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Burna Boy Marks 33rd Birthday:


His music, his creative preoccupations and even his persona defy easy categorizations. And yet, all three aspects of the phenomenon known as Burna Boy are easily recognized around the world. 

Attempting a definition of Burna Boy’s sound would be something of a tall order because it is such a dynamic and eclectic mixture. However, he himself refers to his sound as ‘Afro-fusion’ – that is, a combination of Afrobeat, dancehall, hip-hop, pop, R&B, and reggae. In an interview, the artiste described his creative process thus: “I get into the booth and lay down the melody and the music just comes to me. honestly, I can’t really explain it; the inspiration and ideas just flow through me spiritually when I’m in the studio.”

Followers of his career, like the critic August Brown, who writes for the US daily, The Los Angeles Times, recently described Burna’s sound as “savvy and modern but undistracted by obvious crossover moves”. A fellow artist, Byron Messia, described Burna Boy as an incredibly talented lyricist – even without writing down his lyrics or going through the usual process of creating a song. 

In a pop music environment (and in particular, an Afrobeats landscape) which has in recent years come to place greater emphasis on the danceability of songs than on their lyrical content, Burna Boy stands out – for which reason he has rightly earned acclaim from fans and critics in Nigeria and across the globe. He is known for his vocal texture, as well as his baritone voice, as he sings in a linguistic blend of English, Yoruba, Igbo and pidgin. He has also lent his talent and voice to discussions of political topics in his music, such as the track ‘Collateral Damage’ (from the album ‘African Giant‘). Fellow Nigerian singer Omah Lay recently described Burna Boy as ‘the best songwriter‘ he had ever seen. Burna, he added, was an inspiration when it came to the art of musical penmanship. 

As a result of his virtuosity, Burna has earned, not just global recognition, but also a platform that has rarely been attained by an exponent of an Afrocentric music genre since the advent of the legendary Fela Anikulapo-Kuti. In some ways, in fact – thanks to the internet, social media and the digital streaming revolution (which has spawned outlets such as YouTube, Spotify,  etc. – Burna has traversed territories that were unheard of in Fela’s time. 

Not bad for a boy who grew up in modest circumstances in Port Harcourt, Rivers State and Lagos, armed with nothing more than a burning dream – and the talent to match. Originally named Damini Ebunoluwa Ogulu, Burna Boy was born in Port Harcourt, on July 2, 1991. His mother, Bose Ogulu, worked as a language translator, while his father, Samuel Ogulu managed a welding company. Those who have followed the eventful trajectory of Nigerian pop music will recall the name of Benson Idornijie, who at one time managed Fela, the Afrobeat icon. This Mr. Idornijie was an uncle of Burna’s. As Burna’s musical career began to take hold, his mother Bose, would eventually become his manager (and even co-produce and direct some of his songs). 

His early education was at the Corona Secondary School in Agbara, Ogun State, from where he eventually relocated to London, England, to further his studies at the University of Sussex. Media technology was his forte. He went on to obtain a further degree in Media Communications and Culture at Oxford Brookes University. On the conclusion of his studies, the young Damini Ogulu returned to Nigeria, where he took up a year-long internship at the Port Harcourt-based radio station, Rhythm 93.7 FM. 

Shortly after that, he relocated to Lagos and launched his 

The Burna Boy phenomenon was born!  

His early mixtapes, which included the song ‘Burn Identity’ were the percursors of his debut studio album, L.I.F.E, which was released in August 2013. It won critical acclaim and sold over  40,000 copies on the day of its release. Featuring the voices of other leading lights in the country’s contemporary pop scene such as 2face Idibia, M.I, Timaya, Olamide, Reminisce, and Wizkid, among others, the album has such hit singles as ‘4 Tonight’; ‘Always Love You’; ‘Run My Race”, and ‘Yawa Dey’. In an early boost to Burna’s fledgling career, the influential industry magazine, Entertainment Today, ranked the album 10th on its list of the 12th Best Albums of 2013.  

Burna Boy has gone on to release seven more studio albums, all to critical acclaim, and to the delight (one might even say, delirium) of his ever-expanding global fan base.  

Perhaps even more remarkable than his prolific creative output (in terms of both the depth of content, as well as the range and versalitity of his offerings) have been his public performances – some of which have taken place on some of the world’s most prestigious and iconic venues – further cementing his star power, his unique brand and his place among the planet’s biggest contemporary artists. On January 3, 2019, for example, Burna was announced (alongside Mr Eazi, another Nigerian star) as one of the artists to perform at the 2019 annual Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival at the Empire Polo Club in Indio, California. On June 10, 2023, the Nigerian superstar became the first artist from the African continent to perform at the Pepsi-organized UEFA Champions League Final Kick Off Show in Istanbul, Turkiye, when he took the stage at the city’s Atatürk Olympic Stadium in front of more than 71, 400 supporters and a TV audience of over 700 million people. In July, he made history again when he became the first African artist to headline and sell out a stadium show in the United States – a feat he recorded at the Citi Field in New York. In June 2022, Burna caused a stir when, after performing at the Belgravia Sports Stadium in Harare, Zimbabwe, he reportedly refused money to wear a scarf inscribed with the logo of the country’s ruling party, ZANU-PF (Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front) as he saw it as an endorsement of the government of the day in that country. 

A career littered with such firsts cannot but be littered also with accolades of all shapes and sizes from the most influential arbiters of excellence in the musical ecosystem – both in Nigeria and all over the world. At home, Burna is indeed the recipient of tons of awards, among them Best African Artiste of the Year, Listener’s Choice, and Best Male MVP – which he scooped in one night at the 2019 Soundcity MVP Awards Festival. Also in 2019, he won the award for Best International Act at that year’s BET Awards, as well as that of Apple Music’s Up Next artist. At the 63rd Annual Grammy Awards held on 15 March 2021, Burna won the Grammy award for Best Global Music album, and his song, ‘Destiny’ was included in the playlist for that year’s inauguration of America’s 46th President, Joe Biden. The Nigerian superstar was also the recipient of the Best International Act award at the 2021 BET Awards, becoming the first African artist to win that award on three consecutive occasions. In November 2022, he was nominated for 4 Grammy awards, making him the MOST nominated Nigerian artist in Grammy history, as well as the first Nigerian to have nominations in five consecutive years (from 2019 to 2023). As if all these recognitions are not staggering enough, Rolling Stone, the influential showbusiness magazine, has just listed Burna Boy among the 200 greatest singers of all time! 

And on and on the avalanche of awards and accolades goes. 

As Burna Boy marks his 33rd birthday, his teeming fans across the planet are confident that the best of this musical force of nature, this artistic Giant of Africa, is yet to come. Thanks to his virtuosity, energy, sassiness and larger-than-life stage presence, there is no doubt that the Burna brand has not only come to stay, but will continue to evolve in a constant kaleidoscope of creative possibilities, with the passage of time. 


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