Nigeria’s Burna Boy was born Damini Ebunoluwa Ogulu. He’s connected with Nigerian musical royalty – his grandfather once managed Afrobeat legend Fela Kuti. His star is clearly on the rise; he’s guested on a UK number one hit for Stormzy, while African Giant was nominated for a Best World Music Album Grammy.
Although Burna Boy dislikes the term, his music is referred to as Afrobeats (distinct from Afrobeat) – modern African pop music that fuses elements of reggae, R&B, hip hop, western pop,as well as the Afrobeat of the previous generation. Burna Boy is a proficient singer and rapper, and also throws in some political narration:
Actually, there’s one additional detail that bears mentioning
In order to take over the territories from the Niger Company
The British Government paid eight hundred and sixty-five thousand pounds
A huge amount in 1900
So let’s establish a simple truth
The British didn’t travel halfway across the world just to spread democracy
Nigeria started off as a business deal for them
Between a company and a government
I’ve only covered Burna Boy’s 2019 and 2020 records for now, but I’m planning to come back and cover his three earlier albums.
Burna Boy Album Reviews
2013, not yet rated
The title stands for Leaving an Impact for Eternity. After a couple of mixtapes, Burna Boy’s debut album was an instant success, selling 40,000 copies on the day of release.
On A Spaceship
2015, not yet rated
Burna Boy’s second album was his first on his own record label, Spaceship Entertainment.
2018, not yet rated
Burna Boy describes his third album as a mixtape. It features cameos from Lily Allen and J Hus.
The title African Giant refers to Burna Boy’s displeasure at his billing for the 2019 Coachella festival. On his Instagram account he pronounced; “I really appreciate you. But I don’t appreciate the way my name is written so small in your bill. I am an AFRICAN GIANT and will not be reduced to whatever that tiny writing means. Fix tings quick please.”
Much of African Giant was recorded in a Lagos hotel room with producer Kel P. Burna Boy’s songs are straightforward, but his delivery is charismatic and he covers a lot of stylistic ground over the nineteen tracks of African Giant. There’s plenty of Nigerian musical tradition on African Giant – African guitar is often prominent on songs like ‘Collateral Damage’. The most acclaimed track, ‘Anybody’, recalls Fela Kuti with its horn stabs and Afrobeat feel.
If ‘Anybody’ is the best song on African Giant, there are highlights all over the place. ‘Dangote’ is about the Nigerian billionaire businessman with interests in cement and sugar, while Nigerian singer Zlatan guests on the terse ‘Killing Dem’.
It’s entirely possible that this seemingly exotic blend of music sounds utterly mainstream in Nigeria. Nevertheless I’m happy to support Burna Boy’s claims that he is indeed an African Giant.
Twice As Tall
Burma Boy’s African Giant was one of my favourite records from last year. It’s a tough act to follow, but the title of Twice is Tall maintains the bravado. It’s a bigger budget record, produced by Diddy and featuring a long list of guest artists. In places Burna Boy’s Nigerian identity is subsumed under the more mainstream approach – this is surely the first record where Pat Boone, Naughty By Nature, Chris Martin, and Youssou N’Dour share album space – but there are enough great moments here to make it a worthy follow-up.
While some of the collaborations drag, there’s plenty of vibrant Afro-fusion on Twice as Tall. It helps that Burna Boy’s voice is so warm and supple – I’d happily listen to him sing the phone book. The songs that stay the closest to Burna Boy’s African heritage, like ‘Wonderful’ and ‘Onyeka (Baby)’, are the most irresistible – placed around a third of the way through Twice as Tall, they reinvigorate it after a sluggish start.
Of the collaborative material, the opener ‘Level Up (Twice As Tall)’ works despite featuring Youssou N’Dour and a sample of Pat Boone. The collaborations with Chris Martin (on ‘Monsters You Made’) and Stormzy (on ‘Real Life’) are less convincing.
Twice as Tall feels like a bare-faced bid for global superstardom – deserved, but the crossover attempts aren’t as effortlessly sincere as the African-flavoured material.
Ten Best Burna Boy Songs
Back to 2010s Album Reviews….