Inspired by Fela Kuti, a look at the forces pulling Nigeria’s Burna Boy on the path of the afrobeats pioneer

November 04, 2019 at 01:00 pm | History

Michael Eli Dokosi

Michael Eli Dokosi | Staff Writer

November 04, 2019 at 01:00 pm | History

Fela Kuti and Burna Boy. Photo credit: Alchetron and Harry Song respectively.

The thread linking Afrobeats pioneer, Fela Kuti, and current music notable Burna Boy, his mother, grandfather as well as his father is an interesting one.

Success appears to feel at home with Burna Boy known in private life as Damini Ebunoluwa Ogulu. The Nigerian national emerged winner of the Best Africa Act award at the 2019 MTV EMAs held in Seville, Spain on November 3, 2019. Burna shrugged off keen challenge from compatriot Teni the Entertainer, South Africa’s Prince Kaybee and Nasty C as well as Harmonize from Tanzania and Togo’s duo TooFan.

2019 has treated Burna kind. He released his 19-track studio album ‘African Giant’ July this year to rave reviews scoring features from Angelique Kidjo and Damian Marley. There was an international tour as well as a performance at Coachella. He had his “Ja Ara E,” song appear on “The Lion King: The Gift,” album curated by Beyoncé for the movie. In June at the BET Awards, Burna Boy was named Best International Artiste boosting his profile in America significantly.

During a recent show at Paris, Burna was interacting with his fans in the English language, but realized some were being disenfranchised so invited his mother over to translate in French to the audience. The fans responded enthusiastically with her rendering.

Burna Boy’s mum, Bose Ogulu, was once a dancer for Fela Kuti and it is here we follow the river course of the interrelationships between Fela and the Ogulus. Burna Boy, some reports indicate, started making music at 10 but it will take moving to London for university education and shelving school after two years making a return to Nigeria in 2010 that the 19-year-old Ogulu connected to the music of his native country.

Burna-Boy-and Mum-stargist
Burna Boy with mum Bose Ogulu via stargist.com

Picking his reggae-dancehall vibe from music his father Samuel Ogulu consumed, and Afrobeat music that his grandfather preferred, Burna Boy forged a music identity of his own which is serving him well.

Another thread to look at involving the Fela-Burna Boy interlock is that Fela Kuti’s first manager was Benson Idonije whom you guessed right, is Burna Boy’s grandfather while his father was also friends with the fallen music icon.

When news broke that Burna Boy had fired his mum-cum-manager, she submitted: “… I still do everything I used to do but I cannot always do everything. I was out of the country for about eight weeks, how much can I do? There is no issue with us and there is no reason to feel anyhow. It is something we discussed and I still do what I have to do, I still manage some of his accounts, transactions and endorsements but I can’t do everything. There is no issue there at all. If I have an issue with my son I would go and meet him. I still handle his corporate shows because nobody else can do that for now. I am only one person and I am not a young person and he is going bigger every day. This is not something that should have been misconceived at all.”

Burna Boy was only six years old when Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti passed away, but his impact on his life through his grandfather and mother’s association with the music legend and activist is undeniable.

“Everyone’s got their hero,” Burna Boy submitted, adding, “For me, that’s my hero.”

On L.I.F.E., his debut album cover, Fela’s photo is largely embossed while he bears a tattoo of his image too. Additionally, he has a necklace of Fela with both fists up around his neck.

Burna Boy with granddad Benson Idonije via nairaland.com

On the music proper, while some observers say Burna Boy finds inspiration in Fela’s discography, others reckon the sampling of Fela’s works by Burna and interpolation of lyrics is too uncanny.

At just 28, Burna Boy has a lot of proving to render as an activist demanding accountability from the government for the average man’s sake and become a stubborn social reformer as Fela was. Observers say he appears uncomfortable with serious engagements on social media much more in real life.

Burna Boy released his maiden album ‘L.I.F.E’ in 2013, ‘On a Spaceship’ in 2015, ‘Outside’ in 2018 and the ‘African Giant’ in 2019.

Burna Boy performing. Photo credit: AP

Like Fela, Burna Boy has performed in only his underwear (a daring act), smokes cigarettes and has two key persons – mother and grandfather who were all involved with Fela musically. Perhaps it explains why some consumers of his music reckon they feel a Fela imprint on his sound, but the ‘Anybody’ hitmaker reminds all that while Fela coined the “Afrobeat” term for his brand of music, he birthed “Afro-Fusion,” a genre that stitches together Caribbean influences, R&B and pop all strung by Afrobeat.

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