Blast from the Past: The Redemption of Burna Boy

Ahead of the release of his LP Twice as Tall, read Dami Ajayi’s review of Burna Boy’s Redemption

It seems Burna Boy’s latest  EP is a retracing of his step  from his spaceship voyage, from his prodigal mis-step back to his stomping ground.

With 7 tracks lasting about 20 minutes and enjoying production credits from his longtime collaborator, LeriQ, Redemption is a return to vintage Burna; vintage Burna because his first LP, LIFE came fresh out of the factory.

Redemption, in another reading, is a marketing move to invade  the United Kingdom from where Burna Boy’s physical presence had been banned. This strategy or desire plays out in the pacing which is not as fast tempo as to be full-fledged pop. It mellows just enough to catch the energetic swing that is characteristic of Grime.

Like all EPs, Burna Boy enjoys creative leeway. He experiments with sound but from the secure base of his strengths. To reiterate his strength will be to dwell on his musical pedigree which is not at the risk of being overflogged as it exemplifies Burna’s sophisticated sound.

Burna Boy’s grandfather and music director is Pa Benson Idonije, the octogenarian and veteran music journalist and amongst other things one-time Fela Kuti’s band manager. This suddenly gives a huge glimpse at an avalanche of influences from highlife to juju music to jazz. Burna Boy quotes Fela to be one of his idols and he is in a habit of taking both strides and lyrics reminiscent of the Weird One. Another of his influences is Sizzla Kalonji, the dancehall maestro. Between Fela and Sizzla is a sheaf of  influences too copious to be mentioned and of course, there is that signature that is unmistakably Burna!

Currently on the music scene, sounding different comes with a severe risk of becoming unpopular which a few artistes with unusual temperament brave. But even in the kiln of alternative sounds, there is a shared kinship amongst Burna Boy, Mr Eazi and Black Magic. If Black Magic stays on the far left with the most unlikely chance of striking a bargain of super commercial breakthrough, Mr Eazi is the new kid on the block fresh with Ghanaian charm and novelty. Burna Boy sits in the middle of the spectrum as if in a struggle clearly the one grunting under the strain of artistic turmoil. It is from this restlessness that his latest EP is born.

But struggle hardly  brings triumph. ‘On Body to Body’, Burna spoofs Craig David, melding the familiar and nostalgic with what is definitively new. When he says, you know I read your mind soon as I get inside—the seductive arc is complete, exempting the critic. It is unlikely not to want to vibe.

‘Boshe nlo’ comes closer home, that Burna drawl is effective especially in Yoruba but the song itself pales from a distinct lack of ambition. ‘Fa So La Ti Do’ delivers on the promise of artful play on tonic solfa, with inventive changes, a new sexual meaning is born on a mid-tempo rhythm.

‘Mary Jane’ starts off as a spin-off of Minnie Ripperton’s Loving You but departs on its journey to becoming a serious song about difficult relationships. ‘Plenty Song’ reflects in patois over a dancehall riddim over a number of things, his discography and being a 90s Baby. ‘Pree Me’ still wings that riddim albeit in an up-tempo manner and talks about the hoopla of an artistic career. He sings, “I have a lot of enemies, some of them used to be my friends. “

But the general attitude of the song is that of a watchful wait. ‘We On’ is something you can dab to.

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