Nigeria’s first Grammy call-up was in 1984 when King Sunny Ade’s “Syncro System” was nominated for the “Best Ethnic or Traditional Folk Recording”. Sadly, it failed to claim the prize, as the King of Jùjú music lost to Clifton Chenier & His Red Hot Louisiana Band.
Thirty-seven years later and no homegrown Nigerian musician had managed the feat. But on March 15, 2021, all that would change when Burna Boy won his first Grammy award in the Best Global Music Album category.
This was Burna Boy’s return to the Grammy’s, having been nominated the previous year on the back of his “African Giant” album, but lost out to Beninese-American songstress, Angélique Kidjo.
Burna’s Grammy success had been foretold since 2008 in 9ice’s “Street Credibility” (Gongo Aso), a track which is possibly a love letter to the Bariga suburbs of Lagos where the Yoruba-style singer grew up in. 9ice sings that:
“Don’t doubt me / I go bring home Grammy /Incredible, remarkable, unbeatable, palatable, reliable.”
9ice isn’t the only Nigerian artiste who has promised to bring a Grammy to the motherland. Others like Skales, Terry Apala, Vic O, and Blackmagic also pledged.
Following Burna Boy’s win, many Nigerians on Twitter took to mocking 9ice, accusing him, in Nigerian jargon, to be “promise and fail.”
This is disturbing, not only because the man is a proper music icon and doesn’t deserve such disrespect, but also because, as has been stated, he’s not the only one to have made such a promise.
So why single him out?
Besides, braggadocio is a theme that runs through the music industry the world over. Musicians boast of private jets they don’t have; rappers verbally lay claim to automobiles they don’t own; singers in the Nigerian music scene in 2008, too, aspired towards the Grammy Awards.
Much like his musical predecessors, Burna Boy too had a Grammy obsession. Starting from his 2013 debut album, L.I.F.E., the dreadlocked, Fela-inspired songster has never been shy about his ambitions.
In the second verse of “Yawa Dey” (L.I.F.E.), he sings, “I dey try to win a Grammy to say I don die.”
He also harkens to the Grammy in “African Giant”, a track from his titular, fourth studio album. Likewise in “Level Up”, off his “Twice As Tall,” he recalls his pain at having lost in the previous Grammy year to Angélique Kidjo.
While his “African Giant” is a multi-themed, masterful work of art, with “Twice As Tall”, Burna Boy strove for a Trans-Atlantic appeal, recruiting Timbaland, Sean Combs (P. Diddy) who was executive producer, and Youssou N’Dour, Naughty by Nature, Sauti Sol, Chris Martin, and Stormzy as featured artists.
In “Monsters You Made”, Burna Boy gripes against colonialism and tyrannical governments. And on “Wonderful”, he broaches an Africanist theme, singing that “Anywhere I go, mo n’ lati pada si ile mi” (Anywhere I go, I have to go back home) — “home” being Africa, being Nigeria.
Coming in a year when the murder of George Floyd by a white cop inspired a wave of #BlackLivesMatter protests in the United States and worldwide, and also during the #EndSARS protests which saw Nigerian youths camp on streets against police brutality, Twice As Tall bears a cultural relevance, and may have contributed to the Recording Academy giving it a nod in this year’s Grammy award.
With Burna Boy winning the prize, he has also fulfilled every Nigerian artistes’ dream, including 9ice’s, and now, unlike in 2008, it’s not so far-fetched for the young, unsigned musician to believe he or she, too, can one day win the prize.