Burna Boy, Mr Eazi, and the ‘Giantness’ of Nigerians
“Giants of Africa!”
That’s the line that captured that feeling of superiority from the past. We felt a sense of pride when we are referred to as “Giants” in comparison to our neighbours. Once, while watching CNN with some extended family members, an image in a special feature caught my eye. It was the picture of a malnourished African kid in some village. One of my uncles screamed “See how they suffer in other African countries. Thank God we are the giants of Africa. It can never be us!”
When Burna Boy declared himself an African giant, he probably wasn’t channelling his Nigerian past, when we truly believed as a society that we are superior in any regard. Thankfully, we have lost all notions of that as we continue to mint poor people in alarming droves. Burna Boy’s fight for fonts might have been a foul reason for him to declare himself as one, but he is indeed an African giant. Together with his colleague and fellow Coachella performer, Mr Eazi, Nigerian music is blessed with giants. We can make a list of them, but many will be left out. And to see two of those artists headline Coachella is a beauty to behold.
Burna Boy pulled off a super set, although his fashion choice, while eye-catching, looked like a rejected sketch of what intersectionality would be like if someone screamed “peasant diversity, please!” in a Burberry store. Perhaps that was the point; to rankle fans and the fashion police, who had a great day tearing into it. Mr Eazi also came through, with a set designed to incorporate key elements within his brand and art for effect. Its highlight was the presence of his unique bus, representing his journey from Afrobeats hub in Lagos, to the genre’s global melting pot in London.
For Burna Boy especially, there was a stronger magnifying glass to the singer’s set, because of his earlier battle to demand ‘appropriate’ representation in the concert promo materials. When you display bravery and entitlement, the responsibility of backing it up with tangible proof will automatically be your burden. Although he didn’t get the main stage, Burna Boy pulled off his moves to decent crowd size, although many commenters believed different. What did they expect?
African music is in its infancy as sound culture in mainstream foreign spaces. It’s still largely a niche genre pushing for a seat at the table. That hasn’t happened yet, although the conversations on the music continue to grow louder and attract investments. So what did you expect? Considering that, Burna Boy also didn’t get the main stage. I’m proud of that performance, and proud that our music found a way to that stage. Coachella having two Nigerian artists there is a big deal, and hopefully, it’s the start of a long relationship with sounds from this side. An ideal situation will be to find more Nigerians on the list when next year’s lineup is announced.
Burna Boy also had people defend his honour online. There are whipped up arguments about Burna Boy’s fight for recognition, and how it might be the rallying cry for more respect to be given to African artists. I understand that the Nigerian social media rage culture aka “call-out” culture occasionally inspires some change locally. But in this case, it’s as useless as it can be. Burna Boy’s “African Giant” claim won’t move the needle.
When people say “artist A or Artist B” fought for some international privilege or respect because they refused to show up for an award backstage, or complained about the manner of treatment meted out at important functions, I laugh hard. I laugh because the credit for the victory is misplaced. That complaint or refusal is weak and does nothing to BET or MTV or the Grammys, or Coachella. It doesn’t inspire them to reconsider their position on African artists. Your entitlement doesn’t get to them or affect their business.
Instead, the praise should go to the artists and their handlers who make inclusive fusion music that crosses boundaries and impacts different territories. Also, the credit has to also go to the diaspora Africans who amplify the music in foreign spaces and evangelise our culture. That’s what gives Africa the respect that we currently have. The music has to show a potential (at least) to move the needle beyond Africa and into wider spaces for it to be respected in those markets. If it impacts enough, the powers that be, get to reconsider their position on African music. Whether someone screams “African Giant,” or another person goes on a rant, those things are useless and impotent. How you fight properly, is to make music that works, music that travels, and music that connects across regions. That is the true activism for proper recognition.
A long list of Africans who have made crossover music at different points in history have fought for a day like this. Burna Boy and Mr Eazi are just the two latest giants to benefit from this rich history, and their personal contribution to it. They are giants. True African Giants!