Inside Africa

How ‘African Giant’ Burna Boy became a roaring success

Lagos, Nigeria CNN  — 

Award-winning Nigerian singer, Burna Boy has topped off a stellar music year with a Grammy nomination and cemented his place as this year’s breakaway music star.

His 19 track album, ‘African Giant,’ was nominated alongside music heavyweights including Angelique Kidjo and Altin Gun. He follows in the footsteps of Femi and Seun Kuti, (the sons of legendary musician, Fela Kuti) King Sunny Ade and other Nigerian music stars.

It has been a standout year for Burna Boy, (real name Damini Ogulu) who has won a string of awards and sold out venues across the globe.

It’s all a far cry from when he was yet to attain global fame and his Coachella billing apparently displeased him.

He took to social media to complain about his name being “so small” on the festival poster, and urged organizers to “fix things quick please”.

“I don’t appreciate the way my name is written so small on your bill,”

“I am an AFRICAN GIANT and will not be reduced to whatever that tiny writing means. Fix things quick please,” he said on Instagram when the 2019 line up was announced.

The year of the African Giant

Now, at 28, he is one of Africa’s most talked-about stars, sampled and featured by some of the world’s biggest artists including Fall Out Boys, Jorja Smith and Beyonce.

In November, he won the Best African Act at the MTV EMA Awards. And in April, the star performed some of his hit songs like ‘Ye’ and ‘Killin Dem’ at Coachella alongside big names like Solange, Kid Cudi and Billie Eilish.

He also won the Best International Act at the BET awards in June this year.

With collaborations with award-winning artists like Angelique Kidjo, Damian Marley and Lily Allen, he has risen in prominence as the Afrobeats sound has also gained global recognition.

In an interview earlier this year, Burna Boy said he started making music as a child when a classmate gave him a production software – FruityLoops.

“I used to do songs off anything I could find. I’d get beats from video games and movies. And when I found out about FruityLoops I started producing my own stuff,” he said in the video.

Thriving on controversy

Burna Boy’s outspoken nature has led to some controversy. In September, following a spate of xenophobic attacks in South Africa, targeted at Nigerians, he vowed never to return to the country, a move that sparked criticism on social media.

“I have not set foot in SA since 2017. And I will NOT EVER go to South Africa again for any reason until the SOUTH AFRICAN government wakes the f**k up and really performs A miracle because I don’t know how they can even possibly fix this,” he wrote on Twitter at the time.

The artist later made u-turn and announced that he would be performing in South Africa after all at the ‘Africa Unite’ concert scheduled for this weekend.

However, South Africans took a dim view of his earlier comments and there was a barrage of criticism and even threats of violence according to the organizers, who canceled the concert

“With the increasing threats of violence from other unfortunate segments of the public and without any government intervention, Phambili Media and Play Network Africa were prompted to take the threats and warnings seriously, as the safety of all artists and attendees could not be guaranteed.

We then decided to cancel the concert. The safety of all attendees, artists and crew comes first,” they wrote in a statement released to CNN.

Burna Boy has so far shrugged off the drama playing out over his South Africa appearance and has been embracing the fan love for his Grammy nomination on social media.

“Special s/o to everyone on the album from the producers to co-producers to featured artists to engineers. I appreciate all your input to making the album. We should all be very proud,” Burna Boy wrote.