With his latest album, Twice As Tall, released last week, Burna Boy has outgrown his title of ‘African Giant’ and is taking on the world. But home will always be where his heart is. Now, he’s asking his listeners to find out where their own hearts truly belong…
“Anywhere I go mo n’ lati pada si ile mi,” booms Burna Boy on the opening line of “Wonderful”, the lead single from his fifth studio album, Twice As Tall. It translates from pidgin English and Yoruba to “No matter where I go, I must return to my home.” It could be interpreted as the Nigerian artist committing to stay grounded in the wake of last year’s Grammy nominations, sold-out date at London’s Wembley SSE Arena and global recognition. But after speaking with him, it sounds much more like a rousing call to those with African heritage, both within and outside the continent, to remember and respect their roots. The way he sees it, Africa planted the seeds for modern society and, if we want to move it forward, then perhaps it’s time to go back to where it all began.
Burna Boy’s already there, of course, hunkered down in Lagos, Nigeria, where he’s seen out the pandemic while working from home on his album. “It’s been great for me, but I can’t say the same for everyone else,” he says of lock-down life. “I’ve spent it being creative, researching, finding out more about myself, learning more about ancestors, trying to exercise my mind and body.”
Released last Friday, Twice As Tall was crafted predominantly within his own home, a first for the 29-year-old, despite the fact that he’s almost a decade into his career. His particular brand of self-coined Afro-fusion, a sumptuous blend of global black sounds – Afrobeat, dancehall, reggae, rap and R&B – spearheaded a wave of mainstream Afro-influenced music that has crashed onto the shores of the UK with such force that we now have the recently launched Official Afrobeats Chart, giving the genre the same amount of recognition that rock, R&B and dance have enjoyed for decades. Burna Boy believes that it’s resonated with British audiences so strongly due to the fact that most black people in UK are more aware of their roots, whereas lineage was erased by slavery in the US, but his London collaborator, Jae5, also sees another cause.
“It’s because of uni culture,” he says. “Before people such as Burna Boy and J Hus blew up, about seven years ago, DJs such as Stamina and DJ P Montana were throwing raves for 4,000, 5,000 people and all they were playing was Nigerian and Ghanaian music – straight up Afrobeats. The underground scene just kept on getting bigger and bigger and evolved into what it is now. I think it started way earlier than what people seem to think.”
Now, everyone’s in on it and everyone wants to work with Burna Boy: most recently he’s collaborated with Sam Smith, but his catalogue also includes songs with Stormzy, Dave, J Hus, Jorja Smith and Damian Marley, to name a few. Last year, he featured on Beyoncé’s The Lion King soundtrack, The Gift (before we speak, I’m asked not to mention Black Is King, the visual album that was recently released to accompany it). For Twice As Tall, he called up Sean Combs (AKA Diddy) to ask if he would executive produce the album. Naturally, he obliged.
Despite the external input, his sound hasn’t changed since last year’s astronomically successful African Giant. More heavyweight features come in the form of Coldplay’s Chris Martin on the impassioned, reggae-influenced track “Monsters You Made”, but producers such as LeriQ, Telz, P2J and London’s own Jae5 have ensured the Afro-fusion flavour still runs through.