Nigerian Afro-fusion singer/songwriter Burna Boy is steadily ascending as a globally-loved superstar, with his smooth, rich vocals and infectious beats that blend traditional Afrobeat (his grandfather was Fela Kuti‘s—the forefather of Afrobeat—first manager), dancehall, hip-hop, trap and more. He was among a handful of big-name international artists to play Coachella 2019, made his “Jimmy Kimmel Live” debut last month and, on July 25, released his highly anticipated album, African Giant.
Across its 19 tracks, African Giant brings plenty of powerful, positive vibes and some epic collabs, including U.K. R&B singer and 2019 Best New Artist Nominee Jorja Smith, GRAMMY-nominated R&B crooner Jeremih, Nigerian rapper Zlatan, Jamaican dancehall artist Serani, Ghanaian singer/songwriter/rapper M.anifest, GRAMMY-winning trap hero Futureand West Coast rap champ YG. On “Different,” Burna brings on Jamaican reggae legend Damian Marley and Beninese-American singer/songwriter Angélique Kidjo, both multi-GRAMMY winners, for a moving track he—and his fans—is understandably very proud of.
Burna recently stopped by the Recording Academy headquarters just before the album dropped for an in-depth conversation and our latest episode of Up Close & Personal, which you can watch above and check out on our YouTube page for a longer version of the video, as well as the other recent episodes. Read on to learn more about the masterpiece album, working with his hero Kidjo, his goal as global artist and more.
So your album, African Giant drops soon and a lot of people are excited about it. What are you most excited about for sharing the album?
I’m excited about a lot of things. I’m excited that it’s finally coming out. I’m excited that it’s turned out the way I wanted it to. I’m excited that the purpose of the album is already basically achieved before it drops, you know? So it’s very exciting to me. And then obviously for my people as well, for everyone coming from where I’m coming from. It’s a big motivation and a statement or whatever you want to call it. It’s just, yeah, man. This is basically my way of showing you who I am and in the process helping you to listen and know who you are.
I like that. You worked with a bunch of amazing collaborators from around the globe on this project. How did you choose who to work with?
It just all basically happened very organically. I just knew the vision I had and you know? It just all fell into place.
Can you speak a little bit more to that vision and how it guided all the different elements of the album?
My vision is just to, I don’t know how to explain this in a way that makes sense to you, but to shine a light on a place and on people and a situation and everything that there hasn’t been a light on for a long time.
The most recent music video you released from one of the singles on the album is for “Anybody.” It just feels really joyful and is such a beautiful video. Can you talk a little bit specifically about that video and track?
Video was shot by [Nigerian director] Clarence Peters. “Anybody” is almost wake up music, you know? That’s really what it is.
When you shared the track list, everyone was already buzzing about “Different,” featuring Damian Marley and Angélique Kidjo. Could you talk about that song and working with them?
That’s a song that’s very sentimental to me because Angélique Kidjo is someone that I’ve looked up to since forever. Now this is almost like a vision come true, a longtime vision. This is just one song that I really hold dear to my heart. And then there’s Damian Marley who is, you know what? There’s nothing that I need to say about that, that you don’t already know. You know? That’s a song that’s very dear to me.
Who are your biggest musical influences? What did you grow up listening to and who kind of like stays in your heart as you make music now?
Man, everyone. Every African legend I was introduced to as a youngin and all the—just everything, my experiences, it’s just a lot, [it] all kind of makes this.
Who would you say are like, maybe your top three favorite artists or heroes?
Fela [Kuti]. Obviously, Fela, Angélique Kidjo. I don’t know, third one. There’s a lot, man.
Earlier this year you performed at Coachella and now you’ll be embarking on your headline tour soon. What is your favorite part about performing live and bringing your music to people in those spaces?
Well that’s my playground. That’s my happy place. That’s basically the reason I do this. Because if it wasn’t for that then it wouldn’t be as interesting to me.
What does it mean to you to be part of the growing, global Afro-fusion sound?
I mean, it feels great. It’s an honor. I know it’s a responsibility. There’s just some [music] that’s going to be respected and has to be carried along, you know, forever if possible.
On a related note, what do you feel like is your biggest duty and goal now, as a global artist?
Now [the goal] is to keep on making music and making the fans happy, and everyone around me happy, until I leave the earth. And then hopefully when I leave, I leave such a great impact that something changes.