Afro-beats/Dancehall Artist Burna Boy really made his career break in 2012 when his single ‘Like To Party’ virtually blew up everywhere. But due to criminal discrepancies, his international rise in physical senses, was held at a slight stand-still because of his public ban from the UK which began in the late 2000’s. Five years into the ban however, Burna Boy was granted access to the region and after seven years graced his audience at the Eventim Apollo Theatre on Saturday (October 1st). Even more fitting, was that it was Nigerian Independence Day. The event saw a cluster of its people in full attendance to watch one of their most iconic artists grace the stage. With everything on the line did Burna Boy deliver?
The venue was at first lingering with empty seats and large gaps in the standing crowd as the opening acts one-by-one graced the stage, leaving slight uncertainty as to whether Burna Boy would receive the energy and reaction he so clearly wanted after a seven-year performance hiatus.
The crowd were introduced to opening artist Nissi Ogulu who’s also Burna Boy‘s sister. The R&B vocalist’s performance was littered in Humanitarianism, as injustices across the world filled the screen behind her. The track performed; ‘Pay Attention’, was very fitting, and although she was evidently a fresh-face for the now growing crowd, there seemed to be moments of connection between herself and the myriad of faces. Vocally she stood out also, she demonstrated a rich tone and a craft that has clearly been nurtured. Nissi definitely has potential and was a solid start to the show.
Next up was an act who is no stranger to the stage these days. Fast-rising, commercial Afro-beats act Afro B, graced the stage in distressed dungaree’s and a black bandanna. Parts of the performance felt awkward for example the emphasis on dabbing, which was a habit a lot of the openers were prone to doing, however where Afro B really stood strong was in his laid back and care-free moments. After a taster of new material, his DJ SuperMidz, quickly gravitated towards his crowd favourites such as ‘Baba God‘, which instantly moved the crowd. Afro B is a seasoned performer and clearly was at home on the stage, certain parts however, felt like an attempt to claim a crowd he already so clearly has solidified, which is why when he let loose a little, it looked more natural and gained more crowd reception.
Lola Rae served as the penultimate opener, but entered with a confidence no one could shake off. The stage was filled to capacity with her dancers and from the cue go she retained a professional and effortless flair. As she began her performance of her latest single “One Time” all eyes were locked on the Afro-beats crossover act. One thought which remained throughout is why Lola isn’t more globally recognised. She has a presence which compares quite comfortably to the Rihanna‘s and Britney‘s of the industry. The dancing, vocals and crowd shout outs came in abundance as Lola moved on to her most recognisable track “Watch My Ting Go“. The crowd, who knew every word at this point were filled with an excitement as the party really got started.
A sense of anticipation for Burna was now sky high, and after a surprise performance from MOBO nominated MoStack the wait was finally over.
Police-themed staging was the centrepiece for Burna‘s return. A 3 or so minute opener was played for the crowd. In it, a rebellious Burna Boy began talking to the Metropolitan Police while being transported as a criminal to prison. Soon after they reached a junction where Burna (with the help of accomplices) breaks free. His confidence is in full swing as he lights a spliff and laughs. No more than 30 seconds later Burna bursts out of the real life van on stage and is welcomed to full on screams and cheers. After removing his prison overalls he stands confident with a Nas tee and Stone Island jeans ready for action.
‘Run My RaceI’, a throwback track, was one of the early songs in the set, and Burna is visibly in awe and emotional here and keeps interjecting to let the crowd know that he never thought he would get to perform again in the UK. He rallies up support from his fans before continuing but is visibly immersed in gratitude. This side to artists generally is something rarely shown and to see it from such a huge act, demonstrated his authenticity and growth throughout his career.
“To me, all of you mean the world” he shouts, as he ends the song and begins his comeback concert in a positive spirit.
After addressing open wounds, Burna shakes it off and pays homage to his brothers in a brand new track titled ‘Mandem Anthem‘. Clearly taking notes off of the current Grime/Trap scenes, the song sounds like Burna‘s attempt at catering to the UK “urban” arena. Sounding less impressive than previous offerings the track still holds its own and doesn’t lose the audience attention who are enthusiastic and all for it at this point.
The party takes an intimate pause as Burna addresses a Mary Jane next. “If you know about Mary Jane, this songs for her” he adamantly states before half singing half rapping on a sample of Minnie Riperton’s ‘Loving You‘. The backing vocalists were strong and passionate here and contributed greatly to the soulful vibe of the unreleased track. More sampling persists as Burna quickly ups the ante in a Rihanna intermission/remix to ‘Work‘, which is in parts inaudible, however Burna’s energetic theatrics keep the set at a high.
Following a brief intermission Burna Boy is back and ready to take a blast to the past once more and performs old hits such as ‘Soke‘ and ‘Jealousy‘. As a Caribbean in attendance its undeniable that there are strong cross-overs with an artist like Burna Boy and contributions of Reggae, Dancehall and Soca are definitely felt in parts of his discography and even as a performer at points he is reminiscent of Elephant Man. However, one thing which cant be taken away from Burna is his strong pride in the homeland, and he makes that instantly obvious with his Nigerian referencing in clothing, linguistics and shout-outs throughout which was great to see on the day of their National Independence.
Burna stands tall in the final phase of his homecoming and ushers the crowd into a mosh-pit as a part of his grand finale, and ends on an impressive high retaining the same amounts of enthusiasm as at the start of the concert, despite the physically demanding set.
With the pressure on his shoulders after seven years of absence in the UK and with the added responsibility of representing Nigeria in a positive light on Independence Day, Burna Boy fights back with a desire and yearn to get back to business. The Homecoming Concert had it all; a recognition of emerging and culturally relevant talent, diversity in terms of discography displayed/ array of acts and themed intermissions and lastly a passion and humility which couldn’t be ignored. Burna Boy connected in a sincere and mature manner, leaving ego and pride aside for an emotional yet joyful affair. An amazing return to the UK arena.
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