On Sunday, January 26, 2020, legendary Beninese singer Angelique Kidjo won the Grammy Award in the ‘Best World Music Category’ for her 2019 album, ‘Celia’ ahead of Nigeria’s Burna Boy [African Giant] and three other nominees, Altin Gün [Gece], Bokanté & Metropole Orkest Conducted By Jules Buckley [What Heat], and Nathalie Joachim With Spektral Quartet [Fanm D’Ayiti]. This was her fourth Grammy win overall.
24 hours before the awards, Burna Boy was in the top 5 trending topics on Nigerian Twitter as fans confidently voiced out their support and tweeted well-wishes ahead of the big night. There was little pre-event anxiety, this had been written in the stars.
On the night of the awards itself, the entire nation and perhaps the continent kept vigil ready to celebrate the ‘African Giant.’
There has been this sense of eventuality in recent years that a Nigerian pop artist was due a Grammy consideration, but while names like Wizkid and Davido were early runners, there was another name in the pantheon of artists nurturing their legacy whose path seemed more assured and that was Burna Boy.
The Afro-fusion act has been around for close to a decade weaving his sound into our consciousness, but it is his fourth studio album that has succeeded where his peers only dreamt, a nomination off his solo effort.
But at around 12.35 am [Nigerian Time], the holy grail again proved so close, yet so far, as Kidjo was announced winner, sparking passionate and uncontrolled reactions that her dedication of the awards to Burna did little to calm. This hurt differently.
Since the evolution of the pop era, there have been many who have aspired for the coveted plaque. The former member of the Remedies, Eedris Abdulkareem once declared death on his enemies when he returns with the Grammy in his 2003 single, ‘Live in Yankee’, 9ice would later brag five years later on ‘Street Credibility’ that he was bringing home the awards, with Skales also rapping about heading for a Grammy on his debut single. While the likes of King Sunny Ade, Femi Kuti, and brother Seun have bagged nominations.
The Grammy is music’s most prestigious awards and despite the controversies that trail every edition, it remains the pinnacle of every musician’s career and the biggest party for a critical reward.
In the past, we have even had home-bred winners, in the likes of Sikiru Adepoju in 2009 for the album, ‘Global Drum Project,’ and Lekan Babalola winning twice in 2006 working with Malian singer Ali Farka Toure on the album, ‘In The Heart Of The Moon’ and for ‘Best Jazz Vocal Album’ in 2009 for Casandra Wilson’s ‘Loverly’, both drummers, who won the awards on collaborative albums, but this is different. There is a connection here and a feeling of not just witnessing history but also being a part of it happening, this is the first time it feels like ‘one of our own’ had a legit stake at something this special.
It was a huge moment when he won the BET Awards in 2019 with his Mum’s acceptance speech going viral, but nothing compares to the Grammy, this is the world cup of music, the place where champions belong.
For longtime followers of Burna Boy, everything seemed right for him to win despite a tough category. He has had the best two years of any African artist, well promoted by his U.S label, Atlantic Records, showcased on major platforms, the Obamas even have him on their playlist, with the global romance of Afrobeats predicted to prove a major asset, they willed it to be him, in fact, it just had to be him.
His path began in 2013 when he released his debut album ‘L.I.F.E,’ he had something many lacked, an eccentric brilliance that was contagious.
Rumored to be a notorious hothead off the mic and a genius of one, having a connection to the late Afrobeat legend Fela Anikulapo Kuti in his lineage has also played a role in getting him accepted in certain quarters, a connection he has not been shy to tap into for inspiration repeatedly. There is also that toughness in his personality that makes the streets love him, but more importantly, his musicality flows with streams of consciousness that the masses resonate with.
With every year his confidence grew and a greater appreciation of the role, he was playing emerged. Controversies would derail his journey but he eventually got his inexorable rise back on track with the life-changing album, ‘Outside’ in 2018. The album’s breakout single ‘Ye’ planted earworms in listener’s ears across the world picking up countless awards on its way and fully stamped his new position as a global Popstar.
It has been a run of endless hits since with Burna proving to be the virtuoso performer every time he steps on stage to perform his hit singles like ‘Killin Dem’ and ‘Anybody,’ and despite being championed as the face of the new rave, Afrobeats, on the international stage, Burna has not changed, not in his ways nor his sound.
His interviews reek of the familiar untamed ego and a guarded vulnerability while the infusion of his local languages remains key elements in his music. This is the Damini Ogulu we know and have come to love.
He has consistently delivered an immersive experience of anthems detailing his life as a kid in Port-Harcourt, his challenges, mistakes, wins and also socio-political consciousness while also making us dance.
Getting the nomination was the consequent validation for everything he has been through at this point and getting the win would have just been the magical topping. But he lost, to a worthy winner, one even he calls his idol and there is no shame in that. It takes nothing away from him, doesn’t in any form shrink away all he has achieved.
Burna’s greatness and the greatness of his talents have been long cemented before the Grammy nomination. He already declared himself an ‘African Giant’ before the Academy came calling, he long puffed his chest even while no one was watching.
Yet, it hurts and while this is little compensation for the pain, it was an impressive run and there is little doubt that he would be back. The thing about giants is setbacks or misses don’t keep them down for long. These situations are a constant dance, it fuels them and the range of Burna’s talent is so immense that chances are he will have this moment again, and maybe this time bring to life his words, ‘‘I know say one day e go better, I go carry Grammy.’’