Rema's "Calm Down" is radiant and tender in its approach, malleable by nature, and immune to cultural barriers. Deft guitar strings loop in splendor atop the sturdiest rhythm you'll hear at a function, but it's the sweetness of the balladry that draws you in. Rema sings of romantic swells in ways that tickle your soul, piquing a deep yearning for something previously unfounded. It's a crown jewel of a pop track that's fine-tuned to fit the mold of the biggest West African zeitgeist of the 21st Century.
One man has worked his ass off to get the world to resonate with such a sound. In his home country of Nigeria and throughout the diasporic pockets of the UK, Adesegun Adeosun Jr. is revered and well-respected. The 38-year-old entertainment mogul is also known as Smade, an enigmatic alias that's become synonymous with the ascent of Afrobeats.
Between questions on a Zoom call with New Times, Smade often unsheathes a twinkling smile under his well-kempt, lumberjack-esque beard. He's thoughtful and intrinsically selfless, but above all else, it's evident he's just happy to be here. A big part of his success as an ambassador for Afrobeats comes in the form of the rapidly growing Afro Nation music festival, a platform he cofounded with Nigerian entrepreneur Obi Asika in 2019. On May 27 and 28, Afro Nation touches down on American soil for the first time at LoanDepot Park in Miami.
At the helm of this year's lineup are Nigerian world eaters Burna Boy and Wizkid, two global superstars with unlimited outreach and shimmery prestige thanks to a wealth of timeless music. Their long-standing history with Smade predates world tours, NBA All-Star halftime shows, Drake features, and Jean Paul Gaultier collabs. Still smiling, Smade puts his phone to the video camera to show a picture of him and Wizkid playing FIFA at his house more than a decade ago.
"This is something I have put my life on. I've spent my whole life trying to build Afrobeats and trying to get us to where we are right now. And not just me," he says. "It's amazing to see how [Burna Boy and Wizkid] have grown from young boys striving to be superstars, and now to see them as superstars."
Alongside Davido, another Afrobeats legend in his own right, Burna and Wiz helped spearhead the inaugural Afro Nation in Portugal four summers ago. The festival has since traveled to Ghana and Puerto Rico, growing in stature as its foundational genre has seeped into the pop-culture lexicon. These artists are no longer concerned with regional buzz — they're much closer to world domination.
Even before the Afrobeats hype culminated into a worldwide spectacle, Smade worked tirelessly behind the scenes to promote events, facilitate concerts, and establish the genre as a brand in England, Nigeria, and beyond. His tight-knit relationships with Africa's coveted megastars aren't predicated on what he's put into their bank accounts. Instead, they've been fostered by a genuine passion for the art form. And now, with an established foundation to build off of, the genre's evolution comes naturally.
"I don't really select what artists I need to support," Smade says. "Afrobeats has great soldiers that support the culture and the music passionately, and they want to see it grow. That's one positive key thing that Afrobeats has going right now, and you can see it in Afro Nation."
Through Afro Nation, Smade acts on his desire to raise the profiles of international Black artists in tandem with Afrobeats heavyweights. For Miami's two-day event, fresh faces like Rema and Asake brush shoulders with dancehall royalty (Beenie Man, Mavado), amapiano DJs (Uncle Waffles, Musa Keys), and French lyricists (Franglish, Dadju). One of the two stages will serve as the hub exclusively for amapiano. The melting pot of culture and entertainment in South Florida makes it apparent that Miami is the right place to be.
"Being a young kid growing up in Africa and watching videos like 'Welcome to Miami' by Will Smith, it's created a lot of excitement to want to visit Miami," Smade says. "We've been to Portugal, we've been to Ghana. Ghana represents the whole of Africa, Portugal [represents] the whole of Europe, Miami is just the destination everyone looks forward to in the USA."
The pride and joy Smade carries regarding Afrobeats and Afro Nation can be felt in spirit and person. He wears it on his sleeve. Even from the outside looking in, it's not hard to tell how meaningful this movement has been for an entire culture. For a global phenomenon of this level to take place in the Magic City, you should know better than to take this lightly.