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B Side, Music

Nigerian Musicians and Balancing Artistic Authenticity with International Popularity

This surge in popularity of Afrobeats has tempted some artists to divert from their original artistic source in pursuit of Western validation.

  • Favour Overo
  • 29th September 2023
Nigerian Musicians and Balancing Artistic Authenticity with International Popularity

The balancing act between authenticity and international popularity has become increasingly complex in the age of globalization and digital music consumption. The rise of Afrobeats, a genre characterized by its groovy rhythms and African cultural influences, has played a pivotal role in thrusting Nigerian musicians onto the global stage. With artists like Burna Boy, Wizkid, and Davido making waves internationally, Nigerian music has never been more influential on the global music scene. This surge in popularity has tempted some artists to divert from their original artistic source in pursuit of Western validation.


Renowned Afrobeats artist, Burna Boy, is a lot of things; showstopper, energetic, egoist, but most of all, consistent. The sensational singer recently released his seventh studio album, defiantly titled I Told Them, and as expected, he did not fail to deliver. With tracks like “Big 7,” “City Boys,” and the acclaimed “Giza immediately becoming anthems on the street, it was obvious that this album served to solidify Odogwu’s position as a chart-topping artist, following the success of two Grammy-nominated albums — African Giant, Love, Damini and the Grammy-winning Twice as Tall.


Like the ones prior, it didn’t take time for the 2023 album to dominate Nigerian and international music standings, as it became the first African album to debut as number one on the UK charts. However, while the headlines were expected to be unending accolades that would have loudly read; “Nigeria’s musical wonder, Burna Boy, reminds the world of why he is the African Giant”, US Magazine, Vulture, took a different route and boldly highlighted on the top of their page; “Burna Boy Sounds Creatively Exhausted.”


Now, if Burna Boy were to read the opening phrase of this piece; “Renowned Afrobeats artiste, Burna Boy…” he would certainly correct the writer, as he claims that Afrobeats is just a part of his music — a part of a genre he titled “Afro Fusion”.  In an interview with The Fader back in 2015, Burna Boy said “…my genre of music is Afrofusion because I fuse different types of music into a ball. There’s RnB, there’s Hip-Hop, there’s Afrobeats – that’s all that makes Burna Boy.”


From the general picture being painted, Afrofusion is acoustic totality. It is a class of music that involves combining the elements of Afrobeats with any other genre there is. Dancehall, R&B, blues, EMD, reggae, pop, and the list goes on. The goal here is to express Africanism without limits, by being open to all rhythmical possibilities in the game. Burna Boy described Afrofusion as “a big melting pot of cultures and sounds.”


This musical license that Afrofusion offers is the reason he was able to deliver songs like “Ye”; a blend of Nigerian traditional music with elements of highlife and the groove of jazz; “On the Low,” a perfect combination of Afrobeats and the energy of dancehall music; and the million-streamed international banger, “Last Last,” which was a sample of American singer, Toni Braxton’s “He Wasn’t Man Enough.”



The track list of his new album, I Told Them, maintained the Afrofusion trend, with hybrid songs like the single, “If I am Lying,” “Cheat on Me,” which featured UK rapper, Santan Dave; and the controversial “Thanks,” with American rapper, J. Cole. So, what went wrong? If Burna Boy gave his fans the usual unpredictable blended melodies, and the chart standings were in concord with the album’s success, what is the source of all the backlash? And how has Burna Boy become “creatively exhausted?”


The foundation of all reprimands began to take shape after Burna Boy infamously washed Afrobeats in public. In an interview with Apple Music’s Zane Lowe, the 32-year-old singer described the genre as nothing more than a fanciful collection of tunes. In his words; “90% of them have almost no real-life experiences that they can understand, which is why you hear most of Nigerian music, or I’ll say African… I don’t even know what to say, Afrobeats, as people call it, it’s mostly about nothing, literally nothing. There’s no substance to it. Nobody’s talking about anything. It’s just a great time, it’s an amazing time. But at the end of the day, life is not an amazing time.”


This narrative would probably be responsible for his album owning only one African feature; “Giza,” which had Nigerian-based street artist, Seyi Vibez, on the track. Burna Boy’s revelation was quick to spark different reactions on the internet. While the fanatical members of his stan base supported their idol’s insensitive opinion on the topic, the more empathetic music lovers felt otherwise, and saw this as a bizarre marketing tactic for his new release, even if it meant bad-mouthing a whole musical religion.


Nevertheless, whether you are for or against his statement, one thing is unavoidably obvious; Burna Boy has thrown Afrobeats — a genre through which the Nigerian music industry thrives, under the bus, and is subsequently burning the ladder on which, he had climbed to stardom thus far, all in the name of maintaining his international relevance. 


Earlier this year, he expressed his disapproval of the lack of connection between the African community in diaspora and their roots, but the tables are beginning to turn. Just like a teenager avoiding her parents in public, Damini looks to be severing the link that joins him and his country, Nigeria. Lest we forget, Burna Boy came into the industry with the same theme he used to downplay Afrobeats. With his 2012 breakout track, “Like to Party” containing ‘no substance’, and being about the singer ‘having a great time’, he slowly blossomed into a satirical talent that frequently chided dysfunctional authorities with his music.



His 2019 single, “Dangote,” eponymously highlighted the great economic divide between the rich and the poor in Nigeria; “20 10 20” was a condemnation of the horrifying 2020 massacre and rampant Police brutality, and “Monsters You Made” saw Burna Boy go back in time, to address the evils of colonialism and imperialism the continent faced till now.



These were few amongst many other identifiers of the socio-political Burna Boy the fans loved. He would sing their problems in euphonies that they could dance to. That was the Afrofusion they appreciated. He was titled the “African Giant” because of his ability to represent the culture with what he did (and his scuffle with Coachella in 2020). That patriotism vitally played a role in raising him on top of the global stages — the same stages that seem to have now swallowed his identity.


Damini’s I Told Them was intended to explore the success of his journey towards transforming his doubters into believers, but it ended up being finger-wags targeted at the fans at home. The intro of “Thanks” was a sarcastic ridicule of Nigeria’s appreciation of his music; Is this the motherfuckin’ thanks I get/for makin’ my people proud every chance I get? /… This Naija, no love. Yes! He has been at the receiving end of some serious criticisms from questionable actions he has made. But let’s not lie; Burna Boy has refused to take corrections from the past, and would keep playing the victim as long as it seems viable.


He biblically alluded to his relationship with Nigerians as to the prophet that doesn’t get appreciated at home, but a prophet who denies his people in the Promised Land deserves no love.

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