Narcissism and the Aggrieved Art of Burna Boy How Burna Boy Represents Afrobeats’ Growing Individualistic Ethos

Burna Boy’s discography and lived attitude to Nigerian audiences presents a local-global dialectic. His irreverence towards local fans and the narcissism that pervades his latest musical offering, I Told Them, are suggestive of a growing individualistic ethos within the Afrobeats collective.

Editor’s note: This essay is available in our print issue, The Age of Afrobeats. Buy the issue here.

Some of the earliest injections of African musical currents into the international melting pot of sounds, particularly those of the 16th century, highlight a painful history of forced displacement, expropriation, racial terror—and hope. The profusion of sounds and styles that littered the African continent enjoyed a far from gentle integration into the global arena during that traumatic era of the transatlantic slave trade; sounds were carried—like undying ancestral memories—over an ocean that claimed the bodies of enslaved Africans like a perverse offering but could not halt the music that broke out of bodies wracked by the anguish of loss. Later, that music would be the only bulwark against the racial degradation of the enslaved ‘other’ into a ‘non-being’. Other influences were culled; for instance, revolutionary polemics were extracted from the Bible and infused into the Negro spiritual as a theme of hope. And out of that seedbed of forced transplantation, racial degradation, and resistance, flowered a rich profusion of sounds—jazz, bebop, soul, blues—that can be described as ‘global’ today. That tortured historical moment that birthed these musical forms is what we can call the first crossing. 

Today, African music has again begun to impose itself on the global consciousness. Sounds that marinated in decidedly local cauldrons—shot through with transnational influences—now flash international credentials; and they very well should, given the reverberations African artistes have been making on different continents of the globe. Icons of the new music are very distant from the brutalized enslaved Africans who found in music an outlet for their repressed souls. These are global citizens, mobile members of a reticulated universe where transcontinental musical tours follow a trail already lit by the fluid itinerary of music. In fact, one could well be justified to sense in the new trajectory of African music a victory dance of the new African elite...

This essay features in our print issue, ‘The Age of Afrobeats’ and is only available online to paying subscribers. To continue reading register for a free trial and get unlimited access to The Republic for a week!Already a subscriber? Log in.