Watch Burna Boy’s Smoke – Is He Becoming Legendary?
Besides the money and the regional fame, what is next on the topmost wish list of any performing musician from Nigeria? Do they aim for their songs to be sung aloud globally while they tour around the world performing for huge audiences across various continents, and as well attempt to win the Grammys – the most coveted award prize in world music? Burna Boy’s unbelievable career has provided the answer to this question. Even though some folks are not giving him the plaudits he deserves because they allegedly think he’s being boastful. But seriously, which legend of the music industry wasn’t? Fela and 2pac always allude to the fact that they were the best at what they do and that they created their good luck. Burna is in the same shoes, and he continues to soar to great heights.
On the hours leading up to the late-night on the 26th of January, the time the 2020 Grammy Awards was held, it couldn’t be out of place for me to imagine that Burna Boy could have had cold feet. The same could be said of the minutes leading up to the Brit Awards held on the 18th of February 2020. Nominated for “Best World Music Album” at the Grammy Awards, and ‘Best International Male Solo Artist’ category at the Brit Awards, although he did not win any of the two, however, just for being nominated for both in the same year, he accomplished what no other Nigerian artists have ever achieved in the history of the music industry. As I sit to think through such an honorable feat, I can’t stop encouraging everyone to watch Burna’s smoke. Is he becoming legendary?
In the past few months, consistently, Burna has been performing across the globe. From Abidjan, Tanzania, Accra, Mombasa, Lagos, Manchester, Paris to Vienna, then Istanbul amongst several places he has been playing shows and fans screaming his name with excitement at the top of their lungs, Burna Boy’s music is slowly and gradually attaining legendary status without forcing it. While most of his peers are scheming antics to become trending news on twitter, Burna’s works are paving the way for his rise. Brick by brick, he has built a reputation for himself doing things in his way without selling out or watering down his brand. In an industry where most artists have routinely struggled to release hit singles that resonate locally, but Burna has countless smash hits all over the music charts.
If we consider the fact that some top-rated musicians do not have an acclaimed music album, while Burna has released more crossover sold-out albums, there’s no one to dispute the reason why he’s been tagged as one of the best in Africa as of now. From the year 2012 to date, he has churned out more award-winning hit records than most of his peers. In an industry flawed with mediocrity, how did Burna boy develop the strength to create his unique sound and resist the temptation to not join the crowd? How did Burna become one of the African artists that have appeared the most on some of the most respected radio and TV music shows in the world? From being on Crack Magazine cover to his GQ Magazine feature, Burna’s editorials have made the news all over the world as a global superstar.
What is so special about Burna Boy music? There are just so many different angles to Burna Boy that makes him an extraordinary artist. All across the international music corridors, pundits and fans alike will agree that Burna leads in the list of the most outstanding artists of this generation. If we judge by the number of hit songs he published in the last eight years, he’s the undisputed “African Giant”. Ironically, that stands as the title of his most recent album ( with tracks like Anybody, Dangote, Killin Dem, Another story, Gbona and On the Low) that got him the Grammy and the Brit Awards nominations – the body of work jointly released in Nigeria as well as in the international music market. Burna’s album contains freakish music serenaded in African sound and tale.
If we put into consideration Burna’s social commentary in songs like Another Story, coupled with dance tracks like Killin Dem, this positions him as a rare breed. Burna’s music, a mixture of hip-hop, highlife and reggae delivered in English, Pidgin English and Yoruba language has produced some of the best sounds that have dominated playlists all over the world including that of former President Barack Obama – Burna’s ‘Anybody’ landed on the 44’s spot of his favorite songs of 2019. In France, Burna’s track ‘On The Low’ was certified as Gold. Burna’s music has had over 600 million streams. If we add that to the fact that alongside Ed Sheeran, he was a featured artist on Stormzy’s Own It, that is no mean feat.
What is Burna’s global acceptance that led to his Grammy Nomination do for young artists? To some fans, Burna not winning the Grammy Awards remains the elephant in the room. That said, the idea of him being nominated is the most disruptive breakthrough that happened in favor of the new generation of Nigerian musicians. Outside the artiste, King Sunny Ade’s Grammy Nomination in 1984 and 1999, Femi and Seun Kuti, both from the dynasty of Fela, are the only two that have so far received the Grammy nod. But Burna Boy is the first from the new class of Afro-pop / Afrobeats generation to receive a Grammy nomination. Like breaking the glass ceiling, this will give massive encouragement to every young artist to reach for the most prized honor in world music. According to Lemi Ghariokwu, the artist that designed over twenty album covers for Fela, “Burna Being nominated for the Grammy Awards is very significant. It’s incredible for a homegrown artist to make such a mark. It’s an indication of how great his music has become. He has made inroads all over the world”.
But come to think of it, what are the elements that contributed to the suggestion of Burna becoming legendary like the greats in the Nigerian music industry? Looking through the prism of his international exploits, which makes him the freshest smoking hot artist from Africa, they are two significant attributes of his synonymous with the three previous superstars Nigerian homegrown artists ever nominated for the Grammys. The first is their blend of original Nigerian African musical sound they individually created. From King Sunny Ade’s evergreen Juju music strapped with exceptional guitar solos to Femi and Seun Kuti’s Afrobeat vibe rooted in blazing trumpet horns never before heard to now Burna Boy’s lyrical juxtaposition that provides sound reminiscent of reggae, pop and Afrobeat tune mashed up together in faultless precision appealing to millions of audience all over the world. These are some of the reasons why Burna fits the bill of being legendary.
The second attribute that connects them is the fact that they all signed international recording contracts for all the works that got them plaudits and Grammy nominations. KSA album “Syncro System” nominated for the Grammy in 1984 was the second album he released while signed to Island Records. With his signature on the books of Mesa / Atlantic Records, his album “Odu” got a Grammy Award nod in 1999. Femi Kuti, from 2003 to 2013/2014 when he got his four Grammy Awards nominations for the album “Fight To Win”, “Day By Day”, “No Place For My Dream” and “Africa For Africa”, within those periods, he had a recording deal with Wrasse Records and Knitting Factory Records. Seun Kuti also released his 2018 Grammy awards-nominated album “Black Times” while signed to Strut Records. Also, Burna Boy‘s widespread recognition began to surge from the moment he signed a recording contract with Bad Habit / Atlantic Records / Warner Music Group in 2017. His last two acclaimed albums “Outside“(2018) and the recent Grammy Nominated “African Giant“(2019) were both released under those contracts.
Burna Boy’s hits record tells his legendary tale. In terms of discography, within 2015 to date, Damini Ebunoluwa Ogulu a.k.a Burna Boy has released four successful albums namely, “L.I.F.E – 2013”, “On A Space Ship – (2015), “Outside” – (2018) and “African Giant” – (2019). He also released two mixtapes. With over fifteen hit songs in those albums, despite the artist’s uncontrollable mannerism, we can all agree that, as of today, he’s one of the most consistent and creative Nigerian artists. With each passing day, Burna’s record as a fantastic songwriter and performer continues to make headline news globally. In a rising crescendo, millions of fans have sung along to Burna’s music at concerts all over the globe. “Watching some of the foreign concerts that Burna has performed at, the way the crowd sang along with him is just unthinkable. If I am not mistaken, I was watching a concert crowd somewhere in Germany singing to his most recent song Odogwu – it was heartwarming. I hope several people will rally around to applaud him for all his accomplishments. But I guess that will hardly happen. There’s just too much envy in the system. We hardly appreciate our own” – Lemi Ghariokwu
If the recent Coronavirus pandemic is halted, Burna’s expected performance at the Broccoli City Festival on the 9th of May, his concert in Atlanta on the 7th of May, Los Angelis on the 13th of May, San Francisco on the 16th Of May, Seattle on the 18th of May, Denver on the 20th of May, Indianapolis on the 23rd of May, and Boston on the 28th of May will be telling of how he has transformed into a global superstar. As everything continues to unfold, if there’s ever going to be a record of achievements in the music industry that will need to be broken, arguably, it’s going to be the one Burna boy is presently creating. His rise from the street of Port Harcourt city into the pinnacle of stardom is unprecedented. To imagine that his ascension just began is scary. The level he will attain might be hard to replicate by any other artist.
Every generation will have their music superstars notwithstanding the economic and technological incentive, but the yardstick for measuring how successful those artists were or will become will remain the same – how impactful was their music and how far and wide it conquers charts globally. Burna’s achievement seems to be surpassing every record once created by all the greats. How further he will take it is yet unknown, but there is no doubt that his legend will read like a blockbuster movie. Watch Burna’s smoke – as in watching his accomplishments, is he becoming legendary?
In 2014 when I walk into the studio of Photographer August Udoh where he shot this cover Image for me as part of the photos I use for a cover story on Burna titled the Curious Case Of Burna Boy, as the first music magazine that had him on the cover, we knew he would become legendary. And we are right to date.
Words by Sesan Adeniji – Follow on Instagram & Twitter – @sesanadeniji