Burna Boy takes a well-earned victory lap with his latest album ‘African Giant’
Words by Brinsley Chidavaenzi
“To think how many Africans suffer in oblivion. That makes me sad… Despite my sadness, I create joyful rhythms…” – Fela Kuti
African Giant is a victory lap in a progression of successful years prior in building an undeniable presence across African music, and now amongst Western audiences. My first offerings of Burna Boy were the sleek laid back swagger of ‘Like to Party’ and the soulful afro-house of ‘Tonight.’ His distinct vocal texture and star presence always made him standout amongst his contemporaries, and 2018’s ‘Ye’ track was a moment that propelled Burna Boy into the spotlight.
A song that was spiritual, anthemic, prideful and representative of the people yet could only be individual, invited millions to Burna’s sound. Burna takes his philosophy of what ‘Ye’ so fantastic and manages to amplify his strengths without repetition or boredom. African Giant’s sonic soundscape is vast with live instrumentation that shades over years of African music and genres, as well as modern blemishes of expertly programmed drums across the track listing. In addition to great drum programming, additional synthesised instrumentation supports the production for a killer low-end experience on sound systems. It’s as authentic as the sound blending gets. Un-diluted. The 1 hour album length seems to be a current goal of maximising streaming numbers and profitability, and less of a needed time to explore artistic pursuits without running dry.
The sequencing on African Giant manages to hold the hour very well with variety in hazy moods and pacing of features and textures. The features never truly outshine Burna – but are rather complimentary. A heck of listing that features Damian Marley, Future, YG, Jorja Smith, Angelique Kidjo and more without the star power being forced. There’s songs for weddings and honeymoon lovers, songs to feel re-ignited, songs to inspire the future, songs for a hangover and plenty of human states.
Standout track ‘Another Story’ is a highlight addressing Nigeria’s colonial history and the similar experiences between Nigeria and Ghana. Burna Boy’s spirit shines over production with a melancholic chord sequence, the type that ran through Fela’s records (such as Trouble Sleep Yanga Wake Am and Mattress) during the Afirka 70 era. Burna’s melodies bring his soul for an experience that’s as joyous and triumphant to dance to as it is deeply contemplative and sorrowful. There’s a emotion that’s unquantifiable but easily identifiable as this same emotion is present amongst certain records of a sentimental quality across the whole of Africa. For me and Zimbabwe it would be Oliver Mtukudzi’s ‘Mbabvu Yangu’. M.anifest bookends the song with a show-stopping verse that’s vital in message which encourages a Pan-African solidarity and examining our condition and disposition with relaxed percussive delivery.
African Giant hosts a unique watershed moment as it signifies a cultural boiling point in Afrobeat sounds reaching the musical mainstream axis (after the most recent Lion King: The Gift and previous works such as More Life and others). Afrobeats could easily have a future in a vein that late 90’s and early 2000’s dancehall did in were those records became cultural landmarks (a la Sean Paul’s Like Glue/Gimme the Light) amongst the popular music of the West. Although the future of industry producers and hitmakers in the Spotify age can easily copy and paste formulaic techniques over Afrobeat drum programming, and pop stars sing over as the ‘new and exciting’ next terrain that pop music absorbs in the ever shifting sound as usual. If the past is any indication in what’s next then prepare to hear the afro-framework a lot more on the Top 40. The influence has definitely been tapped into, with artists such as Major Lazer, but not at critical mass level.
Burna Boy successfully makes a project which is true to him, true to his descendence and spirituality whilst being entrenched in modern-ness with encouraged solidity across Africa, as well as America and the UK whilst being deeply enjoyable and rich in musicality whilst juggling pop sensibilities. It’s the rare mix of those aforementioned qualities that spring to mind, another contemporary that’s won many people over which is Koffee. Her show-stopping cover of ‘Ye’ and Rapture EP put her a space to be reckoned with as a powerhouse in years to come. Fans wanted their paths to cross dearly on African Giant, but when the time’s right – the African Giant will make the necessary step on an ever-growing journey. But for now the giant can rest.