For more than two years, Nigerian singer Ckay’s sleeper hit “Love Nwantiti (Ah Ah Ah)” has been slowly but steadily making its way around the world, boosted by a slew of remixes and collaborations and a behind the scenes campaign that focused on breaking the song market by market — with a little help from social media as well. And now, that work is paying off: the song has risen to No. 2 on both Billboard’s Global 200 and Global Ex-U.S. charts, and this week cracked the top 40 of the Hot 100, rising to No. 35 in just its third week on the chart.
The success of the song both internationally and in the U.S. was part of a concerted global effort by the Warner Music Group — and helps newly-minted Warner Music South Africa managing director and senior vp strategy for Sub-Saharan Africa Temi Adeniji earn the title of Billboard’s Executive of the Week.
Here, Adeniji explains how the track spread throughout the world, the concerted, global efforts of several WMG offices and why the song is peaking now, two years after its initial release. “The whole company was moving in lockstep to deliver a hit in their respective territories, from India to France to the U.K.,” she says. “The result of that synchronized effort is clear.”
CKay’s “Love Nwantiti (Ah Ah Ah)” has climbed all the way to No. 2 on both Billboard’s Global 200 and the Global Ex-U.S. charts in just four weeks. What key decision(s) did you make to help make that happen?
Honestly, a lot of it was organic, but we moved quickly to transition the consumption of the track from social media platforms to DSPs. The song came out in 2019 and we licensed the remixes from Chocolate City in 2020, so we were not expecting to see it spiking again in August of 2021, when a Mauritian DJ (DJ Yo!) remixed it. We quickly realized his unauthorized version was driving a lot of the virality, so we moved to locate him and enter into a deal to make it a win-win for all involved.
From there, our team at Warner Music France was the first to spring into action, pushing for DSP support and going straight to radio with the track. Their efforts led to the first No. 1 charting spot for “Love Nwantiti” being out of France. While France led the pack, everyone soon followed suit and have been able to build on the success locally within their respective territories, illustrating the power of a fast-moving unified global network.
How did you help grow this song from Africa to the rest of the world?
We amplified the organic traction by putting our global firepower behind this track. But even when we initially dropped “Love Nwantiti,” we did so with the intent of taking it global. Credit to [Warner Recorded Music president of emerging markets] Alfonso Perez-Soto, who pushed for a variety of local versions — a French remix with Franglish, a German remix with Frizzo, a Spanish remix with De La Ghetto, an East African remix with Rayvanny, a MENA [Middle East/North Africa] remix with El Grande Toto. These helped the track saturate around the world. Morocco’s El Grande Toto remix was received especially well; the song has consistently been in the Spotify top 10 in various countries across MENA. For me, this has solidified an ardent belief that global hits will increasingly come from non-Anglo markets.
The song is also making in-roads in the U.S., reaching the top 40 of the Hot 100 this week. Why do you think it’s having such a big impact?
This is a global hit making in-roads around the world — including the U.S. — because it’s a brilliantly-produced track performed by an amazingly talented performer. It’s catchy in all the right ways and somehow seems to sync seamlessly with all kinds of content from sports — Manchester United has used it a few times on their social media — to fashion to just about any activity folks put up on the ‘gram. Significantly, we mobilized our affiliates around the world on this track — the whole company was moving in lockstep to deliver a hit in their respective territories, from India to France to the U.K. The result of that synchronized effort is clear.
Following the breakthrough of Wizkid’s “Essence” and now “Love Nwantiti,” Afrobeats seems to finally be gaining a stronghold around the world. Why do you feel that it’s happening now, and how can you build on that moving forward?
Of course I’m glad to see African music finally being talked about. But limiting that conversation to Afrobeats somewhat diminishes the breadth of genres you find across the continent and also doesn’t quite acknowledge that sounds from the African continent have inspired almost all genres of music across the world. I think what we’re seeing now is a resurgence of music from the continent because of the quality of the music and also because there is just more access to information and less gatekeepers, and a more concerted effort to break songs globally and ensure good music — from anywhere, really — cuts through the noise.
You’ve taken on your current position just in the past few months. What have been some of the challenges and successes you’ve experienced so far?
Well the obvious success has been the rise of “Love Nwantiti” and Ckay as an artist. I’m so excited to support his continued growth. The biggest challenge has been logistical: trying to get my visa, stepping in as MD of the business virtually and in the middle of a pandemic — the third wave hit South Africa at the end of June/July and was particularly devastating — and riots across the country. I definitely have had my work cut out for me. That being said, it has been an incredibly impactful learning experience for me thus far — I am building an amazing team with the brightest people who can stand shoulder to shoulder with the best in the world. I can’t wait to see what we accomplish together.
What do you think are some of the key areas you want to focus on to continue growing music from Africa around the planet?
My goal is to build a sustainable African media company developing and showcasing the best musical talent the continent has to offer. Our strategy will be thoughtful, taking into consideration the important cultural nuances across the continent. We will be measured yet innovative and never afraid to take smart, calculated risks.