24 Apr African Icons: Burna Boy, the artist the world crossed over for
It has been less than a year and Burna Boy has released 10 music videos, performed in 200 cities around the world, and had his music streamed over 600 million times. His arrival to the world stage is nothing short of legendary, given the current times of the music industry.
In the process, he received the nod from hip-hop royalty, the music mogul Sean “Diddy” Combs himself, garnering an invite to a virtual tête-à-tête when Diddy hosted an at-home dance-a-thon on Instagram Live, raising money for corona virus relief. Burna Boy starred in a conversation about life in Nigeria under lockdown, then got down to a dance-off battle with Diddy to the Afrobeats singer’s hits “Odogwu” and “Killin’ Dem”. Burna Boy would of course represent Afrika with his famous “gbese” and zanku legwork. In the digital universe, it was a defining event.
To recognize this moment is to acknowledge the indomitable presence Afrobeats has in global culture. It is so pervasive on Hip-Hop radio stations that it is one of the de facto sounds of the contemporary genre, drives sell out live tours and has solidified its urban relevance as an experience in the clubs and streets. Indicative of his nom de plume, Burna Boy is fueling this flame.
African artists are supreme story tellers and Burna Boy is no different. Similar to and inspired by iconic Nigerian artist Fela Kuti, Burna weaves tales of police brutality & wealth inequality, deconstructs Nigeria’s complicated colonial history and keenly observes it through the lens of its everyday struggles, government corruption and a complicated relationship with the idealism of democracy, all cozying up to party bangers celebrating life and hustling. It is undiluted.
He fosters a narrative so authentic in its identity, singing primarily in pidgin English and Yoruba. Whether this makes his music fully graspable to those who live outside of Africa, is not his concern. It is a certain audacity, almost a cultural swag, fully embraced by the world, championing a patois which originates from what was once referred to as “the dark continent”. And in doing that, Burna Boy shrugs off the fascination of “the exotic” and is the artist the world crossed over for.