“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 things quick please.” – This simple and very demanding statement exposed Burna Boy explosively to the world.
This happened when the California music festival, Coachella organizers represented Burna boy’s name with tiny writings on their promotional material for the concert he was billed.
Social media was on fire after the Afro-pop musician released statement requesting a better representation of his name on their flyers but Coachella went ignored and Burna doubled down.
His label sent to press a reimagined festival poster one that listed his name in place of all the other performers. Soon afterward, he announced the “African Giant” tour and the titled his forthcoming album ‘African Giant’.
For all of the jokes about Burna’s braggadocio, the Coachella dustup and point to a larger issue: African artistes, even those with followings the size of Burna’s and Eazi’s, are continually underestimated and mischaracterized by American music industry gatekeepers.
Burna’s music, for example, is most intuitively categorized as “Afro-fusion,” which includes a melange of influences including pop, R&B, dancehall, reggae, and Afrobeat, the latter genre pioneered by the late Nigerian legend Fela Kuti.
Outside Nigeria and the continent, Burna’s music first made waves in the United Kingdom, which boasts a large Nigerian and Afro-diasporic population. It’s become a second home to Burna, who resides in London with his girlfriend, the British rapper Stefflon Don. The U.K. is where his debut studio album, 2013’s L.I.F.E. (Leaving an Impact for Eternity), and its energetic single, “Like to Party,” first found a broad audience.
The 28-year-old Burna often sings in Yoruba and welcomes comparisons to Kuti, whom he cites as an inspiration.
African Giant implicitly challenges the limits imposed on artists from the continent. Burna’s most cohesive and expansive record to date, African Giant is musically diverse and narratively challenging.
It includes features from frequent collaborators such as the 24-year-old Nigerian rapper Zlatan while placing Burna solidly within a long African musical legacy. The album’s most notable feature, for instance, is from Angélique Kidjo, the 59-year-old Beninese American singer who’s been called “Africa’s premier diva.”
His next two records 2015’s On a Spaceship and 2016’s Redemption—showcased an artist well aware of his lyrical prowess and marketability. With 2018’s Outside, Burna established himself as a formidable musical peer, collaborating with artists such as J Hus and Lily Allen.
His dedication to various dimensions of his craft is clear, too: “Ye,” for example, is an eminently sing-along-friendly track that also cleverly positions Burna as an inheritor of homegrown musical genius.
” Of the role music played in that extracurricular education, he noted that sociopolitical change and artistic production have often been symbiotic endeavors: “When something happens in Africa, an artist will sing about it and stuff. We have all the records; we have everything. Free Mandela records and all that.”
The African Giant Album
On African Giant tracks such as the M.anifest-assisted “Another Story,” which begins with a radio dispatch explaining Nigeria’s colonial history, Burna readily steps into the role of national storyteller. “I’m 28 years old. In my country, that’s considered very young.
That exuberance infuses African Giant, too. The album incorporates a potent emphasis on national record-keeping while maintaining the sultry, atmospheric quality that Burna’s early records established.
Tucked among odes to Nigerian defiance, for example, African Giant includes a standout collaboration with the Jamaican dancehall artist Serani and the American R&B singer Jeremih and a woozy R&B bop with the British singer Jorja Smith.
The project showcases Burna at his strongest: versatile, melodic, and confident. It’s the product of a musician who’s ready to be taken seriously beyond his core demographic without sacrificing the influences that shaped him.
African Giant also includes collaborations with two mega-popular American rappers, the Los Angeles–bred YG and the Atlanta phenom Future. Listening to the tracks, it’s hard not to think about the speech Burna’s mother, Bose Ogulu, gave after he won Best International Act (an admittedly dubious category) at the BET Awards earlier this year.
He mused that he’s excited about “the reconnection of the black race.” The ambition is a lofty one, but Burna feels it all coming together. Or as he said about having Future and YG on tracks that signal a distinctly Nigerian sound, “It’s almost like bringing my brothers home.”
Burna Boy is a big deal in Africa!