FOR NIGERIAN-based recording artist Burna Boy, it wasn’t until he made a return to his west African roots that he became inspired to venture into Nigeria’s highly competitive music scene.
Nearly six years since leaving London and returning to his birth country, the performer, born Damini Ogulu has developed a sound he refers to as afro-fusion, setting him apart from the competition.
“I think it’s when I got back to Nigeria and started experimenting with music, that is when afro fusion started,” Burna Boy explains.
“I was originally listening to a lot of hip-hop, bashment, stuff like that. But going back to Nigeria, it kind of showed me a new way to go about things, so I put that in the music and it created this new sound.”
The Soke singer who smoothly made his debut on the scene with his debut track Like to Party delves a little deeper to explain the hybrid sound he has become known for.
“Afro fusion is basically mixing all types of music with Afrobeats as the foundation. Whether it’s mixing R&B, dancehall, hip-hop with Afrobeats, that makes one sound so that is afro fusion.”
Within Nigeria’s musical landscape, recording collectives or cliques have emerged as a popular feature and a means of introducing artists to the mainstream and maintaining a broad fan base.
Going against the grain, Burna Boy stands as a rarity with no clear musical allegiances beyond his longtime collaborator, acclaimed producer Leriq.
On his seemingly outsider status he says: “It happened naturally – I’m not really a follow-follow type of person. I’m always going to make my own thing and do my own thing. When it comes down to it, it’s about what you bring to the table and I’m not trying to bring somebody else’s sound because I can’t be someone else.
“I think when you start affiliating too much, people are going to water down what you’re about and that’s not what I need.”
As the grandson of Benson Idonije, often referred to as Nigeria’s most revered music critic and first manager to the iconic Fela Kuti, it could be suggested that Burna Boy’s unwavering confidence in his own capacity and sound stem from his musical pedigree.
The 25-year-old insists that despite the comparisons with the Afrobeats icon, he feels no particular pressure to emulate Kuti’s career.
Nonetheless Kuti’s legacy and politically charged music has influenced the Pree Me hitmaker, who displayed his political side with his heavily rotated track, Soke.
“There’s always been this side of me being a rebel and that spills into the music,” Burna Boy confirms.
“In Nigeria, we’ve got what people call typical Nigerian problems that have been there since the 1960s and the 70s.
Whether it’s no electricity, no water, no food, people suffering – politicians being politicians. All these things are things that people see on a daily basis out there, so Soke was pretty much saying ‘Do I have to shout about it? Do I have to act out?’”
While he may be increasingly ready to challenge the state of politics within his tracks, the established artist isn’t interested in playing politics when it comes to navigating the music industry.
Fans were critical of the MTV Africa Music Awards (MAMAs) last year, for failing to shortlist Burna Boy for a single award, despite a stellar year of consistency. Still, the artist says he felt no need to join the public outcry.
“It’s not even that I feel overlooked because they [award show organisers] know the situation. Every time there’s been some type of award show, I don’t ever have to say anything – it trends and the fans will ask, ‘what’s going on?’ I see the fans complaining and I see them go hard for me and call out the organisers.”
He adds: “I don’t think its deliberate, I just think it’s the way it is – it’s politics.”
The singer, who for a period of time was a resident of the notorious Angell Town estate in Brixton, south London, marked his 25th birthday with a long overdue trip to London and the announcement of his first UK headline show.
“God’s time is always the best and this is proof, because as soon as I landed, everything started popping off right. There haven’t been any left turns, if you know what I mean.”
His headline show, appropriately titled ‘Homecoming,’ is set to be a success and the event conveniently coincides with Nigeria’s 56th independence day.
“Yeah, because it’s like my independence,” he laughs. “It’s like the beginning of my career. The show has literally been three years in the making so it is a big deal. I’ve just always wanted to do the biggest show so when I touch down, it’s going to be the biggest thing I’ve ever done. It took three years for that to happen but I promise it’s going to be amazing.”