Self-proclaimed “African Giant” Burna Boy performed to a sold-out crowd at The Mansion Elan on April 19. The Nigerian native has attracted a strong African following with his smooth vocals, quickly rising to become one of the most popular Afrobeats artists in Africa. He has coined his musical style as “Afro-fusion” — a unique blend of Afrobeats, dancehall, reggae and hip hop.
Burna Boy, born Damini Ogulu, developed his initial interest in music at the young age of 10, when he began making beats on an old computer with the FruityLoops software (now known as FL Studio). At age 19, after two years of college in London, Burna Boy dropped out and returned to Nigeria to formally pursue music. In 2012, he released singles “Like to Party” and “Tonight” in collaboration with producer LeriQ, placing himself on the Afrobeats map. Since then, Burna Boy has worked with some of Africa’s biggests artists, including Wizkid, D’Banj and AKA, as well as popular Western artists Drake and Major Lazer.
The crowd, primarily comprised of young Africans and African Americans, certainly dressed to impress. The stylish nightclub teemed with excitement as a number of openers set the stage for Burna’s arrival. Though Burna Boy began his set at 12:45 a.m., an hour and 15 minutes after his expected 11:30 p.m. start time, the crowd received him with an excited roar. My frustration toward his tardiness was instantly replaced with excitement as his engaging stage presence lit up the stage. I danced along as he started with his energetic 2018 track “Heaven’s Gate,” a collaboration with British singer-songwriter Lily Allen. He proceeded to perform several other tracks from his momentous 2018 record “Outside,” ranging from the cheerful “Streets of Africa” to the sensual “Devil in California” — a personal favorite. Of the songs performed from “Outside,” “Sekkle Down,” featuring J Hus, energized the crowd most.
Burna Boy then traveled back in time, performing a number of earlier hits, including his 2013 and 2014 singles “Yawa Dey” and “Check and Balance,” respectively. He also repeated a portion of “Like to Party” in a cappella, showcasing his impressive vocals, before transitioning to recent bangers “Gbona,” “On the Low” and “Dangote” — a song whose first few beats alone were enough to make the crowd erupt into a full-blown sing-along. Burna’s musical talent was put on full display as he sang his songs effortlessly, never running out of breath even while dancing and jumping from corner to corner of the stage.
He took a rest from singing for a “zanku” dance break, which he performed with a guest dancer. A lively, foot-tapping dance, zanku originated in Nigeria with the release of Zlatan Ibile’s 2018 track “Zanku (Leg Work).” The crowd went wild as Burna Boy displayed his impressive footwork. He grinned widely as the audience’s reaction to his dance moves affirmed that he was, indeed, killing it.
Toward the end of the show, Burna Boy called for a moment of silence to honor the passing of Nipsey Hussle, a beloved Eritrean-American rapper, entrepreneur and community activist. Burna Boy shared an emotional word on the importance of loving one another and not taking life for granted.
He closed his 1.5 hour set with his eagerly anticipated breakout hit, “Ye.” The crowd’s energy surged as he performed the catchy track, joyfully jumping up and down with the beat. The audience made sure to shout his signature line, “I can’t come and kill myself,” a Nigerian adage that essentially means you shouldn’t torture yourself over a situation you can’t control. While Burna Boy performed most of my favorite songs, I was slightly disappointed that he closed the show without performing “Location,” his recent collaboration with the British rapper Dave that peaked at No. 6 on the U.K. singles chart.
Overall, Burna Boy provided his audience with high energy, contagious charisma and impressive vocals. The “African Giant” had indeed made his mark on Atlanta.