Last year, it was reported that Burna Boy’s “African Giant” had been nominated for Best World Music Album at the upcoming 62nd Annual Grammy Awards, making him the fifth Nigerian artist to be nominated for the prestigious award. It was good news for music lovers as some believed that the nomination should have come earlier while others were of the opinion that Burna Boy’s “African Giant” does not deserve to be nominated in the category, which has been graced by some of Africa and Nigeria’s finest. African Giant, the artist's fourth album and ninth body of work stand out in terms of the message the album passes across in the sense that the album shows the alien listener what happens in Africa and what to expect in the continent. Songs like “Another Story” and “Collateral Damage” show the history of Nigeria and the events in the country, all this seriousness of purpose is carried along by a relentless groove and pleasant instrumentals. The album houses Afro-beat, Afro-pop, Reggae, RnB, Hip-Hop and other genres making it a very versatile project that needs to be commended. The body of work features guest appearances from Zlatan Ibile, Jorja Smith, Jeremih, Serani, Manifest, Damian Marley, Angelique Kidjo and others. It won Album of the Year at the 2019 All Africa Music Awards and is currently getting good reviews from music critics.
The album's title was derived from Burna Boy's infamous outburst at Coachella organizers regarding the placement of his name in a small font stating that he is an “African Giant” and should be given due respect. This got a lot of mixed reactions from Nigerians who labelled him “proud” and “ungrateful”. However, the artist stated that he did not call out Coachella for his own personal gratification but so that they will respect Africans and hopefully those coming after him will not have to strain their eyes before they find out they are billed to perform at the event. According to him, his goal right from the beginning is to “make Africa one”.
Burna Boy’s “African Giant” shows his growth since his first album “L. I. F. E.” (Leaving an Impact for Eternity) which was released in 2013 under his former label, Aristokrat Records. In an interview, he said, “I have always been too heavy for an elevator”. He believes that they are steps and levels one has to endure before getting to the top, in the case where these steps are bypassed and one just elevates to the top such a person might not be able to tell how he got there and when there is a fall its back to the beginning as opposed to the person who took the steps and learnt the ropes, the person that took the steps and learnt the ropes can hence be described as “more owner than the owner” of the top according to Burna Boy.
Following the success of his single “Ye” and his album “Outside” which was taken into consideration for a Grammy by the Recording Academy in 2018, Burna Boy has increased his fanbase and amassed a new fanbase with some people thinking he is a new artist on the block, this he debunks in “Gbona”, a track off the “African Giant” project where he says “you suppose to know say me no be newcomer”. He has also started getting more nominations by award organizers as opposed to before when he claims he was robbed. In 2019, his most productive year, he got several nominations; four at the Soundcity MVP Awards, ten at the Headies Awards, setting a record for the most nominations in one night and clinching the award for Best Artist, one at the MTV Europe Music Awards, seven at the Africa Music Magazine Awards, two at the All Africa Music Awards and most of all, the award for Best International Act at the BET Awards. On October 7, 2018, Burna Boy performed before a sold-out crowd at London's O2 Academy Brixton. A day prior to the show, he held a pop-up event at Red by Little Farm and sold limited boxes of his Space Puffs cereal, as well as custom notepads, lighters and graphic tee-shirts. On October 9, 2018, Burna Boy was announced as one of Spotify's New Afro Hub Takeover Artistes. The announcement coincided with him being named YouTube's Artist on the Rise for 3 months. On 3 January 2019, he was announced alongside Mr Eazi as one of the artists performing at the 2019 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. On 21 March 2019, Burna Boy released a 4-track collaborative EP with Los Angeles-based electronic duo DJDS, titled Steel & Copper. In June, he recorded "Ja Ara E" (Yoruba: "wise up" or "use your head") for Beyoncé's “The Lion King: The Gift” and was the only guest artist with their own track on the album, an album which was nominated in the Best Pop Vocal Album, Best Compilation Soundtrack for Visual Media and Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media categories at the Grammy Awards. Burna Boy also recorded "My Money, My Baby", a track that appeared on Queen & Slim's soundtrack album. "My Money, My Baby" contains a sample of Fela Kuti's 1972 song "Shakara". “Killin Dem”, a song off the “African Giant” album was featured on GTA 5’s new radio station, iFruit Radio’s 27 track playlist alongside Naira Marley’s “Opotoyi (Marlians)”, J Hus’s “Must Be”, Da Baby’s “Bop” and other songs included in the project. He was also featured on other foreign and local projects last year such as Dave’s “Location” off the Psychodrama album, Stormzy’s “Own it” alongside Ed Sheeran, Mahalia’s “Simmer”, Zlatan Ibile’s “Gbeku” off the “Zanku to the World” album, Dj Snake’s “No Option”, Show Dem Camp’s “True Story” off the “Palm Wine Express” album and others.
It is highly evident that in a short period of time Burna Boy is reaping the fruits of being different in a music industry that consists majorly of afro-pop. He has been able to carve a niche for himself through his style, which he describes as “Afro-fusion”. In an interview, he uses a pizza to explain afro-fusion, he says that “Afro-beat” is the dough and there is a variety of things you can add to the dough to get the type of pizza you want, you can have pepperoni pizza, you can have cheese pizza or other kinds. This means that “Afro-beat” is the base then you can add anything to it and you’ll get the sound you desire thus making it a fusion of “afro-beat” and the other sound(s). The way Burna Boy jumps from one genre to another genre on tracks so effortlessly leaves the listener in awe. The difference between his tracks makes it impossible to put the Port-Harcourt born singer in a box. This can be attributed to the fact that as he was growing he travelled a lot, moving from Port-Harcourt to Lagos to the UK. Burna boy took the music of these places and formed his own musical orchestra which he calls “Afro-fusion”. Another factor that cannot be overlooked is the availability of music to the 28-year-old. His grandfather Benson Idonije, who is his musical director was a popular music critic and Fela Kuti’s manager at a time, so he had a lot of music ranging from Fela’s “Afrobeat”, Miles Davis’s “Jazz” in his house where Burna Boy frequently spent his holidays in his secondary school days. This explains why he has been able to give us the “Afro-beat” groove of Fela Kuti at the same time fusing it with other styles of music. Burna Boy, also an ardent fan of American rappers DMX, Naughty by Nature, Big Pun, said in an interview, that he originally wanted to be a rapper due to the strong influence Hip-Hop had on him, in another interview he said: “I could literally spit Big Pun”. Accruing to the love he has for rap music, he featured YG and Future on “This Side” and “Show and Tell” respectively on his “African Giant” album. He said that he wanted late rapper Nipsey Hussle on “This Side” with YG but couldn’t get him due to the cold hands of death. In an interview with The Breakfast Club, he wore a T-Shirt with Nipsey’s picture on it, he was asked what he felt about the Eritrean born rapper and he said that “he represented what a real man should be”. The artists love for jewellery and tattoos is not hard to notice as he always has chains on his neck, rings on his fingers and ears, a popular one which he normally wears is the pendant of Fela Kuti with his two hands to the air. According to him, his tattoos have meanings and they show his journey through life. On his right hand he tattooed, “Psalm 38”, when asked about this he said, “I was just in a dark place and this was a psalm that kinda felt like I wrote it at the time”, the back of his palm is tattooed, “ROCKSTAR” which he got after his third American tour, on his fingers he tattooed, “GOD’S LOVE” which he describes as “the fuel of the earth”, on his wrist, he has his family members names then underneath a bleeding heart that still shines which he uses to explain that “something might be shining but it still bleeds”, then on top close to the “PSALM 38” a tattoo of his debut album “L. I. F. E”(Leaving an Impact for Eternity), then on top of it a tattoo of the National Coat of Arms, then “OMO NAIJA”(meaning Child of Nigeria) on the top of the Coat of Arms, on his left hand he tattooed, “FELA ANIKULAPO KUTI” which he describes as his “hero” and “the best musician that ever lived”, on the top of that, he has the logo of Aristokrat Records, his first record label. Then finally on his belly “GUMBO”, his best friend who is late, of which he sang “Mandem Anthem” and “If People Must Die” in memory of. He said that all the tattoos on his body are parts of him and people should not jump into it until they are sure it is something they want to stay with them for life.
Burna Boy’s Grammy nomination put him among the few indigenous Nigerians that have been nominated for the prestigious award. He was nominated alongside one of his role models, Beninese singer-songwriter Angelique Kidjo, who has been nominated nine times and has gone home with the award on four occasions, Metropole Orkest, a group which have been nominated four times and have won the award once, Nathalie Joachim and Altin Gun, although he lost out to Angelique Kidjo for her album “Celia”.
King Sunny Ade was the first Nigerian artist to grab a Grammy nomination in the “Best Ethnic or Traditional Folk Recording” category for his critically acclaimed album “Synchro System” in 1983. He also got another nomination in 1999 in the “Best World Music Album” category for his album “Odu”. Babatunde Olatunji got a nomination for his “Love Drum and Talk” album released in 1998 in the “Best Ethnic or Traditional Folk Recording” category. This was 15 years after King Sunny Ade was nominated in the same category. Femi Kuti, son of Fela Kuti has had the highest nominations so far from a home-based Nigerian, grabbing four in the “Best World Music Album” category. He got one in 2003 for his 'Fight to win' album, 2010 for his 'Day by Day' album, 2012 for his 'Africa for Africa' album, 2014 for his 'No place for my dream' album. Fela’s other son and last child, Seun Kuti also got a nod for his album “Black Times”. These artists have been the only ones in Nigeria to secure Grammy nominations with their individual albums. The others like Wizkid, Tiwa Savage, Mr Eazi, Yemi Alade, Tekno Miles and Timaya were featured on foreign songs or albums.
I want to also clear the public, that there's some wrong information circulating around the populace that no Nigerian has ever won a Grammy. Indigenous Nigerians have not won the award but Nigerians in the diaspora have won quite a few. Henry Olusegun Adeola Samuel popularly known as Seal took home three in one night for his song "Kiss from a Rose". It won the awards for “Record of the year”, “Song of the year” and “Best Male Pop Vocal Performance” in 1996. He also won another one in the “Best Pop Collaboration” category with his vocals on “Imagine” by Herbie Hancock. Sade Adu has also had her share of the Grammy Awards. She has been nominated nine times and has won four times. She is the first artist of Nigerian origin to win the award. Hakeem Seriki better known by his stage name Chamillionaire is a one-time recipient of the prestigious award. Kevin Olushola of Pentatonix has won the award 3 times with the group. Lekan Babalola, the Lagos-based conga player has won the award on two occasions having worked on “In the Heart of the moon” by Ali Farka Touré and Cassandra Wilson's album “Lovely”. Sikiru Adepoju is also a two- time recipient of the award being featured on Mickey Hearts “Planet Drum” project and “Global Drum” project which won awards in the “Best Contemporary World Music Album” category in 1991 and 2009 respectively.
On the 26th of January, the Grammy award for “Best World Music Album” eluded Burna Boy but he is set to continue his impressive performance in the previous year that got the whole world paying attention. Recently on his twitter page, he said “I drew my own map and followed it. This is just the beginning tho. Una no go sleep!”. This is a testament to the fact that he is ready to throw a musical feast this year and perhaps he might just get nominated for the 2021 Grammy Awards and win in the category.
By Cephas Oboh