Filmed on a human and solar-powered soccer field in Lagos, Nigeria, the music video for DJ Hardwerk and Akon‘s “Tell Me We’re Ok” isn’t the usual booze-and-beauties laden clip. Akon and DJ Hardwerk traveled to Nigeria’s largest city for the installation and celebration of the kinetic soccer field as part of Shell’s #MakeTheFuture initiative, which focuses on resolving the world’s energy issues. The uplifting “Tell Me We’re Ok” has garnered four million views on YouTube alone, giving the cause a large dose of much-needed attention. DJ Hardwerk spoke to Billboard to explain how “Tell Me We’re Ok” came together over the last two years.
How did this collaboration come about? How long was it in the works?
My manager Dada Mills introduced Akon and I a few years back and we’ve been working on records ever since. In this particular situation, a songwriter I work with a lot by the name of Mavelle sent me a song idea she wrote called “Tell Me We’re Ok.” I loved it the first time I heard it, so I started working on the production and a few weeks later my manager flew out to LA and basically told Akon he had no choice but to record it. Dada Mills is also the person that brought Akon and I together with Shell to launch this whole project.
It’s been about two and a half years since conception to release, and we’ve honestly been working on this record the entire time. We literally tried over a hundred different versions of this song across a few different genres until we felt we got it in a good space.
What were you aiming for musically as you created “Tell Me We’re Ok”?
My main goal for the record or any time I sit down to produce is to create a platform sonically to show off the song and artist in their best light. Whether it’s choosing the right sounds or just the right tempo, getting the message of the song out and presenting it to the listener in the way that speaks loudest is always the main objective. In this case it was about keeping the intimacy of the vocal performance but still making the music feel big and worldly.
What influences did you put into the song?
Influence wise you can hear a lot of island rhythms and Afrobeat. It was something we knew a few years ago that was gonna start becoming popular in music again, so we wanted to find a way to incorporate that early on.
What delighted you the most in Nigeria? What surprised you the most?
Obviously performing and getting to shoot a lot of the video out there with the kids was insane. The pretty African girls delighted me too, haha. The most surprising thing was how crazy the traffic was all the time. Lagos is like the African New York City. It took us over 4 hours to get to the airport that was only 30 minutes away. We started shooting the video in December of last year in Nigeria and finished post in April of this year.
The music video currently has over four million views — did you expect this reception from viewers?
Definitely not, so it’s a blessing to see the response it’s been getting, especially with the cause it’s attached to.
I read that you’re from Jamaica, and that your small-town background made it easy for you to relate to the issues of the people living in Nigeria and Akon’s native Senegal. Could you delve deeper into that?
Both of my parents are from Kingston, so I spent a lot of time there as a youth growing up. Lagos reminded me a lot of Kingston, just bigger. A lot of the issues that we face in Jamaica are the same issues that plague other third world countries, from poverty, to education, crime, energy, all that. When my manager brought me the opportunity to be a part of the #MakeTheFuture initiative with Shell, and I got to see what they were trying to do with reusable sustainable energy in the third world, it was a no brainer.
Do you, Akon, and Shell have anything planned in the future for this initiative?
You can expect a lot of new music from the two of us coming very soon. I’d love to see Shell’s #MakeTheFuture initiative and kinetic tile technology reach other third world countries and beyond in the near future. The applications are endless, and the technology is a game changer.
How can the viewers of “Tell Me We’re Ok” help out?
Hopefully people that watch the video will be inspired and take away the magnitude of the energy issues a lot of the world still faces in 2016. More importantly, the video shows something is being done about these issues and hopefully that will inspire others to join in and do the same. I hope that people over the world support the initiative by purchasing the single “Tell Me We’re Ok” and spreading the word about the song and the #MakeTheFuture initiative.