainment label as their go-to source. But little is known about the creative team who makes the music that makes the whole world dance.
The second single from Wizkid’s forthcoming album Sounds From The Other Side, “Come Closer” was produced by a man named Sarz. The young Nigerian producer has played a major role in helping push Afropop from behind the scenes, creating street anthems for artists like Tekno, Wande Col, and Burna Boy. Now he’s planting his flag by crafting smash hits with Wizkid. We caught up with Sarz to learn his thoughts on the growth of Afrobeats, to find out what it’s like working with Wiz, and—given the global nature of pop music in 2017—to get a clue as to where the sound of planet Earth is going next.
What were you aiming for when you made the “Come Closer” beat for Wizkid?
I’ve always been making crossover music. “Come Closer” is one of them. I bring together different genres, cultures, musical influences and people with my music. Music is global to me.
Was the song made specifically for him?
No, it wasn’t. Most times he doesn’t really like the beats I specifically make for him.
Did you know Drake would be on it?
I had no idea cos I recorded the first cut with Wiz in the studio. We liked it a lot and we left it at that. The next time we linked up in the studio he played the song. I wasn’t really paying attention because I’ve heard it so many times. Suddenly I heard “Too mixed up in drama to go outside…” I was like whoahhhh!
Do you generally create with artists in the studio or pass along finished beats?
It depends on everyone’s schedule. I’ve made music both ways. I think I slightly prefer passing along ideas or finished beats. Sometimes I just like making music in my comfort zone or maybe
around people I’m used to. It helps me experiment without getting judged [laughs]. I’m just more carefree on my own, you know?
How did you link with Wizkid originally?
I’ve known Wiz for a long time now. He’s family. We first met before he released his first album. His team reached out to work after they heard a song I produced that was doing so good on the radio and topping charts. It was called “Magic Stick” by Da Grin (RIP). We’ve always looked out for each other since then.
Do you have any more production on the album?
Yes I do. So much more coming from us. The first two tracks that have been released were produced by me. My work on the album is as diverse as Wiz lets me get [LOL].
How do you feel about Afropop’s growing global acceptance?
It’s amazing! What a time to be alive. I’m here for the fusion. Tell Justin Timberlake I want to work with him! [laughs] This just solidifies the fact that music is global.
Do you see a difference between Afrobeats and Afropop?
Personally, I think Afrobeats and Afropop are the same. This genre is where African music meets pop culture. However, there’s also Afrobeat and it was originated in Nigeria and Ghana and exported by the Great Fela Kuti. It’s a combination of highlife, funk and jazz music.
What’s it like working in such a creative period for Nigeria?
I take this so personal and feel like it’s up to me sometimes to export the music anyway that I can. [laughs] On a more serious note, we can really change the future for Nigerian and African artists so they have the option to take their sound to the world, cos there’s demand for Afrobeats/Afropop. You can be global or choose to stay local.
Were your parents involved with music?
No, not at all.
How did you learn production?
I’ve always loved music and I was fascinated by the way Timbaland, Pharrell, Darkchild, Dr. Dre and a few others created fire over and over again. One day I saw my friend make music on his PC and at that point, I knew I could do it too. I got everything I needed and I taught myself.
How many tracks do you produce in a typical week?
I do as much as I can but most importantly, I’m always looking for unique sounds—or creating them. What are numbers when you’re not churning out quality tracks?
Is your name a reference to the SARS virus?
Yes it is. It’s a reference to how my music spreads like the SARS virus.