by Kola Muhammed
Since February, after missing out on Best World Music Grammy award, the goal had been singular for Burna Boy – pick up from where he stumbled in the race for global acclaim.
Barely would anyone disagree that ‘African Giant’, Burna’s 2019 album, was the project which brought the recognition the outspoken singer’s artistry deserved as he swept awards across the continent, from Headies, TFAA to MTV and BET. The peak, however, came with Grammy shortlist.
“I felt sick. Totally sick. But my music mother, Angelique Kidjo told me everything I needed to understand about the Grammys. I have learnt and now I’m ‘Twice as Tall’,” the artiste revealed in an online session in April after missing out on the gong.
Between then and now, just a matter of months, Burna has risen from the dust of defeat to undoubtedly give another powerful shot at the Grammy as he aims to put himself in an exclusive club of Nigerian hip-hop artistes who won the Grammy award with their own project.
Not even the highly regarded Wizkid, Olamide, Davido and the ambitious 9ice got their personal albums nominated for Grammy. The hip-hop stars who got nominated rode on the back of others for recognition and that seemed to suffice for them.
Where many would have been contented with that and continue to ride on the waves with their FC, Burna came up with another album, this time more strategic and more personal towards becoming the peerless artiste of his generation.
Right from the choice of executive producer, this is not just an album for the culture or music lovers, but also a statement, for the decision makers of Recording Academy. Three-time Grammy award winner and a music veteran who understands perfectly the terrain blazing Burna wants to tread, Diddy, was the choice.
From the list of featured artistes and music groups, you see Coldplay, the popular British band who have won no less than 7 Grammy awards from 29 nominations. Chris Martin is the lead singer and co-founder of Coldplay. So, you could say he is a pillar of Coldplay’s success. There is also Naughty by Nature, an American group with Grammy success.
Stormzy is the only foreign artiste without Grammy success and even he gives the desired foreign diversity to ‘Twice as tall’ being a top rated British performer. With his burgeoning music credentials, Grammy is perhaps only a matter of time for him too.
The inclusion of legendary Senegalese singer, Youssou N’dour and Kenyan Afro-pop band, Sauti Sol, on the album help to underpin the Afrobeat genre that Burna champions. Afrobeat is arguably the most intriguing music genre in international music right now and this explains why more African artistes are getting in the global limelight. Some months ago, Davido, Tiwa Savage and Mr Eazi graced the cover of Billboard, implying that the world’s gaze is firmly set on the musical export from Africa.
Notably, no Nigerian artiste featured on the album. Truth be told, very few artistes, if any, would match the pace at which Burna is moving. Strategically, you see the symbolic four cardinal points – Nigeria/Afrobeat (Burna Boy), Africa/Afrobeat (Youssou N’Dour and Sauti Sol), Britain (Stormzy) and United States (Diddy, Coldplay and Naughty by Nature) which can be said to be the defining ingredients of ‘World Music’.
For a continent which has struggled to free itself from social, economic, political and cultural imperialism, Afrobeat then becomes a weapon to push the cause. This is a major theme in Burna Boy’s 15-track project.
In the opening track, ‘Level up (Twice as tall) Port Harcourt-born Burna relates his own experience of coming short. Tracks such as ‘Monsters you made’ and ‘Time flies’ embody activism and the timeless fight by Blacks against racism and marginalisation. The voice of renowned Ghanaian writer and former education minister, Ama Ata Aidoo can be heard at the end of ‘Monsters you made’ track as well as that of Burna’s mother, Bose Ogulu, on ‘Time flies’, for the sake of emphasis.
From the transition of the songs to the fusion of Afro-pop and the diversity of ‘Twice as tall’, the imprint of Diddy is visible all over the album.
‘Omo ologo Oluwaburna’ himself deserves credit for his wit, depth and versatility on the album. From allusive phrases such as Onyeka Onwenu, Muri Thunder, Gongo Aso, Woro si woro, Comma, it becomes obvious that he is really sold out to the trade and finds a way to bring the society around him to constitute music.
One ostensible flaw in the album (which could still change over time), unlike ‘African Giant’, is that there are no stand-out songs which can shatter charts and become global anthems like ‘Ye’ and the like.
Nonetheless, the album, with Diddy’s supervision and the choice of featured artistes, is a masterstroke of strategy. Even though the album cover portrays more of ‘African giant’ than ‘Twice as tall’, Burna takes a step onto the tarred road and it is obvious that every decision was accounted for and taken towards the big Grammy goal.
Coming back, even in the face of a global pandemic, with another album to make another shot at cementing his global status speaks of courage, determination and passion. This is perhaps Burna’s best shot yet and might just be the one that gets him over the finish line.