CKay: The Man Of The Hour

Noctis’ man of the hour is the mega-talented Emo-Afrobeats Maestro CKay, the alluring voice behind the song that took over our lives in 2021. ‘love nwantiti’ became a global sensation, changing CKay’s life, fast and furious. Celebrating the comeback of the Nigerian singer/songwriter with a two-single release, CKay chats to Noctis about the trajectory of his success, self-defining genres, and full-circle moments. 

Chukwuka Ekweani, known as CKay, has become a musical phenomenon with boundless creative expression and emotion-fuelled artistry. Learning more about his background, you realize it was a challenging road to success and countless milestones. A road that taught him lessons put things into perspective and ultimately confirmed CKay’s pure drive and passion for making music. 

As he begins the year with a banging two-single release, ‘MYSTERIOUS LOVE’ and ‘IS IT YOU?’ he wants to do more for his fans after he took some time off. “I decided to release two singles to give my fans a listening experience, not just a song,” CKay shares. 

“Professionally, I relearnt that taking my time to make art is very important. Personally, I relearnt the importance of family,” CKay opens up about new life lessons and realisations moving forward into the new year. ‘love nwantiti’ turned his life upside down in a blink of an eye. Not expecting the viral moment two years after the track’s initial release, CKay jumped straight on the road, promoting and performing for two years. 

The sudden stress of it all drove CKay into mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion, resulting in a much-needed break. Today, he is well-rested, patient, and ready to continue to build on his global stardom. But the question on everyone’s mind is, who was CKay before ‘love nwantiti’? 

Let’s start from the beginning. For kids, growing up, things we enjoy the most, our hobbies, and our passions may change quite often. For young CKay, his attention kept alternating between music and drawing. Feeling comfortable with both, he explains why he stuck with singing and songwriting in the end: “From a very young age, music was always the best way I could express myself. I used to draw really well and I loved it, but I later realized music helped me express myself much better. A song could capture my emotions and experiences in a way that a drawing couldn’t. My elder brother’s best friend, Emmanuel Sheshi, taught me the songwriting basics and how to make beats with FL Studio. Meeting him set my life on a trajectory that changed things forever”.

Growing up in a traditional Nigerian household, CKay faced constant disapproval and lack of support regarding his dream of pursuing a professional music career. Going with his gut, CKay moved out of his parents’ house at the age of 18, from Kaduna to Lagos: “My parents never saw music as a “real” career choice. My father was a doctor and my mom was a nurse, so they existed lightyears away from the entertainment world. To be fair, I wouldn’t put it past them because in their era there wasn’t much evidence to the contrary. Afrobeats wasn’t as sought after as it is now. But I saw something they didn’t, and I was stubborn enough to take a huge leap of faith, trusting that things would work out”. 

He adds: “Thankfully, things worked out, and they understand quite well now. Lagos is the entertainment hub of Nigeria, so to make things happen, I had to move out of Kaduna to go there”.

CKay matured into a full-fledged artist, with a clear direction and pure passion fuelling his every step. In regards to the genre he wanted to focus on, he went with what he knew the best. Today, CKay defines himself as an Emo-Afrobeats singer-songwriter and performer, a genre that is not mainstream and quite rare for radio listeners. He extends on the reasoning of blending his two favorite genres: “I used to rap, and I liked emo rock music (weird combo, I know). I wasn’t quite sure how that would work out, but I just liked it. Later on, I started to get more into my cultural heritage with highlife and traditional afrobeat. My appreciation for it grew, and later on, I discovered a way to fuse them to create Emo-Afrobeat”.

With this unique genre blend and seamlessly challenging music boundaries, CKay brought a fresh sound and enchanting energy that shook the world of music charts at its core. Released in 2019, ‘love nwantiti’ was originally released as a part of CKay’s debut EP, ‘CKay The First.’ Two years later, you could not escape ‘love nwantiti’ even if you tried. In 2021, CKay’s career went through an intense crash course for viral global superstars, reaching one milestone after another. 

To this date, ‘love nwantiti’ has amassed more than 807 million Spotify streams. As the streams were rising, CKay was becoming a household name and eventually was the most streamed artist of the year and the first African artist with two tracks simultaneously on the Global Spotify Top 30. ‘love nwantiti’ has been certified platinum/multi-platinum in five countries, including the United States, India and Italy. The viral hit has also been certified gold in the UK, Australia, South Africa, and New Zealand. 

The list of accomplishments goes on and on. ‘love nwantiti’ was the most Shazam-ed song in the world, and CKay became the first African artist in 50 years to hold a top 5 position on the UK Singles Chart for four straight weeks. CKay reacts to the overwhelming success and people’s love for the track: “It was really exciting. It was a dream come true and I am very grateful for it. DJ Yo & Ax’El’s remix did a lot as well as the remixes from Joeboy & Kuami Eugene, El Grande Toto, De La Ghetto, Rayvanny, Franglish and so on. Taking over the world was a combined effort”.

“When it became number 1 on the Global Shazam Charts and remained there for months, I knew it was a ‘situation,'” CKay reveals when he knew the track was shaping out to be an unstoppable force of nature. He continues by sharing the inspiration behind ‘love nwantiti’: “Simply put, I was in love, and I made a song describing how I felt. The relationship ended before I released the song. Before its release, I decided to send it to co-producer Tempoe to make additions to the drums”.

Not crumbling under the pressure of recording his debut album, CKay focused on creating authentic art based on personal experiences rather than appeasing critics and aiming for the top of the charts. “For me, making music is art first, commerce second. I created an album that reflected my state of mind at the time. Ironically, I haven’t been the luckiest with love. While my romances were occasionally happy, they were frequently punctuated by sadness. Therefore, my album, ‘Sad Romance,’ embodies this sentiment”.

‘Sad Romance (Deluxe Version)’ features hit tracks like ‘Nwayi,’ ‘capture my soul (feat. Joeboy),’ and ‘NNEKA (feat. Tekno).’ Everything from the themes to the production radiates with CKay’s signature Emo-Afrobeats energy. “It’s Afrobeat with a lot of emotional energy in it. My choice of chords, instruments and rhythms come together to give that energy. It’s very much Afrobeat music, but it’s not like the usual Afrobeat. It’s quite emotional, and these emotions aren’t always the happiest ones”, he says. 

On top of his solo music career, CKay made his mark also as a collaborator on many successful projects, such as the Grammy-nominated ‘Know Better’ on Janelle Monae’s ‘The Age of Pleasure’ and Olamide’s ‘Trumpet.’ CKay details how these initial connections came about into full-circle moments:

“I reached out to Olamide about four years earlier to produce for him and collaborate, but I guess the time wasn’t right for it to happen. I’ve always been a huge fan of his music. I was also a fan of Janelle Monae’s music for some time. I found her voice and overall creative energy enjoyable and inspiring. Years later, I happened to be working with Atlantic Records in the U.S., with whom she was also collaborating. This became the meeting point, and I recorded a verse on ‘Know Better,’ which also features Seun Kuti and Egypt 80. Working with her was a welcome opportunity, and I appreciated that. The album, ‘The Age of Pleasure,’ earned a GRAMMY nomination for ‘Album of the Year’ and ‘Best Progressive R&B Album.’ That was a significant milestone for me as a collaborator”, he says. 

Marking his comeback, CKay returns with not one track but a single release, ‘MYSTERIOUS LOVE’ and ‘IS IT YOU?’. CKay describes this new chapter will define the evolution of his sound: “MYSTERIOUS LOVE” and “IS IT YOU?” are Emo-Afrobeat fused with amapiano rhythms. It’s an evolution of my sound. It’s also an evolution of my love life as well. At the time I made the music, I had a lot of questions to ask. The music describes this in more detail.

To top it all off, CKay shows tremendous potential in other creative outlets such as fashion and beyond. He recently announced his collaboration with Ralph Lauren, becoming the brand’s first African face. CKay unveils more about how his fragrance Polo Oud launched with the global mogul: “I love perfumes a lot. Partnering with Ralph Lauren was a manifestation of that love. The new Polo Oud smells quite amazing, and I want Africa & the world to know that. We are working on a lot of things this year”. 

Stream ‘MYSTERIOUS LOVE’ and ‘IS IT YOU?’ now and get excited for more of CKay’s global takeover: “I’ve been in the studio a lot. I can’t wait for everyone to listen to the dope stuff I’ve been cooking”. 

Follow CKay On Instagram

Photographer: Pass The Lens

Words: Karolina Kramplova