In 2017, Afropop artist Joeboy posted an Instagram video of himself covering Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You.” His friend sent it to fellow Nigerian singer Mr Eazi, who immediately DM’d Joeboy — he wanted to help the new artist break through.
A year later, Mr Eazi created a talent incubator for emerging African artists, called emPawa Africa — a full-service company offering marketing, distribution, publishing, label and management services. He also launched #emPawa100, a funding and mentorship program, and encouraged Joeboy to sign up. “Joeboy embodies my vision for emPawa,” says Mr Eazi. “He’s an African creative entrepreneur, hands-on and looking to enhance his music.”
Joeboy, 22, followed Mr Eazi’s advice, becoming one of 10,000 applicants from 14 countries. As part of the program, he was the first of 100 recipients to earn a share of a $300,000 grant aimed at helping a new generation of African artists find mainstream success. Born Joseph Akinfenwa-Donus, Joeboy used his $3,000 to shoot his “Faaji” music video; within a month, he became one of 10 acts selected for a mentorship boot camp in South Africa, and one of two artists given an additional $50,000 in funding.
Before entering #emPawa100, Joeboy, who studied human resources at the University of Lagos, had only sung in social media clips, despite growing up in a musical family — his father played the keyboard at church, his brother guitar, and his sister sang in the choir. “I was the only one who didn’t play an instrument or take part,” he says. “It seeped into me subconsciously.”
In March, Joeboy released the easy-listening love song “Baby,” which reached the top 10 of Apple Music’s charts in Nigeria, Uganda and Kenya. Follow-up track “Beginning,” which Beats 1 host Ebro featured in his Discovered segment, hit No. 1 on Apple Music in Nigeria and Uganda. Both tracks are still in the top 10 in Uganda, Ghana, Kenya and Nigeria.
In November, Joeboy will release his first EP on emPawa, Love & Light, before touring Europe and the United States in 2020. “I’m all about spreading light and positivity,” he says. “That’s what I want to keep sharing.”
This article originally appeared in the Nov. 2 issue of Billboard.