From her international breakout on the chart-topping Essence with Wizkid and Justin Bieber, to covering Bob Marley’s No Woman, No Cry for the Black Panther: Wakanda Forever teaser, Nigerian artist Tems is making a case for being the African star to watch this year.
Tems is one of three artists on a three-song EP titled Wakanda Forever Prologue released by Marvel Studios on July 25. The movie will hit US cinemas on Nov. 11 but the songs are already available on streaming platforms. Since her song is the one used in the official two-minute teaser, Tems’s haunting vocals are serving as the background for the public’s expectations for the new Black Panther.
By its high-tech portrayal of an Afrofuturist city inspired by real-life African civilization and African culture, the first Black Panther film in 2018 made a lasting impression on Black culture. Among other things, the Wakanda Forever salute briefly became a way of acknowledging Black excellence.
But while the first film’s shiny computer generated imagery helped elevate popular imaginations of what an uncolonized Africa could have become, it created an urgency for sophisticated African art as it exists today to reach more parts of the world. Accompanying the sequel with songs by two young African artists (Ghanaian artist Amaarae has A Body, A Coffin on the EP) feels like a step in that direction.
The songs are built around the Black Panther sequel, a story about protecting Wakanda from an invasion after the death of King T’Challa. “This Prologue is an aural first glimpse of Wakanda Forever. The sound world for the film began with extended trips to Mexico and Nigeria,” Ryan Coogler, the Black Panther movie director, and Ludwig Göransson, the EP’s producer, said in a statement. “We spent our days working with traditional musicians who educated us about the cultural, social and historical contexts of their music.”
“During the nights on these trips, we had recording sessions with contemporary artists who were akin to the characters and thematic material explored in the film,” Coogler and Göransson said, high praise for Tems and her co-stars on the musical side of the Black Panther project.
Tems’s version of No Woman, No Cry is now ranking in the top 10 of the US iTunes chart, but the 27-year-old’s global popularity is rising for other work she has done outside of Marvel’s highly anticipated movie.
On Beyonce’s forthcoming album Renaissance, Tems is credited (with her full name Temilade Openiyi) as a composer on Move, the 10th track on the album. Vibe Out, a song from Tems’s 2021 EP, is on Barack Obama’s 2022 summer playlist, alongside songs from Beyonce, Burna Boy, and Kendrick Lamar.
All this for an artist who quit a digital marketing job for a career in music four years ago. Today, she is a BET award winner in the Best International Act category, whose rise could help further diversify perceptions of African music globally.