“London is the first place to rock with me outside of Africa,” declares Rema as he takes to the mic at Brixton’s O2 Academy for the first of two sold-out shows in the capital. Bedecked in a tracksuit and expensive-looking chain, the 22-year-old artist – born Divine Ikubor – has just appeared from the inside of a red telephone box, as if there were ever a more fitting introduction for the opening night of his first-ever UK tour.
Backed by a full live band and a DJ doubling as Rema’s hypeman, the Lagos-born singer and rapper looks and sounds at home when he bounces to the front of the stage gripping a bouquet of roses in a nod to his recent debut album, ‘Rave & Roses’. Released in March, the record picked up an ever-increasing international audience after a Selena Gomez remix of its vibrant lead single ‘Calm Down’ hit the charts across the UK, Europe and US.
Rema makes it known that tonight isn’t just your standard gig. “It’s a fucking rave, so lose your manners,” he shouts before launching into the melodic ‘Ginger Me’, a playful cut that evolves into a huge anthem on stage when paired with the surf-licked strings of his guitarist. Behind him, the set opens up with a near-to-scale house, which acts simultaneously as the central symbol of his latest record, and a tribute to his hometown.
“Is anyone from Nigeria in the building?” asks Rema, a question that receives a rapturous reaction from the audience. It speaks to the recurring theme of unity that defines the night: when he spots a large Nigerian flag in the crowd later on, he stops to give his love to those waving it. There are also many affecting moments of sincerity to be found amongst Rema’s proud energy and bravado: “I felt pain when I lost my father / I felt pain when I lost my brother,” he croons under a single spotlight on soulful ‘Divine’, an affecting track that sees him pay tribute to his late relatives.
‘Bounce’ gets a high-energy, punk-influenced makeover from Rema’s band, and turns the room into a celebratory dance party, before a crew member jumps on stage to present Rema with a platinum plaque. “One billion global streams,” his DJ pronounces as he breaks into global smash ‘Calm Down’ – certainly a milestone achievement deserving of its uproar from fans.