Love Nwantiti is Ckay’s [Chukwaka Ekwani] first global hit. The two-year-old song featured on his debut project, “Ckay the first”. The Afrobeat record was #1 on the global Spotify Viral Chart, #1 on the global Shazam chart, and it hit over 46 million streams on Spotify. It also notched the top 20 in the sales charts in 12 countries including France and the United Kingdom. Ckay also debuted on the Billboard U.S. charts and the Billboard Global 200 charts #21 and #30, respectively. This is no mean feat for an African artist.
The success of the record was ignited by two events. The first is that last year, producer and mogul P.Diddy hosted an Instagram Live, and supermodel Winnie Harlow requested him to play the song. Afterward, the track was featured on Diddy’s TeamLove.com Danceathon to raise relief funds for people affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The second event that caused the song to become a massive hit was when a Mauritian DJ illegally uploaded the song into a mix. As a result, the song became Shazammed and that translated into more and more streams.
“Love Nwantiti” translated means, “Love a little bit.” The song was inspired by his girlfriend, and he freestyled most of it and so, it’s no wonder that the authenticity of the message shines through and people responded to that.
“I put my emotion into my music. Art is all about expressing yourself and that’s why I make music. Music is my diary and sometimes when I’m making music, I’m reliving moments or having those conversations again. Love Nwantiti came from a real place and it’s the emotion that makes that record different and special,” says Ckay.
Ckay grew up in Kaduna State, Nigeria with a strong musical background. His father was an organist in a choir. By the time he was 13, he had taught himself how to play different instruments and began writing his own music.
Talking about discovering his musical voice, the 26-year-old says, “I grew up listening to my dad play the piano in the house every day. He would practice and I would listen. Sometimes I would sing hymns and all that while he was playing. I never had an interest in joining the choir, I just felt like I didn’t want to be in a group of people singing but I loved music. I learned how to play the piano from my dad and I taught myself how to play the guitar. I got to the point where I wanted to compose my own songs because I felt like I had a story to tell. That’s when I started to explore different kinds of music.”
In his late teens, Ckay made a very bold move. Assured in his decision to pursue music as a career, he decided to drop out of school. This created a contentious relationship with his parents – they wanted him to finish school and go to university.
“I was a straight-A student in school so my parents didn’t understand why I wanted to focus on music because they felt like I could do anything, but I just wasn’t interested. Music is what I’m good at it. My parents and I did not see eye-to-eye about it so had to make a decision for myself. I wasn’t going to be 40 or 50 years old regretting the choices I made when I was younger because of what my parents said,” explains Ckay. “I just followed my heart and for me, school was just not my route. I only wanted to pursue music.”
In 2014, Ckay bravely left home and moved to Lagos. He didn’t have family there, so he lived with a friend and survived on the money he saved while he was in his hometown. He immediately hit the ground running, networking and producing music for other people. But he was still determined to carve out his own lane as a musician.
He released his first single, “Container” under the Chocolate City imprint by 2017. However, it wouldn’t be for another two years before he unveiled his first project. This was due to several challenges he encountered, for instance not being taken seriously as a musician because he was mainly thought of as a producer first.
Yet, he admits that his career is better off for it and that his hard work has paid off. The relationship with his parents is also in a better place. They see the work he’s done and is now supportive of his endeavours.
“We’re good now. My parents are very cool and it’s so funny because after I went back home a couple of months after [moving to Lagos] and explained myself to them, they were more accepting. They knew music was what I had to do. Shoutout to them for understanding.” There’s no doubt that Ckay’s passion has paid off and it’s onwards and upwards from here.
Words | Lee Nxumalo @LeeNxumalo
Editor | Nikki Temkin @NikkiTemkin
Images | Walter Banks