By Ikenna Bede
Some years back, two years precisely, I found myself entangled in an argument of whether a Nigerian artiste from the home front would ever get to win a Grammy.
As expected, the exchange was combative. Everyone was loud, talking over the next person. Nothing fruitful came out of that. We would later come to a truce over a hot bowl of jollof rice that Sunday morning.
Fast forward to Sunday, March 15 this year, two Nigerian acts, Burna Boy and Wizkid, won their first Grammys.
Shortly after, I got a call from Freddie, who opposed all my theories from the face-off. He said in a condescending tone, ‘I told you two years ago, just because Femi Kuti didn’t win, doesn’t mean someone else wouldn’t.’ He dropped the call almost immediately. Freddie was right after all.
Between the time we combated verbally and Burna winning, my perspectives had changed a tad.
Frankly, when Burna Boy gained his second nomination, which came just one year after the first, I was sceptical about him winning. Reason being that Femi Kuti earned four nominations spread across 11 years and received nothing. Peering through the nominees’ list, I realised Grammy golden child Angelique Kidjo wasn’t on the list. To me, that was the primary competition in that category. She almost always wins. It’s as if she has found a formula that works. With this reveal, I proceeded to study the other nominees. I made my observations clear here.
At this point, Burna Boy winning the Grammy for Best Global Music Album is no longer news. Collectively as a nation, we have grown bored of the momentous happening. It was a long wait since King Sunny Ade earned a nomination in 1984. Thirty-six years later, we all got the euphoria we craved. It transcended the minuscule high we got from Nigerians in the diaspora winning. Right now, the question that is on everyone’s lips is: what has Burna Boy left to do? And this point is valid, being that the Grammy is perceived as the pinnacle of musical success.
Before landing on my first point, I’d like to bring up controversies that had marked Burna Boy’s career—ranging from when he allegedly threatened Mr 2Kay, who eventually got attacked in his hotel, to calling out the South African rapper AKA for his xenophobic remarks after South African national team lost to Nigeria. Or that time, he rebelled against the organisers of Coachella concerning representation in the lineup of acts.
Some might say those moments reflect poorly on him; I like to see it as what moulds his artistry. Fela didn’t become who he is by playing it safe. I feel Burna is running on that legacy and not just sampling beats and lyrics of Fela.
However, this isn’t the ’80s and ’90s, where no one saves screenshots of comments and updates for future reference. It’s an era where branding rules. Corporate organisations will, at the stroke of a pen, drop a signed ambassador who goes against their core values.
Expectedly, with his win, Burna is the hottest thing currently. Winning the Grammy before any of the Kutis, or King Sunny Ade, or just earning a nomination that never reached the grasps of Ebenezer Obey, places a lot of responsibility on his shoulders. He is currently the unappointed king of the music industry.
However, Burna’s new power will profoundly affect the new generation of artistes whose new goals have changed from winning a Headies to aiming a shot at the Grammy. What role he plays in paving the way, directly or indirectly, will profoundly affect the entire music industry. He should never forget the Grammy win is not just about him but a true reflection of the advancements made in the local music industry.
And Burna has a profound opportunity to be the new school leader the music industry so badly needs.