Nigeria: ‘Love, Damini’ is a nod to Burna Boy’s industry and zeitgeist

By Dami Ajayi
Posted on Friday, 22 July 2022 11:26

Cover of Burna Boy's newest album 'Love, Damini' (photo: https://music.apple.com)

A time comes in a musician’s career when there is an acute sense of a following. Damini Ogulu, better known as Burna Boy, would like us to think this is the case, particularly with his sixth album, 'Love, Damini'. 

The title has an epistolary ring suggesting vulnerability unlike his earlier album titles ranging from boastful (African Giant) to situational (Outside) to resilient (Twice as Tall). The title Love, Damini depicts a sense of amity. From our favourite popular musician, with love.

Since Twice as Tall, his fifth LP record, won a Grammys (the first for an Afrobeats album) in the Global Music Award category (a feat a notch above his fourth album’s Grammys nomination in the same category), there should be a post-Grammy celebratory fare.

His successful Chopstix-produced lead single ‘Last Last’, which samples instrumentals, cadence and Toni Braxton’s unmistakable husky ad libs from her noughties song ‘He Wasn’t Man Enough’, dispels this notion for a more urgent narrative around his inner life: his break-up with British-Jamaican rapper Stefflon Don.

Trust Burna Boy to repurpose a scorned lover’s hit, adapting it from its R&B mould to an Afrobeats fuji-cadenced ditty. The refrain, I need Igbo and Shayo (weed and liquor) is silent about ashawo, the third wheel of youthful miscellany this genre boldly embodies.

Vulnerable moments

At the heart of this song is a man singing about becoming undone. He reflects on crashing his Ferrari in Lekki and then circles back to his pre-stardom Port Harcourt days when his feelings oscillated like a swing.

Such vulnerable moments like his despair at losing the 2020 Grammys to veteran Angelique Kidjo (hello!) are difficult to reconcile with his conduct on the streets of Nigeria. Burna and his crew recently caused mayhem at a Lagos nightclub and left two revellers with gunshot wounds. If his talents tower twice as tall, ditto for his troubles.

This is why he would jet out of Lagos while his police orderlies account for the crime perpetrated under their watch.

The legendary Ladysmith Black Mambazo lend their arresting melodies to Burna’s high-pitch musings on ‘Glory’, but it falls flat on emotional resonance because Burna Boy’s career, in spite of his self-sabotage tactics, is at an all-time high.

Although it is possible to experience dysphoria in one’s inner life, that momentous low on ‘Glory’ is combatted with the boisterous energy of ‘Science’, the true opening of this album.

At 19 tracks, this album is both a nod to Burna Boy’s industry and a side-eye to the zeitgeist. 19 tracks are risky in a world of poor attention span, but Burna guns for inclusiveness. His winning streak demands that he pledges allegiance to all the pillars on which his Afrofusion tent is pitched. On Love, Damini, Burna Boy favours his true love: Dancehall – the heartbeat of this album. After seizing the Grammys with a bespoke album engineered specifically for the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences, it is expected to revert to old ways.

Burna’s most obvious talent is his ability to repurpose his pluripotent cadence for any genre. His rarer talent is how he cleverly samples records. T.S. Eliot said mature poets steal and Quincy Jones once accused Micheal Jackson of just that.

Burna Boy benefits from his diverse listening in crafting his own creations. At its most obvious, one could call this sampling, but there is also an understated approach that he often deploys. He could swab a song for a phrase, cadence or melody and place it on his polyrhythmic agar. What results is a standard Burna Boy song.

Amapiano and Afrobeat

His ‘Cloak and Dagger’ borrows its hook from 9ice’s Asa-assisted ‘Pete-Pete’, but Burna makes it more boisterous and less solemn, more paranoid and less communal, with an efficient verse from the elusive J Hus to boot.

‘Jagele’ chops up an evergreen Ghanaian ditty, reducing its dance rhythms and tempos, but the genius is the staggered drum patterns courtesy of Kel P. ‘Different Size’ is lacquered with rising star Victony’s falsetto waxing eloquently on the morphology of buttocks. The K-Drama nod to Squid Game should not conflate the tribute to IK Dairo’s ‘Salome’ and its percussive interlude, but this song leans into Amapiano and Burna drums up his Fuji lilt.

The treadmill steady ‘Kilometre’ is perhaps the oldest song on this project, touched up like an ageing actor, it is a standard ditty that further plays up the dancehall ethos of Love, Damini. Ditto for ‘Vanilla’ (with a summery video) and the mid-tempo ‘Toni-Ann Singh’ where Popcaan almost takes all the shine.

‘Whiskey’ blends alcohol abstinence violation with nostalgia for his former stomping ground Port Harcourt, struggling with severe air pollution—it is one of the sombre moments of the album that carries the quiet defiance of Afrobeat (without the s) like ‘Common Person’, the tribute to the hard-working Nigerian working class eternally disenfranchised by the political elites.

The beauty of these songs is how Burna offers language to the experiences that are not necessarily his. Fela had a similar gift. Always middle-class, he was fascinated by the Nigerian working class, choosing to live amongst them whilst eschewing the opulence that his successful career could afford.

‘Wild Dreams’ features Khalid helming the hook while Burna focuses on his patois-laden verses. It was all peaches till Burna brought his monologue about Martin Luther King getting shot for having a dream.  This is reductive and quite unbefitting of someone who holds Fela in high regard and made giant strides on the man’s back. The American Civil Rights Movement of the 60s revolutionised Fela’s politics and it is arguably the single most important event that birthed the political consciousness of Afrobeat.

Burna’s anger

In ‘How Bad Could It Be’, Burna muses over his bad mood. It is fitting that there is an entire song dedicated to building a protocol around his bad mood. It would have been even more effective if he took his own advice. Perhaps the nightclub incident may have been averted.

Naysayers may find it precious to examine Burna’s anger, but he brought it into this discourse and I daresay it is the one element that does not shapeshift ‘Glory’ and the eponymous, Love, Damini.

He ends his album on this note, reflecting on his regrets and fingering his anger as his major flaw. However, his reflections are shallow since he hardly contends with accountability, consequences and retribution. This is why he would jet out of Lagos while his police orderlies account for the crime perpetrated under their watch.

If Burna Boy is indeed acutely aware of his following, this album should be more aptly called (With) Love (and Violence), Damini. Here is the first step towards accountability: Damini Ogulu should honour the invitation of the Nigerian Police Force.

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