No doubt, Burna Boy’s bravura at expressing his artistry has earned him a place in the stars. This distinguishing factor sets him apart from his contemporaries in a similar manner when compared to afrobeat legend Fela Anikulapo-Kuti.
For his recent album, ‘African Giant’, he samples the latter on a handful of tracks. While leaning on the already designed template, he breaks new ground in the international markets with his musical style.
Released on Friday, July 26, 2019, the 19-track set (skit inclusive) is one of this year’s most anticipated albums. With the ‘African Giant’ moniker, the album title did not come much as a surprise to his core fans. Arguably, the title was hinted in January this year when he expressed dismay for Coachella’s hierarchy play with fonts — a situation where less impactful acts are printed in smaller fonts with those considered ‘big acts’ printed in fonts that can be seen from a mile away. At the time, his name appeared in small fonts signifying his minor role at the festival. Burna didn’t take this insignificance lightly. This lack of proper recognition prompted a social media update where he crowned himself an African giant, one not to be taken for granted.
The ‘African Giant’ project samples a lot of afro centric elements, especially in the afro beats genre. Expectedly, it followed similar fashion like his past releases; only this time, more unapologetic.
The album manages to chronicle a narrative of identity, ambition, activism and love. At one point, it is a source of giddiness. At another, serves as an awakening for personal growth and nation building, but more specifically, it embodies Africa tenets that help the local audience buy into his ideologies. Also, it saves a spot for the international audience to observe and reassess their perception of Africa.
The album suffers a bit in the area of instrumentation. On the course of rotation, many track bears semblance to each other, a factor that may nudge an average music lover to skip tracks. However, upon repeated listens, this flaw is blurred out.
Save for tracks like ‘On the Low’, ‘Killin Dem’, and ‘Gbona’ that have enjoyed massive airplay prior to the album’s release, one’s expectation of better songs may be dampened. Surprisingly, tracks like ‘African Giant’, ‘Destiny’, ‘Secret’ and ‘Omo’ are impressive offerings too. Even more impressive is the recently performed track on the Jimmy Kimmel Live Concert Series, ‘Anybody’. It has a ring to it that places it as the ‘next big thing’. Albeit, the album’s arrival to the music shores bearing old singles stands a chance to be a big gainer in sales following its release.
Having the likes of Damian Marley, Angelique Kidjoe, Future, Jeremih, YG, Serani, and up-and-coming R&B sensation, Jorja Smith, is no small feat. It proves his songs’ wide reach globally. While there was a lot of fanfare around his international collaborations, the product of those unions isn’t the album’s saving grace. With many foreign acts, one would be forced to conclude that the album, in order to gain appeal to the global audience will adopt mainstream pop culture.
Somehow, it manages to retain a good portion of its afro vibe, thus implying that Burna manned the creative direction to reflect his need of preserving his artistry and identity through these sonic landmarks.
Fela’s presence on this album is undeniable. You could taste him on every track no matter what style Burna settles for. More so, this influence transcends just sounds, it gave birth to activism on the album. Halfway through, Burna Boy transplants the listener from the Kalakuta dance floor into the classroom for some national history on ‘Another Story’ which features M.anifest. On the track, he reveals the ploy employed by the British government to buy Nigeria over under the guise of promoting democracy
Rich in culture, structured by skilled writing, the album impresses in many areas; however, it certainly isn’t aptly titled to reflect Burna’s rightful place alongside the galaxy of music stars that have emerged from the black continent. The title works only when ‘African Giant’ is juxtaposed with his previous albums in terms of quality of work output. Also, the title holds true if compared to any other album released this year in the country. It can easily be touted as the album of the year.
Moreover, immediate popularity doesn’t always equate to legendary status, it usually takes a lifelong career to confer that title. The likes of King Sunny Ade, Osita Osadebe are to be conferred such titles for their quota towards creating genres that are still relevant today. Their body of work, career longevity, and relevance in the industry automatically place them on that pedestal.
Burna is on the path to achieving more greatness in years to come. He has witnessed tremendous growth in the industry and has left indelible imprints locally and internationally, but he hasn’t reached his career peak. With time, and a bit of a tweak to trim his musical hedges to project authenticity (away from sampling Fela) in African music, only then can he be referred to as an African giant by all. For now, he holds that title for the internet savvy generation.