2019. What a year, what a year.
Especially for African music. Down in South Africa, rappers AKA and Nasty C have teased new projects on the way later in the year, and the emergence of the Amapiano sound has been nothing short of groundbreaking. Up in the West, Davido scored another big hit with Chris Brown on “Blow My Mind”, and producer Larry Gaaga has made waves collaborating with the likes of Wizkid and Patoranking.
We’ve also had our share of relatively new faces on the scene. Olamide signee Fireboy DML has also made waves this year, with his banger, “Jealous”, while Mr. Eazi’s Empawa initiative has blessed us with Joeboy, who has given us hits like “Baby” and “Beginning”. Rema’s “Dumebi” is a banger. It would be wrong of me to omit Australian-based Sampa The Great, who is arguably enjoying the best year of her career thus far, getting a slot at Glastonbury and making shockwaves with her Afro-futurist, feminist sound.
A great year, by all means. But if you were to ask who has “run the game” in terms of African music this year, most people would direct you to one man: The self-proclaimed “African Giant” himself – Burna Boy.
2019 is Burna Boy’s year. It all started when Coachella released their lineup for this year’s showpiece. As is their custom, the headliners get the biggest fonts, and as the acts get smaller, so does the font. Most people would celebrate just making the list, but not Burna Boy. He took to Instagram to express his disdain at his name being too small, and thus, declaring himself an African Giant:
At a time when black and African culture are pushing boundaries at scale, Burna Boy’s complaint would kickstart a movement unlike any other we’ve seen from an artist in recent times. In addition to having a killer set at Coachella, Burna also won Best International Act at the BET Awards, became the first African artist to feature on the Audiomack Trap Symphony, and has been on high-profile shows like The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, and Jimmy Kimmel Live! Add to that a successful worldwide tour (which he is still on, at the time of this writing). He was also featured on arguably the song of the summer (“Location” with Dave) and was on Beyoncé’s Lion King-inspired “The Gift” album.
The entire concept of his now-released album as sort of like a flex of how much of an African Giant he is. Listening to it feels like going back in time and experiencing the legendary Fela Kuti, considered by many to be the originator of the Afrobeats sound. For those of us who were too young to experience Fela, it feels as though Burna is bridging the gap. It is distinctly African, and interpolates African legends like Angelique Kidjo & Fela Kuti himself. Songs like “Wetin Man Go Do” and “Another Story” really take you back to the original Afrobeats sounds of the 70’s, while songs like “Gum Body” are placed right here in 2019. Burna barely did anything wrong on this one, from production, to concept, to features.
Like every rockstar, Burna has had his fair share of controversial headlines. Whether it’s refunding a fan his ticket money because his face was “not encouraging” or getting into a Twitter spat with AKA on the topic of xenophobia, he’s had his fair share of the headlines this year. But the good has outweighed the bad, and what’s a rockstar without a little bad PR anyways, right?
The point is, if you’re talking about African music, especially in the past year or so, it’s very difficult not to have his name in the discussion. Like I said earlier, the timing of his album is significant, a time when African music is rising. African Giant is the perfect placement in this timeline, pushing African culture forward globally at a time when the world is willing to listen.
Whether you want to accept it or not, 2019 belongs to the African Giant.
Because we love you, we’ve curated an African Giant-inspired playlist on Spotify for your enjoyment. You can listen to it here.