The man who is currently Africa’s most popular musician, Burna Boy, is facing questions over the public persona as well as the originality of sound and style he has maintained over the last few years.
These concerns have always bubbled underneath the general fascination with Burna Boy. But what triggered the recent spate of criticisms were a series of tweets by Burna Boy.
The Afrobeat star sometime ago tweeted: “FACT! I always knew I was and I am THE BEST. Everyone you think is the best KNOWS I’m BEST since Fela Kuti. But @timayatimaya told me something a long time ago that made me not care about being the best. “The World can do without the Best” the world will still spin regardless.”
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What many beyond his over 2.6 million followers read were the words of a man whose head, they believe, has outgrown his body.
The common strand among all the backlash was people decrying Burna Boy’s “arrogance”. The tweet was considered disrespectful to those whose stars have shone before Burna Boy’s sunrise.
Nigerian pop star Tuface Idibia was mentioned as someone Burna Boy had to show respect to. Even contemporaries such as Wizkid and Davido had advocates among the thousands of responses to Burna Boy.
For what it’s worth, it is not uncommon for musicians to bestow upon themselves, some preeminence. Show business is as much about self-promotion as it is about as anything else.
What counts differently in the criticisms against Burna Boy is that he has for a while struggled to emerge from the shadows of Fela Kuti.
Predictably, there were those on Twitter to remind him that he was a discount-Fela Kuti.
Burna Boy is not related to Kuti in any way. Kuti himself has a world-acclaimed saxophonist, Femi Kuti, for a son. But Burna Boy has modelled his sound, style and for lack of a better word, spirit, in the last few years after the legendary Kuti who continues to enjoy cult-like praise even in his death.
He was more than a musician and that’s not hyperbole. Kuti was intentional about social justice activism and triggered the consciousness of those who listened to his songs.
To the Nigerian government, Kuti was a provocateur and it was not as if he was particularly scared by the authorities. And he was an unmistakably talented musician.
Burna Boy might be doing more than just learning from history when it comes to Fela Kuti. Because even if he did not know Kuti, at least Burna Boy’s mother and grandfather did.
Burna Boy’s mum, Bose Ogulu, was once a dancer for Fela Kuti. And his grandfather, Benson Idonije was once Kuti’s manager.
For some, there is nothing that Burna Boy could do henceforth that would not be connected to the memory and philosophy of Fela Kuti. And there is no way in which Burna Boy would excel more than Fela Kuti did.
Forget the fact that Burna Boy almost won a Grammy and Kuti was never even nominated for one. It is here we see how thick the charge and suspicion of “fakeness” goes against Burna Boy.
It has been argued in some quarters that those things Kuti stood for – freedom of self-expression, anti-corruption, among others – are “wearable accessories” for Burna Boy.
In that, while Kuti did what he did, sometimes putting his life at risk, Burna Boy has to say he is about those things without actually putting his body or career on the line.
Depending on where you stand with the artist, all of this can come as noise.
Of course, if he continues to churn out hits, Burna Boy will quell the debates. And who is going to bet against “The African Giant” doing exactly that?