By Vanessa Obioha
During an interview with Trevor Noah, the host of the American TV show, The Daily Show last year, Burna Boy, when asked his style of music defined it as afro-fusion; not afrobeats — the generic name devoted to pop sounds emanating from West Africa and the diaspora — or afrobeat — the unique genre created by the legend Fela Anikulapo-Kuti.
In his fifth studio album, ‘Twice as Tall’, Burna reaffirms his musical style. Released on August 14 to a fanfare that racked up over five million streams within an hour, the artiste born Damini Ogulu displayed his ingenuity to blend different styles of music without losing his African tenor. Featuring artistes from Senegal, US, Kenya, and the UK, the album is a well-balanced experiment that showcases the artiste’s artistic talents.
Coming a year after ‘African Giant’, the album that fetched him international appeal as well as a Grammy nod (take note, New York Post), ‘Twice as Tall’ follows a familiar curve, sampling Burna’s groovy notes and edgy lyrics. It almost seems like a sequel to its predecessor, highlighting the artiste’s rise to stardom and his determination to maintain that relevance. But unlike ‘African Giant’, ‘Twice as Tall’ follows a narrative arc; it chronicles Burna’s musical career, his activism and beliefs.
The 15-track album opens with ‘Level Up’ (Twice as Tall), his duet with the Senegalese music legend Youssou N’Dour. Sampling American singer Pat Boone’s ‘Twice As Tall’ song in the opening, Burna sings about his journey to stardom, capturing the struggles and pressure. His words are hortatory, and with N’Dour baring his signature tenor on the chorus, the track assumes a slow melodious tone. Pairing with an artiste who earned fame before he was born could be intimidating, but Burna pulled the duet off with bravura. There is no contest of dominance on the track, rather each star blossoms in his own way. The track samples minimum instruments. ‘Level Up’ is Burna’s affirmation that he is made for the kind of greatness that would make any mama proud of him, and like Boone’s song which requires one to put more effort to attain greater heights, Burna assures his fans that he is not resting on his oars.
‘Alarm Clock’ is a reminder of the black identity. Sean ‘P. Diddy ‘Combs, who serves as the executive producer of the album opens the single with a female soprano voice hovering around his voice, almost giving off a melancholic mood, but the tempo changes immediately Burna starts crooning, becoming fast-paced. Anderson Paak’s drums produce the afrobeat rhythm that is rooted in Nigeria’s music while the saxophone oozes off a jazzy tone, making the track groovy.
Burna brags about his fame in the pop track ‘Way Too Big’, rolling out his achievements including his brand ambassadorial role in Nigerian Brewery, and telling unbelievers and detractors that he is way too big to fall into their trap. The funky single bears more western influences but Burna manages to bring the lyrics back home. Subsequent tracks such as ‘Bebo’ follow the same lyrical route, only that ‘Bebo’ samples more afrobeat sounds.
Burna is never shy of his African activism role, a message he’s been spreading since he came back into the spotlight and made more emphatic when he clinched the BET award for Best International Act for the second time this year. On ‘Twice As Tall’, he reiterates why black lives matter and decries the mental slavery of the black man by the whites, collaborating with the lead vocal of the U.K band Coldplay, Chris Martin on the track ‘Monsters You Made’. The rock anthem is reminiscent of Fela’s ‘Beasts of No Nation’ where the legend gives a narrative of how leaders abuse human rights under the disguise of instilling discipline in the society. In ‘Monsters You Made’, Burna sings about the implication of slavery on the black man, the loss of his identity and culture. With Burna’s forceful words, Martin’s warm timbre on the chorus and the electric bass and drums, the track elicits a raging energetic feel.
Of all his collaborations in the album, ‘Naughty by Nature’ featuring the American hip-hop group of same name underwhelms. It shows little creativity, leaning more on sample sounds.
Perhaps, the best duet in the album is ‘Time Flies’ which he performed with the Kenyan music group Sauti Sol. Known for their choral arrangement, they bring the magic to this song, a beautiful harmony that will top the listener’s list for a long time.
Although ‘Twice As Tall’ shows Burna’s crossover to the international market, it doesn’t forget the Nigerian market. With songs like ‘Onyeka (Baby) and ‘Comma’, it is assured of commercial success. ‘Comma’ particularly, is a tune that will connect easily to Nigerians. In street lingo, the English punctuation mark signifies a default. Burna used this context to criticise ladies who enhance parts of their body through artificial means. Talk about silicon and pads. While he continues this form of condemnation in ‘Wettin Dey Sup’, making homophobic statements, he was however reproached by many who find his lyrics hypocritical since he recently featured on the English singer Sam Smith’s ‘My Oasis’.
Just like he started the album singing about his greatness, Burna ended on a similar fashion with ‘Bank on It’. The track oozes Burna’s laid back tune complimented by the glorious choral harmony of the female back-up singers towards the end. Burna shows a rare and humbling part of his persona, even asking for forgiveness from fans if he fumbles. The track portrays him as a work in progress with eyes set on the zenith. As with every musician who is concerned about their legacy when the mic is turned off, Burna sings about his vulnerabilities but assured fans that they can bank on his words. If he says he will take Africa music to the world, his fans can certainly ‘Bank on It’.
Overall, the album is an ambitious one that shows that the African giant’s efforts are multiplying. If ‘African Giant’ was to announce his return to the spotlight, ‘Twice As Tall’ stamped his identity as a proud African artiste defying norms and crossing cultures. It is a bold experiment that infuses sounds without compromising Burna’s African roots. Even with the influence of P.Diddy who brilliantly segues from the outro to intro in some of the tracks, Burna manages to hold the reins, after all, he is the ‘Odogwu’.