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Music – Grammy: Disciple Of Fela Kuti, Burna Boy Traces His Path

Burna Boy started playing music at the age of 10 on FL Studio, software that a school friend had installed on his computer. Twenty years later, the Nigerian afropop icon is gearing up for the Grammy Awards. For this new ceremony which will take place on Sunday, the Nigerian artist with 6 million Instagram subscribers is favorite in the category of best album of “world music” for Twice as Tall, facing the Malian Tuareg group Tinariwen or the Afrobeat group from Brooklyn, Antibalas. This is the second nomination, for the second year in a row, for the singer-turned-African artist most listened to on Spotify with more than 14 million listeners each month.

Beginnings: from Port-Harcourt to London

Damini Ebunoluwa Ogulu, whose real name is, was born in Port-Harcourt, in the oil region of southern Nigeria, where he spent his entire childhood before leaving for England to study in Brixton, a district in the south. of London, known for being the bastion of Jamaican music. After only two years, in 2013, he dropped out of university and returned to Nigeria to release his first album, LIFE, whose acronym stands for: “Leaving an Impact For Eternity”. At that time the artist is better known because of his escapades, his arrests. Nigerian critics are not convinced either, he is predicted to have a very short career.

Burna Boy, « Tonight »

Mama Burna, the one who watches

But it was without counting on the benevolent presence of his family and especially his mother and manager, Bose Ogulu, nicknamed Mama Burna, in Nigeria. She is known to be an iron woman, a translator, she speaks several languages, and left everything in the 1970s to accompany a certain Fela Kuti. A far from trivial choice, the grandfather of Burna Boy, music critic, Benson Idonije was also formerly the manager of Fela Kuti. Today, the family also has another artist: Nissi Nation, the younger sister.

«Odogwu»

Fela Kuti, the passion of Burna Boy

From Fela, Burna Boy inherited his anger, his unparalleled pride, and like him, he always refused to be silent. Even sitting in his countless luxury cars and dressed in his high fashion clothes. The kid from Port-Harcourt was only six years old when Afrobeat’s father died. “Fela Kuti is a role model for me, but all African legends are. Thomas Sankara, Patrice Lumumba… The Ugandan singer and political opponent Bobi Wine also inspires me ”, he confided to Release. “He’s obsessed with Fela,” observes Dami Ajayi. “He follows in his footsteps very closely. ”

“Yé” by Burna Boy

And « Sorrow, Tears and Blood » de Fela Kuti

Did you say afro-fusion?

“Afro-fusion” is how Burna boy defines his music, far from the clichés contained in the Afrobeat category in which finally many artists from West Africa, from Nigeria to Ghana, and without any nuance. The proof: the Nigerian mix perfectly dancehall, reggae and hip-hop, styles and languages: he goes from English to Yoruba, or pidgin, collaborates with artists as varied as the English Lily Allen, the American Beyonce, Chris Martin, or Angelique Kidjo. All without ever diluting its African heritage through a recognizable signature with the saxophone, or the gbedu, Yoruba percussion. His two albums, Redemption in 2015 et Outside in 2018 were huge successes in Nigeria, Africa and within the diaspora, notably “Ye”, whom his fans consider almost “the new national anthem” of the country.

His video, where Burna Boy proudly shows off his diamond-set teeth, huge cannabis joints, and worked pecs, has 129 million views on YouTube. “He now assumes his style,” notes Dami Ajayi. “It’s a unique, sharp style that is truly essential. It is undeniably the best in contemporary African music at the moment. ”

His album African Giant, released in 2019, propelled him to the top and above all opened doors internationally with his first Grammy nomination, a victory at the MTV Europe Music Awards, and more than anything: a special mention in the playlist of Barack Obama.

African Giant, as well as his last album Twice as Tall (“Deux times plus grand”, in French), also mark a turning point in the social and political engagement of the artist, who increasingly affirms his criticisms of power and bad governance, in line with his idol, Fela Kuti. “I wanted people to understand that Dangote is not a hero. He is the richest man in Africa and he continues to get up every morning to go to work. We shouldn’t be making excuses. Everyone talks about Nigeria as if it were a niche of the super rich. In the end, it remains a developing country. With my music, I want to highlight the things that need to move, ”he explained to Release about the track “Dangote”, one of his greatest hits.

« On the Low »

Militant

In 2019, at the height of xenophobic attacks on Nigerians and other African immigrants in South Africa, he threatened to never set foot there again unless the South African government takes action.

And during the #EndSARS protests by Nigerian youth last October, he bought huge illuminated advertising inserts across Lagos, the economic capital, to denounce police violence.

He had also started a relief fund for victims and published a song honoring the victims of the protests. “We are the new generation, we will never be silent, we will never get tired,” he said with a raised fist in a diaspora rally in London. “Until we have justice, they will not have peace. ”

«Onyeka»

Megalomaniac

Little modest since his beginnings, the one who claims to be the spiritual son of Black President had got it right. “I took each step of the stairs to get to where I am today, while the others took the elevator”, he confided in an interview with the magazine GQ in March 2020. ”“ Anyway, I’m a heavyweight myself. I wouldn’t have gotten into the elevator. And now, I know all the stages ”, continued the young man of 29 years at the time of the release of his fourth album.

And when the Coachella Music Festival in California, which had scheduled it in 2019, inscribed his name at the bottom of the poster, “the giant of Africa” ​​threatened to cancel his visit, if the police number of characters in his name was not enlarged.

« Pull Up »

Grammy

In 2019, his album African Giant had lost to the Beninese Angélique Kidjo, triggering the wrath of her fans across the continent. “This year is very special for him,” said Dami Ajayi, Nigerian music critic based in London. “His plan was to be nominated again for the Grammy,” says the specialist, in particular by collaborating with the American P. Diddy for the production of his new album, or with the star of World Music Youssou N’Dour.

« Level Up » feat Youssou N’Dour

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