People, Parties & Places

What Burna Boy did to clinch the Grammy in 2021

Written by Akinmade

Nigeria’s Burna Boy wins the Best Global Music Album award at the 63rd Annual Grammy Awards after a bit of waiting with incredible self-belief

By Ade Ishola

Pa Benson Idonije is now a happy old man in his home in Lagos. Likewise, late Afrobeat creator, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti should be blowing a melodious happy tune with his saxophone in his grave.

Theiar reason for happiness is not far-fetched. A Nigerian, in the person of Burna Boy, has finally won an individual Grammy award.

Burna Boy, whose real name is Damini Ogulu, is the grandson of Idonije, while Fela was a great African musical talent, most critics all over the world believe never got a Grammy nomination because of lack of talent but because of the manifest racist tendency that was associated with the prestigious global musical awards in the past.

However, Burna Boy who lost last year’s award to veteran Beninese singer, Angelique Kidjo, has crashed the glass ceiling for Nigerian acts in a dramatic way. He won beating Antibalas, Bebel Gilberto, Anoushka Shankar and Tianariwen for the award

So how did he do it?

Music critics and professionals believe Burna Boy achieved this feat with his musical prowess, self-belief and the ‘change of time.’

Born in Port Harcourt, Rivers state capital, the artiste attended Corona Secondary School in Agbara, Ogun State; the University of Sussex, UK where he studied Media Technology and Oxford Brookes University, studying Media Communications and Culture.

Since his professional debut in 2012 with the release of a single, “Like to Party”, the singer/ songwriter has striven to play his music and be different from other Afrobeats acts.

Close watchers believe this is a result of his grandfather’s influence on his music. Idonije once revealed that he was the music director of his grandson. Likewise, Idonije’s daughter Bose is her son’s manager.

His debut studio album L.I.F.E in 2013, which was produced by Aristokrat Records, was a follow-up to his second mixtape ‘Burn Identity’ released in 2011. The album sold 40,000 copies on the first day of its release.

In 2014, Burna Boy left Aristokrat to found Spaceship Entertainment and he released his second album ‘On a Spaceship’ in 2015. With the release of his 7-track debut EP ‘Redemption’ in 2016, Burna Boy left no one in doubt where he is heading to – the global arena. This was manifested by his recording deals in 2017, signing with Bad Habit/Atlantic Records for the United States releases and Warner Music Group for the international deals.

This clever business and musical deals have also helped him won many international awards before his great Grammy win.

He released his third studio album ‘Outside’ in 2018, his major-label debut. The album won Album of the Year at the 2018 Nigeria Entertainment Awards and debuted at number 3 on the Billboard Reggae Albums chart. One of its tracks, “Ye” was considered by many as the Nigerian song of the Year, 2018. Also, he was announced as one of Spotify’s New Afro Hub Takeover Artist just as he was named YouTube’s Artist on the Rise for 3 months.

In 2019 he won the Best International Act at the BET Awards with ‘Outside’.  That same year, he was announced as an Apple Music Up Next artist.

No doubt, 2019 was unarguably the turning point and defining moments of Burna Boy’s career. He released another studio album, ‘African Giant’ in July to wide acclaim. The album’s release was preceded by a lot of promotions including an interview in Billboard magazine, a private listening session in Los Angeles, USA with photos and videos from the listening session on social media, and headlining an ‘African Giant Returns’ tour, the second leg of his African Giant tour.

The album won the Album of the Year at the All Africa Music Awards and was nominated last year for Best World Music Album at the 62nd Annual Grammy Awards while he won the African Artist of the year at the 2020 VGMA’s. The track, ‘Anybody’ track, from the ‘African Giant’ album was listed among former US President Barack Obama’s favourite songs of 2019.

His 2020 album ‘Twice as Tall’ debuted at number 1 on the Billboard World Albums Chart and has now won him the Grammy while he featured on the US inauguration playlist.

He won four awards at the Soundcity MVP Awards Festival, including African Artiste of the Year, Listener’s Choice and Best Male MVP. He won an Edison award in the World Album category for African Giant, and the Best International Act at the MOBO Awards, which was won in competition from Drake, Megan Thee Stallion, Lil Baby and Roddy Ricch.

And in 2021, he has won the Grammy. This feat by Burna Boy in the Best Global Music Album category for his ‘Twice as Tall’ album marks it the first time an individual from the largest Black nation of the world will personally win a Grammy after 10 nominations.

Since 1984, when King Sunny Ade (KSA) became the first Nigerian to be nominated for an individual  Grammy, four other Nigerians have also been nominated for the prestigious global music awards. The list of individual Nigerian Grammy nominees so far include KSA (1984,1998); Babatunde Olatunji (1999); Femi Kuti (2003, 2010, 2012, 2014); Seun Kuti (2018; and Burna Boy (2020, 2021).

However, some Nigerian musicians have won Grammys for their contributions to foreign work. These are Babatunde Olatunji in 1991 under the Best World Music Album category for his collaboration with Planet Drum; Sikiru Adepoju in 2009 for the Best Contemporary World Music Album won by Global Drum Project by various artists, and Wizkid this year for Best Music Video award for his participation in  “Brown Skin Girl”

Since the death of Fela, the Afrobeats genre has gained traction from music lovers across the globe with the efforts of its new ‘priests’ mostly young talented acts like Burna Boy, Femi Kui, D’Banj, Wizkid, Davido and Seun Kuti. Some of them have added more flavours to make it a cross-over thing.

D’Banj’s 2012 hit “Oliver Twist” reached number nine in the UK charts that year 2012 while in 2016 Drake and WizKid’s “One Dance” topped the US Billboard Hot 100 chart for 10 consecutive weeks.

“When you think about Afrobeat, the original genre — that’s from the Kutis, who have been nominated for years, it has never really been accepted as a thing. It has always been sort of sidelined. But what we’re seeing now is an acceptance of the difference in the music.

“They couldn’t ignore Burna Boy… people think that he epitomizes Afrobeats, so it makes sense that he would win,” Aibee Abidoye, Executive Vice President, Chocolate City, a Nigerian record label, told CNN.

The Federal Government of Nigeria also believes that the award is a growing acceptance of Afrobeat all over the world, saying Burna Boy’s and Wizkid’s Grammy award( for the Best Video Award) “represented a global endorsement for the Afrobeat genre of music that has propelled Nigeria’s increasing dominance of the music world.”

Burna Boy has always been confident of his ability and outspoken to get his due respect. In 2019he queried the organisers of the Coachella Music Festival for writing his name in small prints on the marque for the event.

“I don’t appreciate the way my name is written so small on your bill. I am an AFRICAN GIANT and will not be reduced to whatever that tiny writing means. Fix things quick please,” he wrote. 

The recording Academy, which gave out the Grammys has been criticised heavily in recent times for not being inclusive enough in the award of the ‘gramophones’. This has led to some changes, which in turn had given more Africans the opportunity to competitively challenge for the global music awards.

Burna Boy’s career and wide acceptance have been helped by his international collaboration with other artistes in the last two years. In 2019, he did a hit 4-track collaborative EP, ‘Steel & Copper with Los Angeles, USA-based duo, DJDS.

His ‘Ja Ara E’ track for Beyoncé’s The Lion King: The Gift was the only guest artiste with his track on the soundtrack album.

In June 2020, Burna Boy was featured on the remix of South African producer Master KG’s viral song “Jerusalema”, an effort that was on many international music charts.

He was also featured on Sam Smith’s single “My Oasis”, which was released on 30 July 2020.[55]

Angelique Kidjo, while beating Burna Boy to the same award last year, dedicated it to the Nigerian singer. The veteran African singer described Burna Boy as one of the few African artistes changing the way African music was viewed in the Western world.

The journey of the Port Harcourt-born dread-wearing act to the Grammy could best be summed up by his acceptance speech of the award.

“This is a big win for my generation of Africans all over the world.”

“This should be a lesson to every African out there: No matter where you are, no matter what you plan to do, you can achieve it,” he said.

So the hope is that many Nigerian artistes will copy the Burna Boys strategy of originality, self-belief and business savvy to advance their individual careers and win international recognition and laurels.

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