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Shades of Burna: Making of an African Giant

From selling out huge concerts to winning global awards, 2019 has no doubt been Burna Boy’s year.  Presently going by the moniker, African Giant (also title of his new album), the artiste, whose real name is Damini Ebunoluwa Ogulu, is surely living up to the alias.

Of 2019 Top 10 streamed songs on Apple Music in sub-Saharan Africa, Burna Boy had five songs on the list. His official music video with Zlatan, Killin Dem, was the most trending music video in Nigeria on YouTube for 2019. And he was No. 1 on the 2019 CNN list of Top 10 African artistes.

At the last All Africa Music Awards (AFRIMA), Burnaboy won the Artiste of the Year and Best Male Artist in West Africa for his song, Ye.  This was after he was recently nominated for the 2020 Grammy Awards for best world music album with (African Giant). Earlier in the year, he won Best International Act at the 2019 BET Awards as well as AFRIMMA Artiste, Song of the Year. He also won the MTV EMA, VGMA and the Futures Award this year.

Born on July 2, 1991, Burna Boy, who hails from Rivers State, rose to fame in 2012 after releasing his single, Like to party, which was produced by LeriQ. His father managed a welding company and his mother worked as a translator.

Burna Boy was raised in Port Harcourt, Rivers State.  He later moved to Lagos State where he completed his basic education. For his tertiary education, Burna Boy moved to the United Kingdom where he studied media technology at the University of Sussex, from 2008 to 2009.

His musical journey started when he was 10 years old. He got Fruity Lops, a production software, from his fellow classmate and began to create beats on his own. Burna Boy started out in the music industry in 2010. In 2014, he split from Aristokrat Records and in 2015, he created his record label, called Spaceship Entertainment.

In 2017, Burna Boy signed with Bad Habit/Atlantic Records in the United States and Warner Music Group international.  His debut studio album, L.I.F.E, was released by Aristokrat Records on August 12, 2013. The album featured 2Baba, M.I, Timaya, Olamide, Reminisce and Wizkid. In August 2013, L.I.F.E peaked at No. 7 on the billboard reggae albums’ chart. Since then, he has released On a spaceship (2015), Outside (2018) and this year, African Giant.

His mixtapes include Burn Notice (2011) and Burn Identity (2011) and his Eps are Redemption (2016) and Steel & Copper (2019).

Now, Burna Boy is on the frontlines of Afrobeat and earning his mark as a true African giant.

His grandfather, Benson Idonije, was a manager of the late Afrobeats founder, Fela Anikulapo Kuti. Perhaps unconnected, but Burna Boy would share traits of musical genius, activism and pan-Africanism orientation with Fela.

Lke Fela, Burna Boy is not afraid to stamp his greatness. In January, when Coachella Music Festival announced artistes on its line-up, Burna Boy, who was one of the two African artistes for the show, protested the small font size of his name on the promotional material.

“I really appreciate you,” he wrote in an Instagram Story after the poster reveal.

“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 quickly, please.”

In July 2019, Burna Boy was announced as Apple Music’s up next artist. His inclusion into the programme was accompanied by a Beats 1 interview with Julie Adenuga and a short documentary.  He also took part and has his single in Beyoncé’s Lion King album, titled Ja Ra E.

He also goes about his activism with some form of militancy. In the recent xenophobic attacks on Nigerians by South Africans, Burna Boy was in a war of words with South African artiste, AKA. In a retaliatory move, he threatened AKA never to set foot on Nigeria soil after AKA supported the xenophobic act on his Instagram page.


Also, like Fela with his mother, Burna Boy and his mother, Bose Ogulu, share an intense personal and professional relationship. Unlike Fela though, Burna Boy’s mother watches over Burna’s business interest as his manager. Burna Boy has even been pictured smoking cannabis in his mother’s presence. Again, just like Fela.

And while Burna Boy has been conspicuously absent at many of the awards he won this year, his mother has had to step in for him. One to remember was the BET Awards where his mother received Burna Boy’s  Best International Act award on his behalf. Unsurprisingly, she expressed her son’s love for Africa.

“Thank you very much, BET,” she said.

“Thank you, Africa, because that is the constituency for which we got noticed in the first place, and the message from Burna, I believe, would be that every person should please remember that you were Africans before you were anything else, thank you.”

Burna Boy has won many awards, including South-South Music Awards, Nigerian Entertainment Awards, Sound City MVP Awards and Headies.

In February 2018, Outside debuted at No. 3 on the billboard reggae albums’ chart, and it won the Album of the Year at the 2018 Nigeria Entertainment Awards.

On October 7, 2018, Burna Boy performed before a sold out crowd at London’s O2 Academy in Brixton. And two days after, he was announced as one of Spotify’s new Afro hub takeover artist. He has gone on to sell out Apollo Theatre in New York; Wembley Arena in London; and Partille Arena in Sweden.

Although he is given to eccentric behaviour like when he recently unfollowed everyone on his Instagram account, except his London rapper girlfriend, Stefflon Don. Celebrities, including Wizkid, Davido and even his mother were unfollowed. But he has also been courted with ambassadorial status by brands, such as Martell Konga in 2016, telecommunication giant, Globacom and recently, Star Lager beer.

While it is incontestable that 2019 has been a great year for Burna Boy, the icing on the cake is that will he clinch the Grammy?


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