AYODEJI ROTINWA and EROMO EGBEJULE profile Damini Ogulu, better known as Burna Boy, the Nigerian entertainment industry’s new bride.
As a baby, Damini Ogulu would be asleep in the car while the great Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, king of Afrobeat went for performances with his manager, the former’s grandfather, Benson Idonije. This was long before Damini grew up to become the highly-rated but still budding performer known as Burna Boy.
Burna Boy said his reason for choosing the moniker was because of his love for cartoons and animations and confesses that he’s been singing since he was a child. He then went on to reveal he had created a sizeable body of work before he came to prominence- his mix tapes: Burn Notice and Burn Identity. He is one of a precious few contemporary musicians who manage to combine lyrics, looks and depth and still sound commercial. His Patois-ridden verses have drawn debates on who is better between him and Shank, the other leading light in the dancehall genre but he refuses to be drawn into making any statement on that. In his words, “I don’t see any competition. There’s a difference between Shank and I. I’m doing my own thing, my way. I don’t even feel like I’m in the music industry. I just feel like I’m in the Burna industry, in the Aristokrat industry.” Aristokrat Records is the label under which he is signed.
Unsurprisingly, Fela is a big musical influence on the budding musician, along with Jamaican reggae megastar, Sizzla Kalonji and Jimi Hendrix. The eclectic mix of influences tells heavily on his music. His delivery and rhyme scheme are anything but pedestrian. “It’s all in the vocabulary, man and in the message you trying to pass across”, he emphasized. “I don’t even write on pen and paper, I just get into the booth, blackout and it happens. At the end of the day, I have the vocabulary in my head and so the words just come together.” What’s his inspiration? Everyone says God. Is that his too? He explained, “My environment is my inspiration because everything is a product of your environment. I was in an environment where songs like Abeg Abeg and Freedom came out. Now, I’m in a different environment where Like to Party can come out too.” Like to Party is his chart-topping, radio airwave-dominating hit single that ushered him into the limelight.
With other standout singles like Tonight and Touch Your Toes, he is steadily heating up the entertainment industry with the efficiency of a Bunsen burner, attracting and winning fans like moths to a flame. Admittedly, it is not only the quality of his music alone that has drawn many to him; his physical look has also contributed. Standing at an impressive 6’2’, he cuts an imposing figure. Coupled with this, his body is masked with tattoos like intricate embroidery on an African print, which he readily shows off at the slightest provocation (screaming female fans) He however maintains his tattoos aren’t for vanity but a means to pass a ‘message’ ‘’That’s what tattoos are for; expression! For me, I don’t even know how many I’ve got. More than ten but every single one of them has a specific meaning. From someone’s tattoos, you know who they are. I don’t know how to explain it but it’s a spiritual thing’’
Innumerable tattoos notwithstanding, it is his music that will continue to grab headlines. His album, L.I.F.E, a mnemonic for ‘Leaving an Impact for Eternity’ has been completed and is set for release at a date he is reluctant to confirm. He explains that the album is so named because “That’s what we plan to be, to leave a legacy, not in the industry, but in the world.” In 2012, he performed at major shows and tours across the country, from the Rick Ross Jam to 2face’s Away & Beyond concert, Lagos Jazz series and the Hennessy Artistry tour and several others, alongside heavyweights such as Rick Ross, Naeto C, M.I., 2face. He describes it as a good experience, as “growing up”. If he keeps on the path, he too, in no time will be regarded as a heavyweight to share a stage with. The underlying beauty of his music and its stand-out 80’s theme is unmistakable, arresting and will soon see him reach the zenith of Nigerian entertainment. Onward march it is, then.
*This was originally published in THISDAY Newspapers, Arts & Culture section, October 2013.