By Henry Akubuiro, Arts Editor
2019 began on a high for Port Harcourt-born artiste, Damini Ebunoluwa Ogulu, popularly known as Burna Boy, with his songs like “Ye” and “On the Low” and “Killing Dem” (which features Zlatan) dominating airwaves in Nigeria and beyond. By the end of the year, his fame has ratcheted to the sky.
Burna Boy’s brand of music defies stereotypical classification. His 2013 award-winning debut “Like to Party” was more of an R&B song. As the years went by, he reinvented dancehall reggae in Nigeria and Afrobeat music popularised by late Fela Anikulapo Kuti. Today, he has created a unique brand of music called Afrofusion, which is a medley of Afrobeat, rap, R & B and Caribbean dancehall reggae.
The strength of Burna Boy’s medley is his strong vocalisation rooted in African oral performance, his code-mixing and code-switching to Nigerian Pidgin English and local languages, especially Yoruba, plus his high-tempo, danceable rhythms that is, at once, infectious.
By mid-2019, Jamaican dance hall superstar, Koffee, was already performing his hit song “Ye” to a global audience that sang along with delight, amid shuffles. Burna Boy also made the headlines as a social activist in 2019. When the Xenophobic attacks recurred in South Africa late last year, with thousands of his countrymen and other Africans mowed down in South Africa, he showed a righteous indignation by boycotting performances in South Africa. He called out South African superstar, AKA, for flying a divisive kite capable of stoking the fire of mindless killings. Everybody cheered.
Burna Boy has influenced global popular culture in many ways in the intervening year. His videos have seized global imagination by featuring dancers, including him, dancing to peculiar Nigerian dance steps, like Shaku-shaku, Zanku and leg-over, which have since seen copycats worldwide recreating Nigerian memes.
As his fame grew nationwide and globally, Burna Boy struck duets and collaborations with international acts, like Los Angeles-based electronic duo, DJDS; British rappers, Stormzy and Dave, and singers, Ed Sheeran, Mahalia, to mention a few. Ever since he signed with Bad Habit/Atlantic Records in the United States and Warner Music Group internationally in 2017, he has emerged a major African music ace at international shows.
In 2019, he performed at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in the US, won the Best International Act at the BET Awards in the US, and was also announced as Apple Music’s Up Next artist. Besides, he released his fourth studio album, African Giant, containing hit tracks like “Anybody”, Gbona”, “On the Low”, Killin Dem”, “Dangote”, “Anybody”.
He also recorded “JARA E” for Beyonce’s Lion King Album. Expectedly, Burna Boy’s African Giant has won rave reviews as one of the major crossover albums in the world, earning him a 2020 Grammy nomination – a feat that reinforces the belief that he is one Nigerian creative artiste with a prodigious talent worthy of valorisation.