It was the first week of January 2019. Organizers of the popular Coachella festival had just released the lineup of performing artists for the festival. On the highly coveted bill, on the third row, was the name of Nigerian Afro-fusion singer/songwriter Burna Boy (Burna). For most, Burna should have been thrilled that he was performing at a prestigious event that many American music celebrities are yet to perform, but he wasn’t. So what did he do? He took to social media and challenged organizers for placing him on the third row of the line-up.
“I really appreciate you,” he wrote on his Instagram story the week the lineup was released.
“But I don’t appreciate the way my name is written so small in your bill. I am an AFRICAN GIANT and will not be reduced to whatever that tiny writing means. Fix tings quick please.”
His response was immediately met with reactions ranging from support to mockery that he would have the nerve to call himself an “African Giant.” During that period, in AML Podcast episode 122, I said, it is not enough for an artist like Burna to call himself African Giant, even though he believed that he was. He had to be about it with his metrics. It is common knowledge in the industry that the font size on a concert bill is reflective of how well an audience in a target market an artist is performing knows him/her. So, if Burna in fact believed he was an African giant, he needed to demonstrate this in the language that the industry and mainstream America would know, i.e. put up the numbers. Did his metrics demonstrate he was an “African Giant”? Also who was his booking agent that negotiated the deal for him? Even if he did not have the metrics to show, if his representatives could make the case that he in fact was an African Giant in the deal-making process, then he would see his name in a larger font size.
At the time, on key digital platforms (Spotify, Apple, You Tube, Pandora etc.), his metrics where quite low when compared to African superstars like Davido, Wizkid, and Diamond Platnumz. I said he needed to focus on his marketing and promotions strategy to get his numbers up and get people noticing him.
As a way of context, Burna signed with Atlantic Records in 2017, a subsidiary of Warner Music Group, yet despite his signing, 2017 was one of the worse years of his career. A few archived headlines from AML illustrate this:
Fast-forward to seven months later since the Coachella incident, Burna Boy is finally making a persuasive case, through his branding and promotions efforts, for why he is an African Giant. It appears he has the right business relationships and most importantly temperament, and accordingly, we have seen Burna:
- Put out great music. You can listen to his latest album ‘African Giant’ below.
- Perform at important music festivals, including Coachella.
- Do the press tour for some of the biggest shows in the U.S. (Breakfast Club, Ebro, Sway etc.)
- Feature as part of the Recording Academy Spotlight.
- Have a You Tube Spotlight.
- Collaborate with respected artists such as Beyonce. His track on Beyonce’s ‘Lion King: The Gift’ album is the only song featured by a solo African act.
- Perform on the Jimmy Kimmel Show, among other things.
All of the above have yielded more curiosity about Burna, more streams and sales, and needless to say higher metrics.
Further, on the personal side, since he makes some aspects known to the public, I suspect that his relationship with British-Jamaican hip-hop artist Stefflon Don has also been instrumental in helping him raise the bar on his artistry, and rebranding efforts. I say this because Stefflon Don is an artist who is very focused on her craft, and who enjoys strong success with her work product. For example, within the past few years on You Tube, alone, her music video views have ranged from 21 to 331 million views, per video. If you are Burna dating someone with such work ethic and focus, it only seems natural that you would match her cadence.
One final thing I will say about Burna is that he does not spend time trying to demystify Africa or explain his African identity to the American media/public. He just is who he is and if you are curious about him, you go look him up for yourself. I find that the press clearly respects that, and I do too. People love authenticity.
With all of this, I think we may finally have an African artist on mainstream radio that is not a featured artist helping a Beyonce, or Drake but is the main artist; and someone who brings home the Grammy for Nigeria and Africa.
Let’s wait and see.
African Giant Album
Burna Boy – Omo (Warning: strong language used. Click at your own discretion)
You Tube Spotlight
UPDATE: December 26, 2019
The Daily Show
Some of Our Achievements