After conquering all frontiers, what stories will Burna Boy tell on ‘Love, Damini’?
The makings of a triumphant, victory lap album are in front of us
The makings of a triumphant, victory lap album are in front of us
Last week, while performing in front of a frenzied crowd and darting around in underwear, Burna Boy eagerly announced to over 20 thousand fans at the majestic Madison Square Garden, and an additional 25 thousand fans streaming the show live, that his sixth studio album will be released on the 2nd of July. That date is personal, as it will be his 31st birthday. The title is also personally symbolic titled ‘Love, Damini.’
In the weeks leading up to this momentous announcement, Burna Boy had subtly been hinting at an album release—he shared a spate of intriguing snippets, an ice-cold picture with one of the UK’s finest Ed Sheeran, and a slew of shrew cryptic tweets that all carried the signature ‘Love, Damini.‘ To the average eye unfamiliar to the workings and history of Nigerian pop culture, those two words may seem unremarkable, banal maybe. But to those in touch with the pulse of the culture, those who have witnessed Damini Ogulu’s steep and gruelling rise over the past two decades, the apt title ushers in the singer’s next phase following his gargantuan win at the 2021 Grammys.
As the title suggests, ‘Love Damini’ seems to be a departure from Burna Boy’s earlier work. The singer shared on his social media that the album would be a personal body of work. ‘It’s about the ups and downs, the growth, the L’s and W’s. I’m excited to share this journey and roll out with you all,’ he said candidly on Twitter. Burna’s gambit as a writer and performer is the supreme ability to traverse a roller coaster of personal emotions and themes in his music, from sombre angst to effusive mirth to occasional political agitation to self-actualisation.
From his debut album, ‘Leaving an Impact for Eternity’, down to his fifth and most recent LP, ‘Twice As Tall’, the bulk of the album titles in the Burna Boy catalogue were engendered from situations where he’s had to come out swinging, either to prove something or get himself from a back-to-the-wall situation. As made evident in these titles—from ‘Redemption’ to ‘Twice As Tall’—he doesn’t attempt to flatten these precarious situations. Instead, he uses them as material to spawn majestic sonic totems.
However, for the first time since his illustrious breakout in the summer of 2012, he’s poised to depart from that template. Burna Boy is no longer the scrawny kid desperate to emblazon his footprint on the Afropop landscape; he’s not the forlorn singer trying to prove a point to his ex-label and he’s barely the misunderstood artiste locked in a battle with detractors who think he’s drunk with his hubris. He has elevated from being the burgeoning powerhouse trying to assert his legacy on the African continent and he’s eclipsed being the hoodwinked giant on a mission to level up and bag a Grammy.
Damini Ogulu has proved his critics wrong, sold millions of records, earned countless certifications, sold out tons of arenas across the globe, earned his Grammy, and for the first time in his illustrious career, he is at the forefront of a battle and there’s not a single antagonist on the other side. With no narratives to right or hurdles to surmount, it’s worth speculating the motivations and purpose of the impending Burna Boy album?
In the stint between his last project—the peak pandemic-released, Grammy-winning ‘Twice As Tall’— and now, Burna Boy populated 2021 with four singles. There’s the unabashedly triumphant “Kilometre,” the sunny “Question” with Don Jazzy, the glossy trap cut “Want It All,” featuring Chicago rap star Polo G, and the carefree, Wizkid-assisted “B. D’OR.” One thing they all share is the absence of a weighty reflectiveness, or the agenda setting-tone of singles like “Anybody” and “Wonderful.”
On “Kilometre,” over an ebullient and partly menacing beat, he gloats and goes full self-aggrandising which is far from atypical of a Burna Boy song, but the taunts in his lyrics and the playfulness of his cadence make for a straight-up club banger, and less of a grand proclamation. For “Question,” he follows a similar format, matching quips like, “Anything you wish me, that be your portion. Bad mind no dey work o, man no be God o,” with a breezy sense of accomplishment.
There’s a change of pace on “Want It All,” swapping out maximalist Nigerian Pop bent for spare, gleaming instrumentation with choral flecks. Burna Boy sounds a little more ambitious with his agenda, but the focus on amassing material wants doesn’t exude urgency. Closing out 2021 on a similarly ostentatious note, he’s joined by friend and colleague Wizkid for “B. D’OR,” a sleek party tune replete with boastful writing and a joyful disposition.
From the pattern of his post-‘Twice As Tall’ drops, is Burna Boy on course to deliver his first purely Pop album? No politically charged music, no grand message of Pan-Africanism, no poignant rebuttals aimed at his detectors? Just love, happiness, boasts, and—in Nigerian parlance—vibes and inshallah? This prognosis makes a lot of sense. What’s left to do than enjoy the spoils of triumphing and levelling up for three consecutive years?
It’s worth noting that we would’ve gotten to this arch of Burna’s career a few years earlier. In the Aftermath of ‘African Giant’, Burna Boy dropped “Money Play” and “Odogwu,” two celebratory records that, according to industry chatter, were precursors to a summery album. Being overlooked at the Grammys changed that direction and, coupled with the Covid-19 pandemic, inspired an introspective turn. That scenic route to this point feels a lot more earned, and the afro-fusion artist is clearly relishing every moment of his apotheosis.
That Burna Boy feels fulfilled is more of a fact than it is a projection on him. A tweet he shared a couple of weeks ago, amidst one of his infamous digital rants, reads:
“At this point I just want to LIVE and DIE on STAGE with my Band The OUTSIDERS. I’ve achieved All the dreams I ever personally had. Money gives me No satisfaction, Nothing really does, except being On STAGE with my God sent band.”
The most significant part of that tweet might be the first three words: At this point. Burna’s last three albums have been moment-based. ‘Outside’ was created around an industry pressing him to the margins; ‘African Giant’ was partly spurred by the Coachella font saga; and ‘Twice As Tall’ was a resounding and resilient bounce back from the crushing Grammy loss. Burna Boy has formed a habit of creating in the moment, and this new album won’t be any different. For an artist selling out arenas the world over, that the theme of triumph will be central isn’t a wild speculation. At that, to expect a vacuous album would be the wild speculation.
At his historic, sellout shot in New York’s gilded, 20,000-capacity Madison Square Garden, Burna Boy seemingly previewed a song off ‘Love, Damini’, and that’s the closest we can get in speculating and mulling over what this new album would sound like. The track is bookended by a striking brazenly Nigerian chant delivered by a cadre of male voices, “E don cast, las las, na everybody go chop breakfast”—that’s the marking of a resonating Afropop record. In under four minutes he traipses an extensive gamut of topics: from his car crash this year, to his days in his hometown of Port Harcourt. He’s still reflective and intentional but he’s mostly grateful and vulnerable.
Inferring from the singles released in 2021, the song previewed in MSG, his arena-hopping lifestyle, and his dynamic powers of writing from the vantage point of invincibility and vulnerability, Burna Boy is poised to deliver an album replete with both vibrant party anthems and songs with personal, affecting stories. Most of all, having conquered almost all frontiers, the African Giant can only sit on a high hill, stare down, and bask in the glory of his majestic exploits.
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