Before we lose Burna Boy

It’s often said that a week is a long time in politics, and now it appears the same could be said for music after Nigerian Afro-fusion star Burna Boy, real name Damini Ogulu, saw his world – the virtual one at least – violently flipped over the past week. Wait a minute, did I say music? Scratch that, because the brouhaha had nothing to do with music but the shenanigans of an egotistical artiste and the exaggerated response of a generation adrift.

A first-time visitor to Nigerian social media would be forgiven to equate Burna Boy with a popular fictional villain, say Queen Cersei Lannister in HBO fantasy series ‘Game of Thrones’, or one of the despoilers of the country’s patrimony, given the vituperation that went his way. His physical appearance was scoffed at, his personality slighted and even the unthinkable happened – his songs were shredded. It was an overkill, underlined by the fact that not even his girlfriend, UK artiste Steflon Don, was spared. With her reputation unbesmirched save for association with Burna Boy, her voluptuousness was attacked.

Make no mistake about it, this was by no means an unprovoked attack; far from it. Burna Boy, consistent with an inner destructive streak like moth to a flame, drew the storm on himself. It all began quietly – like the opening scenes in the Hollywood classic, Titanic, before the iceberg popped – leaving behind an absolute shipwreck. However, unlike in Titanic, there are no heroes in this saga, only frantic attempts at collective villainy.

Afropop superstar Davido posted a photoshopped image of himself and Wizkid with the caption: “the 2 greatest of all time”. While the overriding motive for the post is open to conjecture, it was arguably mischievous and not directed at anyone in particular. But Burna Boy was having none of it, as indicated in his post on Snapchat shortly afterwards.

In the now deleted post, an enraged Burna Boy wrote:

“You cannot play football, everybody knows you cannot play football and you are an embarrassment to the team. But your daddy bought the entire team.”

It was an undisguised attack on Davido and his privileged background, drawing on the now jaded rhetoric that he bought his way to the top. Almost immediately, Nigerians on social media made Burna Boy wish he’d kept his mouth shut, as they descended on him like a starving mob would a thief.

Fellow artistes and fans united in support of Davido over his tiff with Burna

For a while now, Burna Boy’s unrelenting rise to stardom has corroded the rivalry between Wizkid and Davido – and their fans who dominate social media. And his bilious remark only served to unite them, leaving him in the eye of a Twitter Tsunami. The bashing wasn’t just from faceless fans, as other artistes, entertainers and media personalities joined in taking him to the cleaners. One particular stinger, delivered by emerging nightlife promoter Cubana Chief Priest, stood out.

Taking to Instagram, he said in a mixture of pidgin and English:

“Don’t ever fight destiny. You see this crown, it’s God that gave it to him. It’s natural. It’s inborn. David as someone from a wealthy background never looked out for a rich/blown girlfriend rather he blew his girl. David at 26 had a 5-year-old daughter. David with his said father’s money has raised talents to superstars, even his gateman has benefited!!! Were it to be your father that owns such money, pride would not let you do music for a living. David turned poor Ikotun boys to island big boys, come on!!! There are levels to this championship thing, na who blow come still blow people na him we wey be Igbo people dey call Odogwu.”

Days later, it emerged that Burna Boy and his father were arrested after aggrieved neighbours called the cops on them for playing their music “too loud”. When it rains, it pours.

The whirlwind attack comes as Burna Boy’s latest work – a cameo in Buju’s ‘Lenu’ wherein he once again showcased his lyrical depths and melodic mastery – dominates the airwaves. It also comes after months of accolades and adulation on social media in the wake of the success of his African Giant album, seeing him leap from being an underrated artiste to a somewhat overrated one. More tellingly, the backlash comes weeks after he ‘quit’ Twitter, saying he’s “too real for this app” in the aftermath of his Grammy award snub.

Speaking on his relationship with fans, Burna Boy once told an interviewer that Nigerians both loved and hated him because he told them “what they needed to hear and not what they wanted to hear”. Well, he finally succeeded in telling them what they neither needed nor wanted to hear, with the result that he’s being burnt at the stake.

Could he have handled things differently? Of course, yes. Heck, all he needed to do was…nothing! With back-to-back Soundcity MVP and song of the year awards, record streaming numbers, blockbuster international collaborations and his Grammy nomination, Burna Boy had propelled himself to the very apex of Nigerian music. This is backed by the heavy artillery of his inimitable delivery, sound, versatility and prolificity. Burna Boy is the undoubted top dog, a position reinforced by his masterful delivery in collaboration with the iconic Tuface Idibia in the summer smash, ‘We must groove’. To maintain his position, the words of American political scientist and CNN host, Fareed Zakaria, come to mind: “The best way to maintain liberal hegemony is to be more liberal and less hegemonic”.

Davido’s post was not as innocuous as was later assumed. Had Burna Boy ignored it, music lovers – a great many enamoured by his art – would surely come for Davido, at least for his hubris. Critics and others with contrary opinions were bound to wade in, leaving Davido in the unenviable situation of having to explain himself. And Nigerians on social media, many of whom were ardent followers of Game of Thrones, would most likely recall the worlds of Tywin Lannister to King Joffery:

“A man who says I’m king is no king.”

Shortly after Burna Boy’s now infamous tantrum after the Grammy award snub, Lagos-based therapist Oyinkansola Alabi, said, “Even though I love his diligence, I didn’t want him to win. I thought the Grammy Award would ruin him. I was scared of his attitude towards fame and money”.

From the start, his career always seemed bigger than him. Back in the day when he was still on the outside looking in, any music connoisseur who listened to songs like Yawa Dey, Like to Party, Run my Race, to mention a few from his dynamite debut album L.I.F.E., knew immediately a star was born. After his equally impressive yet underappreciated sophomore ‘On a Spaceship’, he got due acclaim with his third studio work, Outside, the precursor to him becoming the African Giant – albeit one still prone to giant gaffes.

The hook in his song with Buju, Lenu, says it best: “Tell me what I cannot do…” This doesn’t exactly leave one feeling comfy considering his penchant to score own goals.

As we await the release of his fifth studio album, defiantly titled ‘Twice as Tall’, it’s hard to shrug off the niggling feeling that should Burna Boy achieve the career his talent deserves, it will be in spite of, and not because of himself.

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