PortraitInternational artists are snapping up his collaborations and his concerts are sold out in Europe. But it was first in Nigeria that Burna Boy built his success. In the tradition of Fela Kuti, the singer cultivates the tradition of Afrobeat. But by adding R’n’B and hip-hop, he is now conquering a global audience.
Everyone knows the lyrics by heart Anybody. It doesn’t matter if they’re in English and Yoruba, one of Nigeria’s three main languages. « Money soon expecting/Je kawon padi eh jen be » (“The money will soon return / Let your loved ones benefit from it”), exclaim over 20,000 fans, mostly young, trendy, black and white. A very diverse audience.
In Paris, in the pit of the AccorHotels Arena, full this evening of November 10, arms and smartphones are stretched out towards the stage: Louis Vuitton jacket, T-shirt adorned with the face of the Mona Lisa, Burna Boy hops, microphone in hand. “Remember you were African before anything else! “, proclaims the singer in front of a giant screen, where extracts of clips and archive images intersect. They tell the story of the founding of Nigeria, a vast territory of West Africa bought by the British Empire from the Royal Niger Company in 1899.
A staging supported by around thirty musicians, choristers and geysers of confetti. On the edge of the stage, the French rapper Orelsan films a few images of these two hours and forty-five minutes of show. Also invited are footballers, such as the German international Jérôme Boateng and the former French striker Djibril Cissé, and artists, such as the famous Beninese singer Angélique Kidjo. Once the performance is over, this little world waits backstage, massed in front of an elevator, to be able to greet the Nigerian artist in his dressing room.
“Even Michael Jackson would not have dared”
“I am a rockstar”, said Damini Ebunoluwa Ogulu, alias Burna Boy, 30, in the ocher suite of a five-star hotel, near the Champs-Elysées, the day after the concert. It is 10 p.m., the artist, who has chosen a name of ” Super hero ” invented when he was a child, always has his sunglasses on his nose. A bodyguard, a member of his management team and a press officer will be present throughout the interview. The rules were set a few minutes earlier: no umpteenth question about Beyoncé – with whom he collaborated on the soundtrack of the remake of the film the Lion King, by Jon Favreau, in 2019 – neither on politics and even less on “What he smokes”.
The Nigerian singer was able to take the measure of his fame in 2016, when he threw himself in full concert in the crowd in Surelere, in the south of his country, and was carried in triumph by several thousand fans. “I think that even Michael Jackson would not have dared to throw himself on the public in such a place”, he smiles, proud of his comparison, a Balenciaga boot resting on the coffee table. Since this leap into the void, he has released five records in three years. Outside (2018) and African Giant (2019) were multi-awarded and, with Twice as Tall (2020), produced by famous rapper Puff Daddy (now known as LOVE), the singer won the Grammy Award for Best World Music Album in 2021.
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Burna Boy, the Nigerian who makes the planet dance