Nigerian Afrobeat artist Burna Boy says it is time that Africans tell their own stories

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 21 March 2021:

Damini Ebunoluwa Ogulu, better known as Burna Boy, has just won a Grammy in the Best Global Music Album category. The Nigerian artist is one of Africa’s most successful artists.  He hit the music scene in 2012, after releasing his debut album L.I.F.E.

The singer spoke exclusively to BBC Africa about winning, his album “Twice as tall” and the importance of African voices being heard.

‘Burna Boy on winning a Grammy… “I felt very relieved because I deserved it?”

He realised in 2012 that his music touched a number of people.

“It’s bigger than me and that’s when it kind of hit me that this is not a hobby anymore, you used to do this on the streets and everyone would be going crazy, but now I don’t see anyone better than you so it’s like this is serious now,” he said.

On the impact of winning a Grammy award for Burna and other African artists

“It just shows like you know anything is possible and whatever situation you may be in, and whatever environment you find yourself does not really determine your future and what you are going to do. It doesn’t stop you from not just considering your dreams, you know. Cause at the end of the day, we are in an environment that is very discouraging; you understand, an environment that doesn’t even believe in itself before they even think of believing in you.”

Why this album was important to Burna Boy

“It’s always important for me to make music and bodies of work as much as possible because for me that is what will be left behind when I’m not here. That’s going to be my footprints on the world. I believe at every step of my life to create a body of work that narrates and explains that time of my life.”

‘On why Africans should be telling their own stories’

“Because our stories have always been twisted and told and most of the time our stories have been twisted into the western world and then white faces have been put on the real characters; do you understand? Now is the time to overturn all that because finally we have a generation of Africans who are not going to stand for that. You understand? So what better time to start to change the narrative back into the truth”.

Watch the full interview here:

BBC Website


Story Credit: BBC Africa


  1. Gentlemen – Your heartfelt words of sincerity and kindness had me grinning from ear to ear like a kid in a candy store that cannot decide on what he wants to choose or ignore; Being surrounded by all that juicy sweetness like a bee whose wings are soaked and glued with honey has been known to cause patriots to become overwhelmed with a true sense of gratitude. I thank you Dr Tunkara and Special Agent Young4na for your highly motivating and inspiring words. My brother Mr Yillah represents the brightest and the best minds in our continent today that mother Africa has struggled and brought forth for her own glory.

    I am truly very proud to call all of you guys my brothers because you give me a deep feeling of assurance that all is not yet lost;And that there is hope for a tree that is cut down that it may sprout again – Our little Sierra Leone will surely rise again and she will sit on a throne of gold just as Existence always intended for it to be. Again,the real winners in this debate are the silent thousands of daily readers of the Sierra Leone Telegraph who have been able to witness a vividly entertaining and informative discourse between two brothers with totally contrasting viewpoints – that’s what the light of a true Democracy that dispels the shadows of authoritarian rule should always aspire to look like.

    Lastly,good gentlemen, I have always suggested that Hon Abdul Rashid Thomas should be regarded as a National Treasure of our Sierra Leone because of the selflessness he has displayed in creating the noble Sierra Leone Telegraph so that every voice from every corner of our country can be unequivocally heard. – Nuff Respect to you Sir, Hon. Abdul Rashid Thomas …Salute!

  2. Dr Tunkara – I can’t thank you enough for your wonderfully fraternal take on my contribution to the debate surrounding the personality and art of the Nigerian singer and songwriter Burna Boy. Of course my entire aim has nothing to do with winning anything whatsoever. All I am concerned with is enjoying what I see as a conversation characterised by utmost civility between me and our brother Stargazer, a sharp-witted, inventive and resilient polemicist and inimitable wordsmith. The debate – at least as far as I am concerned – is simply a way of looking at our collective experience as Africans.

    Undoubtedly, views on that experience may at times appear mutually exclusive, not to say irreconcilable. However, the fact that they exist is a measure of the richness and complexity of our collective experience. Taken together, the conflicting views enable us to make sense of who we think we are and can be in a world in which our continent has often had to put it mildly, a hard time, both in our confrontations with our own demons and with the wider world. That you and Young4na and, hopefully, many other fellow forumites make sense of and see value in what Stargazer and I have been saying, is more than what I can really hope for.

    However, the person most deserving of praise in all this as you yourself have noted, is indeed MR THOMAS. Without his priceless creation, The Sierra Leone Telegraph, and his wonderful moderating skills, the debate Stargazer and I have been having and your evaluation of it (alongside Young4na’s), would be unthinkable.

  3. When a fabric maker is on a mission to complete a huge task with great speed and the threads become entangled and the Weavers beam begins to grind to a halt then what will be the sensible thing to do?Will he ignore it saying; “I am pressed for time and I must continue with my work,whether the fabric comes out neat or wrinkled makes no difference to me?” If he ignores the problem and proceeds then it is proven that is a reckless person unfit to be entrusted with
    responsibility; But if the weaver is shrewd enough to say;” Whenever the threads breaks it is my duty to examine the loom and see where the problem began and then I must fix it before continuing with my work because a fabric with loose threads hanging is a sign of bad workmanship.”

    Gentlemen – to such a man I would say Bravo because he understands the need for the process to work not only properly but also with precision. Our Africa today resembles the Weavers beam that has broken down – the entire fabric of our society is totally in shambles; threads of corruption, incompetence, negligence and indifference hanging loose everywhere – the fabric that Existence was hopeful will eventually become a dazzling dress for a brides wedding has ended up becoming a dark, ugly shroud worn by mourners. You don’t need an Albert Einstein or a Kwame Nkrumah to tell you that those entrusted with the responsibility of spinning the fabric as Existence intended it to be have failed miserably. Now it is for this reason we must become vigilant when choosing our leaders or anyone that will represent us in the eyes of the world – we need weavers that understand the need to maintain and keep the beam functioning effectively.

    Burna boy doesn’t act or think in the interest of Africa but for his own financial gain;A leader must represent the hopes and aspirations of the people and not subvert the morals and principles of modesty, humility and decency that Africa stands for. Unless Burna Boy cleans up his image and stops belittling women no prudent mind will be tempted to take him seriously. Now he has the right to tell our stories as he sees fit on a platform of his own but not on an African stage designed for enhancing critical policy – And certainly not with a face that represent a different culture. A freakish looking face wearing superficial,nightmarish teeth and an inauthentic smile that is bound to scare our itsy-bitsy children away.(lmao)

  4. Interesting dialogue between 2 indomitable lions here, hahaha. Veteran, adjunct professor Stargazer is unyielding with his usual artistic, illustrative, command of the queen’s language, while the scholarly professor Dauda Yillah is holding his line, proving he is the new kid on the block. Nothing but respect to you 2 gentleman. Appreciate your educative and entertaining exchanges. Both of you 2 are winners, hahaha.

    • Young4na, thanks so much for your beautiful words and sentiments. Yes, Stargazer is a remarkable and formidable debater. I enjoy every bit of what he writes and love of course engaging him in a conversation.

    • Indeed I agree,very well said Mr Young4na. This is the reason why I said what the people of Sierra Leone owe Abdul is beyond evaluation.Mr Yillah and Mr Stargazer are exceptionally brilliant Sierra Leoneans with decisive and open minds;To be frank,without being aware they have both held me captivated by their versatile,eloquent informative and entertaining discourse continuously for a few days.

      I have been transported to the river Congo and made to listen to the advice of a Wise old turtle and have also been reintroduced to authors like Djibril Tamsir Niane and Ahamadou Kourouma two of modern Africa’s finest visionary writers.I also think that it is a tie thus far;and my conclusion is that both of my brothers are winners.I thank all of you sincerely for your attention.

  5. Are we to assume that unlike the ‘uninspiring’ tales told about Africa by ‘third rate’ artists like Burna Boy, stories told by our greatest and first rate artists are all inspiring tales? Indeed is Armah’s magnum opus ‘The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born (1968), really an inspiring, celebratory vision of his beloved Africa? Is the work not instead a forensic disquisition of the malaise and paralysis that characterise a corruption-ridden independent African nation; a work in which the symbolic use of human excrement captures most forcefully the author’s unflattering look at his homeland? In works by French-speaking African writers such as Sony Labou Tansi of the Republic of Congo, this harrowing vision of our continent attains a dimension worthy of apocalypse. You only need to skim through the pages of his ‘La Vie et demie’, 1979 (‘Life and a Half’), to ascertain in all its ugliness an Africa held hostage by bloody dictatorial regimes.

    Closer to our time is the Cote d’Ivoirien author Ahmadou Kourouma’s – ‘Allah n’est pas oblige’, 2000 (‘Allah is not obliged’), which evokes the tragedy of the fratricidal wars of Liberia. Sierra Leone and his native Cote d’Ivoire. And if truth be told, not even precolonial Africa is exempt from such cruelty and blood letting. For that, you only need to go to the works of the Malian, Yambo Ouologuem, whose novel ‘Le devoir de violence’, 1968 (‘Bound to Violence’), takes readers back to a precolonial nightmarish world of sadism,feudal bondage, sorcery, sexual cdepravity, political intrigue and a litany of assassinations as members of the ruling elite vie for power and ascendancy.

    What I am saying is that like all human societies, not everything about our continent and us is invariably bright and dignified, and some of our artists have not flinched from taking a hard look at our ugly underbelly. So perhaps if Burna Boy seems to revel through his songs and performances in portraying the seamy side of African life, it has to be that there is a side to our continent that calls for such representation. I am speaking of the totality of African experience: firstly, its magnificence and grandeur to be found in say the Guinean author Djibril Tamsir Niane’s glorious evocation of precolonial Mande Empire entitled’Soundjata’,1960, and secondly, its negative underside where the literary and the musical exemplified respectively by aspects of Yambo Ouologuem’s’Bound to Violence’ and Burna Boy’s songs and performances, converge and commingle. That is the story of Africa for you in its fullness and complexity, in its beauty and ugliness. Both sides of the story deserve to be told, have been told and will continue to be told by the children of the continent. These children know that we are only human, and say so with every fibre of their artistic being.

  6. Most African musicians today are guilty of promoting nudity,rude behavior,immorality and violence in their songs and music videos – Burna Boy that wants to be the Face of Africa is one of them – Go figure!(lol) Wiz Kid,Techno,and Timaya are no less guilty either. It is that same,insane appalling attitude that Gangsta rap has been tirelessly promoting in the United States that superficial people like Burna boy have been desperately desiring to bring to our little continent because creativity in all its diverse forms is totally missing in most of their work. Many of them have decided that the only way their audience can be kept entertained without falling asleep was to show them sexually stimulating images of half-naked big booty black women dancing wild.

    This is exactly the same thing that rappers in America have been doing to young,gullible women anxious for fame and riches for countless decades gone by. They exploited,ridiculed and diminished them to the point where their rude, crude,vulgar utterances became handy devices for anyone with an eerie, crazy compulsion seeking to shackle,hassle and trample on women’s dignity with words like Bitches,Tramps and Whores. Keep Burma boy out of sight an out of mind;let him do his thing in concerts overcrowded with wild superficial people like himself who prefer to show our tiny world what an insincere materialist with an artificial smile actually looks like in person.(lol)Again, what inspiring stories can he tell our children about the African people after he has already reduced girls,women completely into nothing but bizarre objects of sexual desire?(lol)

  7. Burna Boy delivers only what his talent allows him to; he is no literary genius, and to compare him with the Achebes, Soyinkas, Armahs and Ekwensis of this World seems a bit unfair. Burna Boy tells his African story his own way, within the limits of his art. A mediocre musician perhaps, but who nonetheless has won a Grammy award. I believe that our beloved Africa in her boundless motherliness has a place for all her offsprings, irrespective of the nature and quality of their persons and talents. She embraces with equal warmth her singer/songwriter son Burna Boy and her more illustrious literary giant of a son Soyinka. The stories these sons of hers tell may differ in quality as in global reach and signigicance. Yet the stories are all hers, and are about her; they complement one another, giving a fuller, richer and varied picture of who she is, what she stands for and means to all those she loves and all those who love her.

    People may have their own standards by which they judge others. While their judgements may seem right to them, they should have the modesty to realise that the judgements in question are grounded more often than not in their own subjectivities, which others may or may not share. Burna Boy is much more than his diamond encrusted teeth, bizarre and laughable such lifestyle choice of his mlght be. We cannot dismiss his achievements for his making that choice just as we cannot shun the achievements of his more globally renowned predecessor and fellow countryman Fela Kuti on the grounds of his notoriously insatiable appetite for young women! In appraising artists such as Burna Boy with a penchant for appearing unique on stage and in their private lives – a penchant all too often taken to what might seem to be the limits of the ridiculous, the comical and indeed the shocking – we might perhaps consider keeping on hold however briefly, our propensity for moralizing. This is to enable us to see the wood for the trees.

  8. There was once an ancient African sea turtle that was 500 years old called “ANAKSUNAMU” that lived in the abysmal depths of the Congo river.She was a mother that had given birth to 10 million turtles in her life time and she could boast of being Mother Natures handpicked trusted custodian that was responsible for safeguarding the treasures,mysteries and secrets of all those countless captivating rivers and oceans on the African Continent; The old sea turtle was highly revered across the globe – Turtles in the far East gave her the nickname” The Grandmother of Wisdom” and every year millions of creatures travelled from the Nile and hot gulf of Aden to pay her their heartfelt respects. One day a Giant seal that had come to pay Anaksunamu a courtesy visit asked her;” O Wise Queen,why do you prevent your little ones from associating themselves with the Sharks,Alligators and Piranhas?” And then she said to the seal;” take a minute and swim with me and I will answer you.”

    So they started swimming greeting the little smiling fishes,crabs and oysters on the way and then she looked and the Seal with a gentle gaze and said;” What Existence has entrusted to us is sacred,holy,priceless we must protect it
    vigilantly in a spirit of gratitude – the sharks and Piranhas with the sharp teeth that glitter like diamonds care only about themselves and therefore cannot be allowed to become guides and mentors to our children; playful harmless seals like you are the only friends they need to help them fulfill their destinies,not sharks.To choose your leaders wisely is to safeguard the interests and rights of future generations yet to come.”(lol)

  9. Gentlemen – There are some new kids on the block and they are known to prudent minds as the “The New Africans.” They are an uncanny breed of creation with exemplary intuitive problem solving abilities – Saviors on a mission they are; Natures last ditch attempt to save our failing continent on which our fragile, corrupt country consistently keeps on dangling hopelessly on the strands of abject poverty. Folks, The African continent is not only quietly spiraling out of control, it is facing an obliteration so well orchestrated by the hands of Economic Super Nations that unless something decisive is urgently done by the NEW AFRICAN, all signs and traces of life in Africa will no longer exist. The African story must now be told by the NEW AFRICAN that is fearless, who deeply understands and cherishes traditional values, morality and practicality.

    Let me emphasize also that the Old heads that ruled the Old days have long been carried away with the winds of time, their old bones taught us the hearts of men are not made of stone so we must choose our leaders shrewdly when they are gone. But Stargazer who did we choose? Did we embrace thorns over Roses, and drink vinegar instead of Honey? What say you Friend – Answer me.(lol) The wind blows over the meadows blooming with wildflowers with the hope to catching their refreshing fragrances – Admirable is it not? But our leaders are raging storms that are superficial to the bone and marrow that bring down fruitful orchard trees with branches overlaid with delicious fruits only for the purpose of allowing them to waste and rot away.

    Its time to choose our leaders wisely; If someone chooses to wear a diamond encrusted teeth to debase himself that is entirely up to him, but for that same person with a freakish nature to think he can represent our people on Global Stage with an anomalous attitude then he’s got another thing coming.(lol) Africa has been able to produce Giants in the past and will certainly do so again with great flair, dignity and respect. The Continent that produced the great Chinua Achebe, master storytellers James Ngugi,Ayi Kwei Armah,Cyprian Ekwesi,Wole Soyinka are countless others will not allow herself to be belittled and shortchanged in the eyes of a world thirsty for change by mediocre performances from the likes of Burna Boy.(lmao)

  10. I would hate to be the Pontifex Maximus of African Morality, telling our artists how to live their lives. These are individuals with specific talents which they deploy to entertain others and on occasion project their culture at home and on the world stage. In the process, they may or may not put on display aspects of their own individualities, which people may like or dislike, depending on their own taste and preferences. However, an individual artist’s taste or preferences cannot be equated with what politicians say and do, given that the latter’s action may have direct, practical consequences on the life of an entire nation.

    Indeed the power politicians wield often determines whether an entire nation prospers or flounders. Burna Boy in this sense is no Buhari. In the grand scheme of things, the effects of his diamond encrusted teeth – whatever these may be – pale into insignificance beside what Buhari does or does not do to Nigeria and Nigerians. Burna Boy has his own foibles just as such global stars as Michael Jackson and Bob Marley once had theirs. However, like his American and Jamaican predecessors, it is his message and artistry that matter.

  11. Any way you choose to examine it – up,down,sideways with revolving lenses or with the naked eye Burna Boy is not a good role model for our kids;But since he is African he has the right to tell our stories as best as he sees fit but make no mistakes until he changes that thuggish image of his, no one in their correct mind will take him very seriously. He is a good musician no doubt but not a good role model for our children.It is this same lackluster,uninspiring mentality and the willingness to quickly accept any questionable individual who is famous or rich as our leaders that has kept Africans backwards.

    I mean seriously,even Orangutans in the Rain Forests have been widely known to choose their leaders carefully and decisively – why can’t human beings do the same thing. Answer – What message are we sending to our children by having someone as superficial as Burna Boy or should I say Rasta Boy with Diamond encrusted teeth giving advice to our children.

    I have never seen any other race of people reduce and tarnish themselves by wearing worthless superficial things on their sacred bodies but African people;And you wonder why we are being discriminated against,cheated,exploited and not taken seriously? The question we have been asking our politicians is what we should be asking musicians like Burna Boy and many others; What exactly do they stand for and what are their moral and religious beliefs? Would you want someone who drinks “OGOGOROO” who is also addicted to illicit hard drugs and Indian hemp to become a role model to your innocent little children? Of course not.Let our storytellers be men and women of integrity and credibility who deeply frown on all forms of superficiality that fail to address the rampant inequalities that have been crippling our fragile nations.

  12. It may well be that Burna Boy has his failings and inadequacies. However, in all fairness to him, who among us can say they have no shortcomings, especially so if they are artists with a propensity to cultivate and project their individualities, not to say idiosyncrasies? Burna Boy’s message about the necessity for Africans to tell their own stories remains faultless and profound, his diamond encrusted teeth notwithstanding. Indeed telling our own stories in our own way and about ourselves is our God-given responsibility, which should not be left to outsiders motivated for centuries by negativity towards our continent and its people. I will embrace this message any day and leave the messenger to do what he will with his teeth.

  13. Congratulations to Burna Boy for the Grammy award but I am one of those who sincerely believe that he’s not a good role model for our kids; Just take a look at him and his diamond encrusted teeth that resembles the Street boys of Gangsta rap – Little Wayne, Birdman, Gucci Mane and others and you will easily see that he is someone who is of a superficial nature – he says one thing, gives you an impression but his real nature is totally different. Answer – How many Africans have diamond encrusted teeth that cost thousands of dollars? People are striving for a plate of EBA AND EGUSI soup a day and there he is showing off by flushing money down the drains of perverseness.

    Hey Burna Boy! There are musicians in Africa that you must strive to emulate if you wish to tell our stories to the rest of the World; Salif keita,Prince Nico,Fela,Akon, Yousou Ndour,Angelina Kido,Black Coffee…the list is endless – these are people that represent Africa in a positive light to the rest of the World – Throw those Diamond teeth away and replace your artificial smile with an authentic one and perhaps, just perhaps some of us will be tempted to begin to take you seriously.(lol)

  14. Burna Boy is perfectly right in saying that we Africans should be telling our own stories. For far too long Westerners have enjoyed and exercised the privilege of seeing and defining who we are without them being seen and defined in turn by us. No other cultures and peoples can know and define us better than we ourselves. This does not necessarily mean our being blind to our failings and inadequacies; our being uncritical of who we are, of what we have done and not done. It means quite simply our being able to say what is best and worst about ourselves; our being able to regain our agency, stolen and appropriated for centuries by agents of robbery by violence from outside, be these in the form of slavery or imperialism or the latter’s colonialist and ne-ocolonislist manifestations.

    Telling our own stories now and always is our birth right, a necessary corrective to that age-old process of racial and cultural stereotypification once used – and still being used in certain respects, implicitly or otherwise – to call into question our very humanity. More Burna Boys please.

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