Lessons Burna Boy, AbdulKareem Need to Learn Just Once

Sounding Off

I have been a follower of Burna Boy’s music for a long time- stating specifics can be hard now. But I do recall the first time I paid attention to “Like to Party” and the lyrics sounded so cheeky. I loved the song instantly. However, I didn’t hear so much from him on the radio and other voices in the Afropop scenes seemed to have submerged him. Still, he launched a series of dancehall songs which many people loved. It was obvious that his creative energy took roots from the streets.


At some point, I turned off my ears on most popular Nigerian music because they were all beginning to sound the same: noisy, all-so-about-the-beat and huge sexual references. I thought we could do better but then I stumbled on Burna’s “Soke”. I loved it for its Fela-flavoured rhythm and kept it on repeat for hours while driving through Apapa traffic. 


After discovering Burna’s pedigree in music, I understood why his music was of a different class. Not only did he show ingenuity with his sound, he was courageous to switch from the comfort zone to experimental. 


As a culture journalist who has courted many friends and associates in the entertainment business, I am aware that one of the early platforms that Burna Boy enjoyed was the Lagos International Jazz Festival where he had performed at least twice, without blings or air of arrogance.


I met his grandfather first when he trained me as a music critic at a workshop organised by Goethe Institut, Lagos. Then I scheduled an interview with him in his FESTAC home. The interview was two-hour long and very interesting. It was at the end of the interview that we spoke briefly about Burna who was then in South Africa. Idonije is one man. I respect his judgement so I started to pay closer attention to Burna’s music afterwards.


Burna was hungry for fame and success at the time that Nigerians were getting tired of “DJ Track 1” at performances. Under the mentorship and artistic direction of his grandfather and revered music critic, Benson Idonije, Burna kept perfecting his sound and showmanship. From his band to his wardrobe, Burna was like a family project with input from everyone who surrounded him. I wrote several reviews on his music as well as Wizkid’s. And his Grammy win was a year late, anyway in my own way of thinking.


Fela’s music was prominent in his compositions and he had never denied that source of inspiration in several interviews. It is quite disturbing that Burna Boy would repeatedly say nobody helped him in the music industry. Maybe not the kind of help he was expecting.  That’s almost everyone’s story of success in Nigeria. Many people had to struggle on their own to attain a certain level of success. Still, if you look keenly, you will discover that there was someone in your corner who spoke nicely about you somewhere.


Let me give an example of Asa. Before she launched into international recognition, I had a demo containing two of her singles one of which is “Eye Adaba.” I was an undergraduate of Obafemi Awolowo University Ile Ife and in my hostel, everyone knew this song because I made them listen. They asked who the artist was. It took almost three years after that that Asa became an international phenomenon. I got calls from everywhere asking how I knew Asa long before she became popular. I told them the story of how my sister received a demo from her manager on the promise to play her song for her bosses just to convince them that Asa could perform at the end of the year party organised by the company.


I took the demo with me to school and played it around the hostel. This story may sound unnecessary and unrelated but it’s to show you the logic behind promoting an artist, organically. I have never spoken with Asa face-to-face but I had sat in the same room with her and the likes of Obi Asika at one culture-related stakeholders forum held in Eko Hotel, Victoria Island.


Of course, people may have helped Burna without his knowledge and they have no interest in rubbing it in his face. I’m aware that Burna’s mother played a key role in pushing his music. She sent his songs to seasoned journalists at leading newspapers for reviews and till date, she is still his manager- deservedly so.


Now, to Eedris AbdulKareem, a pioneering Afro Hip-hop artist whose name is associated with controversies. The one everyone seems to remember quickly is the way he fought over a seat against American rapper 50 Cent. It was Abdulkareem’s way of demanding equal treatment for artists, whether home-based or from the diaspora. But he had done much more than that in his career than he had ever been credited for. Remember, his protest song “Jagajaga”? That’s still an anthem of mass protests till today.


Anyway, AbdulKareem has begun to raise some dust with the trailer of the soon to be released Podcast. He condemned Burna for saying that nobody helped him in the music industry. In response, Burna posted and deleted a statement saying that he did not blame Eedris Abdulkareem for his outburst against him but the people who donated money to settle his hospital bills when he underwent a kidney transplant in 2022.


The older artist was pained that Burna seemed to be wishing him dead. He then promised to release a diss track “Essay to Burna Boy” in two weeks. Many have accused AbdulKareem of seeking to revamp his career with this beef and diss track. However, it must be stated that Burna Boy’s comment was tactless. The statement came be funny if it was just between the two of them on the street but this is social media. It rings home different things: lack of restraint, decorum and grossly insensitive.


It is no wonder that his mother seizes his phone from him from time to time. Burna Boy is an adult and it is time to stop taking his phone from him. He needs to be allowed to live with the consequences of his action. When he realises that a comeback is not easy, then he would be more guided.


There was a time when Wizkid had a war of words with Linda Ikeji on social media. Right now, Wizkid has learnt to keep quiet a little more as he is getting older. 


Unfortunately, the war of words between Burna Boy and AbdulKareem is fast degenerating into a battle of two generations- old and new. I have always said that we need to give the older ones their flowers. They never had internet or streaming sites. They didn’t have TikTok or Twitter to promote their music. Their was no proper documentation of their music.


The current generation has the good fortune of technology to liberate them from Shylock record owners. They can gain international fame and win Grammys without an album. A case in point is South Africa’s Tyla who grabbed a Grammy with her viral song “Water.” 


But then, the older generation of artists should also be diplomatic in expressing their views so as not to be tagged as envious of new artists who have made huge commercial success. AbdulKareem is going to be 50 years old this year. He should have earned his place in Afrobeat or Afrobeats Hall of Fame and not Hall of Shame. His name should not be dragged even by those who came after him. Before anyone knew Psquare, there was Remedies.


Remedies, the group where AbdulKareem launched his career in music, demonstrated that it was possible to mix indigenous sound with pop and hip-hop flavour and they started with sampling MC Lyte’s ‘Keep on Keeping On’ to deliver the smash hit “Shakomo.” And Burna has also imbibed that sampling culture with many of his hit songs.


The music industry in Nigeria needs to have a structure to function as it does in other developed economies. But if we keep having a fractured relationship between two generations of artists, fuelled by fans, there will be a large deposit of mess that will take more generations to clean up.


-Written by Yinka Olatunbosun, a culture journalist.

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