Nigerian Singer Ruger is not just part of a cultural movement, he’s helping shape it

Original article written for Texx and the City, run by Tecla Coilfi

There’s no denying that in the last five years, Afrobeats and its many subgenres have pretty much exploded all around the world. Burna Boy, Tems, Wizkid, Davido, Fireboy DML – these are just a few of the African artists that have made an indelible mark.

Because of this explosion young talent is being fostered with remarkable speed. People are looking to Africa for the answers to music’s next generation of superstars, and our latest export goes by the name of Ruger – a 22-year-old Nigerian beatmaker and songwriter who, over the past year alone, has blossomed into a somewhat formidable figure on the scene, pushing a fresh blend of Afropop, dance and soul.

Ruger’s career took off early last year with the release of his debut EP Pandemic, after inking distribution deals with Columbia Records and Sony Music, and signing with D’Prince’s JOZING WORLD’S label. Since then he has amassed over 60 million streams worldwide, with his breakout track “Bounce” amassing over 28 million streams alone. He also opened for Burna Boy at his O2 show in London and was featured in Vogue’s 22 Musicians Set To Rule 2022. Not bad for a year-and-a-bit in the game.

“To whom much is given, much is expected,” he tells me over a Zoom call. “I never knew what this kind of success would feel like, but it’s only encouraging me to do more, and to be better.”

He happens to be in Cape Town shooting the music video for his latest track “Dior”. Ciara fans might recognise it from a recent post she shared on Instagram, vibing to the single on a sun-kissed beach, to which Ruger adds, “That was amazing to see. It’s a big treasure to know that your music is travelling and breaking borders, because that’s ultimately my biggest goal.”

It’s a silky rendition of Nigerian Afropop, with bright melodies, enthralling groove, and a chorus line so fresh and well-structured, it’s joyful. “I could have filmed in Paris or Italy, but why would I?” he tells me of the soon-to-be released video. “We’ve got beauty here in Africa, we don’t need to go to Europe or America. We’re living the same life of luxury and happiness, and I wanted to show that.”

Surrounded by music growing up, and participating in his school choir, Ruger has always lived by his craft. “I think being around it all the time had a subconscious effect on me,” he says, continuing, “I love listening to music, not just making it, but sometimes it can be a vice. It can make you feel negative things. But I use it to my advantage. I choose to let it affect me positively, and I put that into the songs I write.”

Still, dealing with his new-found success has its ups and downs. “I think the advice I’d give my younger self would be to keep my eyes open more, and to anticipate challenges. Even if I do only have one eye,” he laughingly adds. “You can’t control the situations you find yourself in,” he continues, but you can control your reaction to them, and that’s how I deal with the pressure of this industry.”

To have touched so many people in such a short space of time is a testament to Ruger’s natural talent. Even as he’s speaking to me, he’s doing it rhythmically, moving to the beat of his own words. In fact, it’s more than that. His music is enriched by a cultural history of music-making that long precedes Afrobeat’s sudden rise to prominence.

“Music is in our blood. The music we make, the music we’ve always made, it’s real music man,” he says, adding, “Nigeria’s music scene isn’t just a local one anymore. We have a sound that the rest of the world wants to tap in to, and this is just the start. In two, three years, I’m confident that African music will be as big as in places like the US or the UK.”

Ruger is not just part of a cultural movement, he’s helping to shape it, and I think that’s the biggest takeaway here. “It wasn’t always easy for African artists to be recognized on a global scale,” he tells me, “but I’m here and I’m grateful for it every day.”

Speaking to Ruger, I realize that this has been a long time coming for Africa. What Afrobeats means to its people is far more valuable than its global recognition. It’s part of a vast cultural practice that African artists have modernized in the last few years, and what we’re witnessing now is the next step in its expansion. And while Ruger may not be at the forefront of all this yet, he will be soon.

Read more FAME Music here

FAME Week Africa

FAME Week Africa

FWA Connect bringing the Film, Arts, Media and Entertainment sector together by providing creative industry professionals on the African continent with news, trends and in-depth articles.

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