In a perplexing twist of irony, Burna Boy, a Grammy Award-winning artiste who has reaped immense benefits from the global Afrobeats movement, recently questioned the very essence of the genre. According to the artiste, 90% of Afrobeats is about ‘absolutely nothing’, serving merely as an ostentatious display of an ‘amazing time’, devoid of the complexities that characterise human experience. This bold assertion has generated a storm of discussions, debates, and even disillusionments within the international music community, particularly among those who identify with Afrobeats as more than just a musical genre—but as a cultural identity, a political statement, and a way of life.
The implications of Burna Boy’s critique are multi-layered and ripple far beyond just a momentary Twitter storm. They challenge not just the validity of Afrobeats as an art form but question the motivations and authenticity of one of its most prominent ambassadors. Is Burna Boy offering an insider’s critique to spur an evolution in the genre, or is he simply dismissing the artistic and cultural work of countless musicians, producers, and fans? And, if Afrobeats is as empty as he claims, what does it say about his own contributions to the genre?
This commentary has cast Burna Boy at the centre of a controversial spotlight, leading to a variety of interpretations and responses. While some regard his remarks as a courageous albeit uncomfortable truth, others see it as a betrayal—a slap in the face to the genre that made him a global icon. What remains clear is that his viewpoint has incited a broad dialogue on Afrobeats’ substance, its role in society, and its place in global music history.
In the forthcoming discussion, we dissect the intricacies and contradictions of Burna Boy’s explosive comments. We’ll explore how his sweeping statements measure up against the genre’s vast artistic landscape and its undeniable cultural impact. In doing so, we aim to offer a more nuanced perspective, defending Afrobeats’ multifaceted contributions to global music and culture, while questioning the validity and impact of Burna Boy’s disheartening critique.
Afrobeats—A Cultural Phenomenon with Tangible Economic Impact
Burna Boy’s assertion that Afrobeats lacks depth not only flies in the face of the genre’s rich thematic diversity but also dismisses its staggering economic impact. Moreover, artistes like Wizkid and Davido have secured lucrative endorsement deals with international brands, thereby magnifying the genre’s global footprint and validating its economic viability.
Streaming platforms like Spotify and Apple Music have also seen a surge in Afrobeats listenership. Data shows that streams for Afrobeats playlists have grown by over 30% in the past year alone, highlighting the genre’s universal appeal. If this doesn’t attest to the depth and breadth of Afrobeats, what does?
To discount Afrobeats as lacking in substance is not only an injustice to the myriad artistes who have poured their creativity and soul into the genre, but also a disservice to its massive global audience. Afrobeats is not just another genre; it is a cultural and financial phenomenon that deserves its due respect and recognition.
Afrobeats, as a genre, has been estimated to be worth $1 billion globally, with over 1 billion streams per month in Africa alone. This is not merely a form of entertainment; it’s an economic engine driving job creation, tourism, and international brand endorsement deals.
In terms of endorsement deals, Afrobeats artistes have not just penetrated but dominated the global advertising world. Global brands like Pepsi, Nike, and Apple have recognised the economic and social capital these artistes bring, thus forming lucrative partnerships. Wizkid’s 2023 album, ‘Made in Lagos: Deluxe Edition’, was streamed over 100 million times in its first week of release, highlighting the genre’s broad international appeal. Meanwhile, Davido’s single ‘Stand Strong’ became the most streamed song in Africa in the first quarter of 2023, reinforcing the genre’s dominance in its home continent.
Beyond the numbers, the genre is also driving Afrobeats tourism, attracting fans worldwide to the African continent to experience the music and culture first-hand. The Afronation Festival held in Portugal in 2023 is a testament to this, attracting over 20,000 attendees and showcasing Afrobeats as a global phenomenon that can pull crowds across borders. Events like this not only contribute to the genre’s popularity but also promote tourism, thereby enriching the economies of hosting countries.
And let’s not forget Burna Boy’s own contribution to these figures. His 2023 world tour grossed over $10 million, making him one of the pivotal figures in the financial success of the genre he criticises. If this economic footprint, coupled with the social and political narrative that Afrobeats often carries, is what Burna Boy calls ‘lacking substance’, then one must question his criteria for meaningfulness.
The evidence is crystal clear: Afrobeats is not merely a genre fixated on ‘having a good time’ but an intricate web of cultural, social, and economic threads that make it an incredibly impactful phenomenon. It is indeed ironic that an artiste who has benefitted so immensely from the Afrobeats movement would critique it for lacking ‘real-life experiences’, Burna Boy’s sweeping generalisations stand in stark contrast to the hard numbers and cultural impact that Afrobeats is currently delivering. As the genre continues to scale new heights, one can only hope that its critics recognise the multi-dimensional value it brings to global music and beyond.
A Reckless Critique Worthy of Reconsideration
Burna Boy’s critique is particularly disconcerting given his own journey within the genre he so cavalierly dismisses. An artiste frequently compared to Fela Kuti, Burna Boy chose to title one of his most celebrated albums ‘African Giant’, a nod to his aspirations and the giant footsteps he follows in African music. This very title underscores the weighty influence of the genre he claims is about ‘absolutely nothing’.
What’s even more perplexing is that Burna Boy’s critique seems to undermine the emotional and narrative spectrum represented in Afrobeats. The genre celebrates life in its entirety; it provides anthems for love, songs for grief, and tunes for social critique. It mirrors the multifaceted experiences of an entire continent and its diaspora. The notion that music must be a chronic catalog of suffering to be ‘real’ is not only outdated but fundamentally flawed. Art, in its various forms, is often an escape or a form of expression that allows people to step away from their daily troubles, if only for a few minutes. Does that make it any less real or valid?
Furthermore, if Burna Boy’s assertion were accurate, one must question why the genre resonates so deeply with millions of fans globally. Are they all entranced by the ‘nothingness’ he describes? Afrobeats has been a healing balm, a rallying cry, and a form of escapism for countless individuals. If he considers these to be ‘not real-life experiences’, one must ask what qualifies as such in Burna Boy’s world view.
It’s alarming that Burna Boy has chosen to diminish a genre that provides both economic and emotional value to millions. His critique comes off as not only dismissive but also as incredibly out of touch with the lived experiences of his fans and fellow artistes who find depth, meaning, and yes—real life—in the beats and lyrics of Afrobeats songs. This thoughtless criticism needs a serious reconsideration, especially coming from someone who has built his career, fan base, and a considerable portion of his economic fortune from the very genre he derides.
As Afrobeats continues to flourish, drawing in fans from all walks of life and geographical locations, its potency and relevance are beyond doubt. The genre stands as a testament to the richness of African culture, the creativity of its people, and their ability to turn ‘life’—in all its complexities—into art. Burna Boy’s recent critique does not dent the genre; it only serves to reveal his own dissonance. And in a world eager for the next Afrobeats tune to dance or reflect to, that dissonance is something the genre can well afford to ignore.
Conclusion: The Misguided Symphony of Burna Boy’s Critique
Burna Boy’s comments seem incongruent with the facts. Afrobeats is a genre so potent that it is impacting economies, shaping cultural dialogues, and echoing through dance floors and protest marches alike. From Wizkid’s 2023 album, ‘Made in Lagos: Deluxe Edition’, which was streamed over 100 million times in its first week, to Davido’s 2023 single, ‘Stand Strong’, the most streamed song in Africa in the first quarter of 2023, the genre has proven its economic and cultural value time and again. How can one claim that a genre influencing such tangible change lacks substance?
If Burna Boy truly believes that Afrobeats lacks the elements of ‘real-life experiences’, one could question why he doesn’t use his enormous platform and creative genius to infuse the genre with the substance he finds lacking. After all, he himself has benefited immensely from what Afrobeats has to offer, with his 2023 world tour alone grossing over $10 million.
The comments by Burna Boy also do a disservice to the genre’s roots. Afrobeats emerged from Afrobeat, a genre immortalised by Fela Kuti, a musician and activist who used his art as a weapon against systemic issues like corruption, poverty, and human rights abuses. Afrobeats, by extension, carries within it the DNA of social critique, resilience, and a connection to ‘real’ issues affecting real people. It is more than music; it is a movement that continues to carry the torch of Fela Kuti’s legacy, lighting up the global stage with African vibrancy.
Rather than lambasting a genre that has served as a beacon of African talent, a podium for expression, and a vehicle for economic growth, perhaps Burna Boy should focus on how he can contribute to enriching it further. This genre has offered him a platform and a voice; one would expect him to be its advocate, not its critic. As we celebrate the enormous strides Afrobeats has made in world music, one can only hope that its key players, including Burna Boy, will look beyond their personal misgivings to appreciate and contribute to the bigger picture.
In closing, it’s crucial to underline that Afrobeats is not lacking in substance, as Burna Boy claims. Rather, it is a genre pulsating with life, rhythm, and a diversity of experiences. It gives us reasons to dance and moments for reflection, encapsulating the complexities and richness of African culture. If Burna Boy fails to see this, the loss is his alone. The genre moves forward, as vibrant and relevant as ever, with or without his endorsement.