The moment captures something essential about the Nigerian Afro-fusion superstar. Although he’s emerged as a cultural giant in recent years — thanks in large part to 2019’s sensational African Giant — he sees himself as part of a long lineage of musical pioneers, all the way back to the dawn of human civilization, and understands that he stands on the shoulders of those who came before him.
Since that fateful call, the two artists have become friends and collaborators. Kidjo showed up on African Giant’s “Different” and Burna Boy appeared on Kidjo’s “Do Yourself” from the galvanizing Mother Nature.
His work with other artists has helped him both expand his sound and gain global acclaim.
Burna Boy — born as Damini Ebunoluwa Ogulu — has ambitions that go far beyond streaming numbers and Grammy Awards. He wants to empower his fans with knowledge, shed light on inequalities and injustices, and unite both the African diaspora and the global population.
“I do not identify with any tribe,” he told the New York Times. “I do not identify with any country. I do not identify with anything, really. I identify with the world in the universe — I believe I am a citizen of the world, and I have a responsibility to the world.”
That sense of responsibility is why he’s coming to New York City’s Central Park on Sept. 25 to perform at Global Citizen Live in support of the Recovery Plan for the World. In particular, Burna Boy is supporting the Demand Equity campaign pillar that calls for equity and fairness — essential to eradicating extreme poverty.
Early on in the COVID-19 pandemic, he performed at One World: Together At Home to show solidarity with frontline health care workers and join the call for global vaccine equity. When the violent Nigerian police force team known as SARS became the target of mass protests later that year, Burna Boy lent his support by pledging funds to those harmed by police violence, paying for billboards around the country calling for the end of SARS and vowing to use his platform to call for justice.
But he sees music as his destiny, his way of achieving all else. During the #ENDSARS protests, for example, he released the song “20:10:20” to mourn those killed in the Lekki Massacre during protests.
In a mix of English and Yoruba, he plaintively sings:
We give them many chances
Dem fail my people
And When we cry for justice
Them kill my people
Walahi all of you
Their lives are on you
We no go ever forget all the youths
Wey die for tollgate
Burna Boy is one of the most prolific and eclectic musicians working today. Over the past decade, he’s released dozens of songs across five albums, two EPs, and two mixtapes. He’s also elevated tracks from artists such as Khalid, Headie One, Justin Bieber, Jorja Smith, and Stormzy. He calls the blend of genres he works in — dancehall, Afrobeats, hip-hop, reggaeton, R&B, rock, and others — Afro-fusion. If it sounds bold that an artist would coin a whole new genre, then you haven’t listened to Burna Boy.
His music is dynamic and original, party-starting and on fire with purpose, joyous and cathartic. The songs on African Giant and his 2020 follow-up Twice as Tall will have you moving to the sumptuous and crackling beats, singing along with his intuitive lyrics, and reflecting afterward on your place in the world. There’s a sense that he brings his entire history — his upbringing in Port Harcourt surrounded by his parents' music, the years spent in London’s diverse music scene, his globetrotting as an adult — to every song he makes.
“I’ve never picked up a pen and paper and written down a song in my life,” he told the New York Times. “It all just comes, like someone is standing there and telling me what to say. It’s all according to the spirits. Some of us are put on this earth to do what we do.”
As he embarks on his global tour, and stops in New York, you’ll be able to see what he means.
You can join the Global Citizen Live campaign to defend the planet and defeat poverty by taking action here, and become part of a movement powered by citizens around the world who are taking action together with governments, corporations, and philanthropists to make change.