The 2020 Grammy awards had most Nigerian music followers home and abroad anxiously waiting for Burna Boy to be crowned best foreign art on the night. Many followed Burna’s tour round the world, from the Daily Show with Trevor Noah to lots of such appearances on different shows across the globe. He was ours. We felt a kinship. Ultimately he was pipped to the award by Angelique Kidjo of Benin republic. Burna might have missed out on the Award that night but it was not a total loss. It might even be seen as a blessing in retrospect, because in that attention whirl storm his music and his brand gained a worldwide prominence it had not had hitherto. I doubt that Burna saw it this way though. He has rivals in the industry in Nigeria, and these rivals have loyal fans. It is safe therefore to surmise that not every Nigerian music fan was rooting for his success at the Grammy’s.
Apparently Burna took note of this small wrinkle in the fabric and took it to heart. He had since made some controversial statements that more than suggest that he is far from being a happy camper. That brings us to his most recent spat with the public. This relates to the public condemnation that followed Funke Akindele’s decision to host a well attended house party to mark her husband’s 43rd birthday in the midst of a government mandated lockdown order and social distancing to help curb the spread of the dreaded Coronavirus.
Burna posted a video where he was seen condemning the Nigerian youths for condemning Funke’s action. He concluded by saying something to the tune of ‘una go suffer’. Burna is not particularly quite old yet but he is not a kid either. He made this video while walking bare bodied, with a half smoked joint between his fingers, through his fleet of exotic cars. The message was clear and complete. He didn’t leave much room for ambiguity regarding his point of view and general sentiment.
As a musician, his authenticity is in no doubt whatsoever. His originality however owes much to the originator of his brand of music, Afrobeat. Fela was an Icon of art. A single minded crusader for the course of the common man. A convinced believer in the common good. Burna models Fela, and does it well too. Fela was one with the masses. So is every artist or celebrity that has not yet found their way into politics. So in that sense Funke, Burna, Seun Kuti, Aisha Yesufu, Daddy Freez are all part of the said masses. Fela never pitted the masses against one another.
Even in that video, Burna, you were still channeling the man Fela. The blunt between your fingers, your bare torso, your pidgin English, tight pants all owe and pay to the man. But when you pitted the masses against each other, you spat on Fela’s grave. He never did that. He chided the masses sometimes, yes (suffering and smiling, 49 sitting 69 standing), but he was rallying them to stand up to the government of the day. He never took sides against the masses. Funke is part of the masses, so are you and I. Your walk through your fleet of cars while laughing at us. The message was clear. I won’t go far into that message so we don’t rouse anger when all we’re trying to do here is fix our own leaking roof.
You were trying to defend your comrade in arts, Funke. That’s very admirable, I see virtue in that. Was she wrong, yes. Even she acknowledged that much and even apologized for it. Your solidarity could have been better packaged. Don’t enable by covering for your friend, I’m sure she knows you support her and I want to believe you must have called her and expressed your support. That would have been commendable and even enough. You want to go public, good, then do so with tact. Don’t burn down the house to drive away rats.
In responding to Burna Boy on social media, one of Nigeria’s most vocal social crusaders, Aisha Yesufu, made some esoteric points about poverty. She moved mountains in my brain with what she had to say. I suggest Burna Boy listens to it with an open mind. I did, and since then I’ve been trying to close the doors of my mind and I can’t. I plan on leaving them like that. Open. To summarize her points; you cannot be rich in a poor community. When everyone is weeping, the smile of one man only makes the whole situation more sorrowful. We are all in this together.
Criticism has a format and critics are often guided by some ethos to which they often abide. Seun Kuti is a purist, like his father. We can’t all be like that, but every knife has an edge and every arrow has a tip. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, so Seun dalu for what you do. Be patient with us sometimes. We know you, we see you, we love you. The streets never forget. Stay true, you are wearing those shoes well.
Daddy Freez is a tangential realistic thinker. Without people like him, Fela, Chimamanda, Leo Igwe and Galileo, a society runs the risk of an unchecked steady blissful drift into perpetual idiocy. They might not be recognized or appreciated during their lifetime but posterity always saves them a seat. I want to go against that grain and say to him; keep at it, the room in which you’re speaking may be dark and quiet but it’s not empty. We hear you. We’re only quiet because you got us thinking. Hard.
Aisha and her big mouth (her words not mine), they speak for so many folks out there who cannot find their voice or a platform on which to use their voices. Women like her are vital in the sociocultural growth of any society that desires growth in that regard.
I have seen some online comments that opine that Burna was only rallying the masses to confront the government. You can squeeze that out of his general message if you try hard enough, but the bulk of his message was that he has made it (through his own sweat alone, he says), so has Funke, and to those trying to pull Funke down (and not fighting the government) they will suffer. That was crass to put it benignly. To his defense, he is a young man with young hot blood. Mistakes come with that territory and this was definitely one of them. Our prayer is that one day in the tomorrows to come he would look back to this with some retrospective self-cautionary nod of contrition and resolve. Until that day arrives, our duty as a people is to still love him, wish him well, while enjoying his good music. My non-Nigerian friends often ask me to give them a list of my top 10 Nigerian music acts. Tuface, Kizz D and Simi always come in first, and Burna Boy always makes that my humble list. One love.
Written by Uzoma Chukwuocha.
A freelance writer for TELL Magazine.
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