*JJC : Johnny Just Come, an acronym used a lot in Nigeria to describe newcomers. Johnny is a typical foreign name (American) referring to someone who doesn’t know about local customs.
The picture below is a big win for afrobeats lovers around the globe. This music we cherish so much is gaining ground.
Burna has come a long way since he release his first hit Like to Party. You can sense in his music a sort of transformation. He went from copying american sounds to redefining and owning his own type of African sound : Afrofusion.
I’m so happy to see Nigerian music conquer the world but sometimes I’m worried some people might never truly love the Nigerian songs they hear because they don’t really understand where it comes from. I hope this post explains some key aspects of afrobeats whether you were a JJC or not.
Before I start, some artists have tried to make “afrobeats” music but I’m afraid they were missing a few key elements which should be evident by the end of this post.
On The Low/ Anybody. When you listen to afrobeats, the sound of the music has to make you want to stand up from your seat in the metro and bust a choreography. It has to be that good. Of course Nigerians today grew up with highlife music (King Sunny Ade, Chief Osita Osadebe…) and the afrobeat god himself : Fela Anikulapo Kuti, so the expectations are very high.
In Nigeria, when the sound is good, you show approval by moving everything in your body that twists.
We also have a range a dance moves to honor our music : shoki, shaku shaku, recently zanku…etc.
Burna represented nigerians properly at Coachella with his zanku and his lovely team (starring my favorite dancer Sherrie Silver, famous for the This is America choreography) : Click to watch Burna boy Killin Dem coachella performance
In the song he sings about “Making money rush like indomie”… which brings me to my next point.
The lyrics : Money, hustle, respect
Yes Nigerian artists often sing about the beauty of their lovers (to put it very cleanly),
Very often we also get deep lines that refer to a lifestyle. Growing up in Lagos is hard, the economy is growing quickly but you’re either in or out, and out means way behind. The wealth disparities are huge and unemployment is a also a major problem.
The typical Nigerian wants to own a flashy car and go clubbing with his/her closest friends. They want to show their wealth in an extremely flashy way, those are their life goals.
Plenty suffer wey we face
Just to make sure money dey
But my people dem go say
I no want kpai, I no want die
I no want kpeme, I want enjoy
I want chop life, I want buy motor
I want build house, I still want turn up
Tell me, tell me
Burna is complaining against Nigerians who dream big but don’t put in the effort to achieve their dreams. They don’t want to “die” (kpai/kpeme) young but they want to live large (chop life/ build house…).
Burna’s song is authentic in the sense that he identified the nigerian struggle and the typical nigerian dreams. He also represents something like a mantra at the back of every nigerian’s mind : No food for the lazy man.
But why “Ye”? Nigerians are very expressive and dramatic. They don’t need any exceptional situation to make react in an exceptional way.
It is basically the Nigerian equivalent of “woah” except that it is more expressive and is extensively abused.
Ye is a word full of shock. It’s like all the surprise of your life summarized in the most concise way.
Nigeria is also a very religious country. They believe their sins would be washed away in church on Sunday morning and of course, all praise goes back to God.
Hence the necessary song : Hallelujah.
It is a beautiful song in which the artist gives thanks to God for his success. In a similar way Nollywood movies often end with a frame that says To God be the glory. In Nigerian media, expressing your faith this way is important because it shows humility.
Finally, the lyrics have a lot of Yoruba words and Nigerian references :
- Gbedu : afrobeats music
- Dada : dread locks
- Lagbaja : A Nigerian artist who sang the Nigerian famous Konko Below, he is famous for always playing his saxophone behind his Ankara masquerade looking costume.
- Agbada : This is the outfit you wear when you become a millionare or “big man” as called in Nigeria.
Burna Boy uses his music to expose the ugly sides of what many people consider to be a great nation. He uses imagery and the native language following in the footsteps of previous african music giants he grew up listening to. His music not also sounds good but the messages it carries are powerful. These elements all add up to explain his popularity not only amongst Nigerians but people all over the world.
So I’ll leave you with Dangote, a politically charged song named after Aliko Dangote. A nigerian known to be the richest man in Africa. The song depicts some of the vices of a poorly governed Nigeria : from online scams to armed robbery and incompetent executive forces. This is sadly what many people face daily in Africa’s giant.
I can’t wait to read about your reactions in the comment section!