It isn’t every day that a Nigerian musician makes the favourite music list of the charismatic ex-President of the United States, Barack Obama. However, this was the case for musicians Damini Ogulu, better known as Burna Boy, and Don Jazzy’s youngest signee, Rema in 2019.
They both made former U.S. President Obama’s favourite music 2019 list with ‘Anybody’ and ‘Iron Man’. “From hip-hop to country to The Boss, here are my songs of the Year. If you’re looking for something to keep you company on a long drive or help you turn up a workout, I hope there’s a track or two in here that does the trick,” Obama said when he released the list containing 32 other songs on Twitter.
However, this was only a small part of what turned out to be a stellar year for the 28-year-old Burna Boy, who won several awards and sold-out venues across the globe. The Future Awards Young Person of the Year, Best International Act at the BET Award and the Best African Act at the MTV EMA Awards were some of his honours in 2019. Others were Album of the Year and Best Male Artiste in Western Africa at the 2019 AFRIMA.
2019’s breakaway music star didn’t stop at that. He became the only guest artist with his track on Beyonce’s ‘The Lion King: The Gift’ album with ‘Ja Ara E’, a Yoruba slang that means ‘wise up’ or ‘use your head’. He earned himself a Grammy nomination for Best World Music with his impressive 19-track fourth studio album ‘African Giant’, a week after the Beyonce album was released.
Burna also topped the Apple Music list of Most Streamed Songs in Sub-Saharan Africa in 2019 while dominating with five of his songs, all from ‘African Giant’. Burna was also active on the festival circuit, performing at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in April alongside big names like Solange, Kid Cudi and Billie Elish. His ‘African Giant tour’ and later the ‘African Giant Returns tour’ that saw him stop in the U.S., Canada, Belgium, the Netherlands and the U.K. were also successful. His sold-out show at the 12,500 capacity Wembley Arena, London, was a great outing that trended both online and offline.
He has also been sampled and featured by some of the world’s biggest artists including Fall Out Boys, Joria Smith and Beyonce, further earning respect for African music.
Earlier in 2019 when he griped on social media about his name being “so small” on the Coachella poster, many slated him for a perceived arrogance. But it was only a belief in his abilities. By the end of the Year, it was evident that this was a consistent, focussed and smart artist who knew where he was going with his ‘Afro-fusion’ comprising Afrobeat, dancehall, pop and reggae.
Another evidence of his focus was how he swiftly moved on from the controversy generated from his comments on the attacks on Nigerians and other Blacks in South Africa. He had vowed never to return to the country but made a U-turn in November and announced that he would be at ‘Africa Unite’ concert. Some South Africans were incensed by this and even threatened violence, according to organisers who cancelled the concert.
At 28, Burna Boy has become one of Africa’s most talked-about stars. He’s simultaneously entertaining and speaking truth to power with his music in Nigeria and across the continent while forging global friendships with collaborations. Whether or not he walks home with the Grammys on January 26, he has become a force of nature.
For a remarkable come-back career; for his impressive ‘African Giant album and for earning respect for African music globally, Burna Boy is TCN’s Culture Icon of the Year.