Africa / Afro Funk / Afro Fusion / Afrobeats / Dancehall / Kompa / Reggaeton / Soul/R&B

Burna Boy almost fills two Bell Centres: Nigeria on our doorstep!

by Alain Brunet

Over the past sixty years, Africa has popularized some of its most remarkable stars in the West: Miriam Makeba, Fela Kuti, Touré Kunda, King Sunny Adé, Alpha Blondy, Youssou N’Dour, Salif Keita, Angélique Kidjo, Oumou Sangaré and Yemi Alade. The last black, non-Western frontman to fill a major Canadian arena as a headliner was Bob Marley… who wasn’t a native of the continent of his forefathers, that’s saying something!

Outside Africa, where they easily fill stadiums, none of the artists mentioned has had such an impact in North America as that seen this week. There is now one exception, the first of many to come.

Burna Boy makes history this week, 18 months after his sensational performance at Osheaga (August 2022), a precursor to the Nigerian Afrobeats movement’s invasion of North America. The first African artist to play Bell centers twice in a row, the frontman embodies a global transformation of pop culture. Wow.

Over 30,000 fans will have flocked to the Bell Centre this week, two nights in a row, to applaud the biggest star of the Afrobeats movement, a non-Western style that has gone global. The influence of this style compares favorably with other powerful movements born outside the U.S. and Western Europe, starting with reggae and reggaeton.

On Thursday evening, the arena was packed with diversity. Predominantly populated by the 18-30 generation, the crowd sang along to the offerings of Lagos-based DJ Lambo, one of the opening acts in a wide-ranging program that began at around 7.40pm and ended shortly before midnight. Also from Nigeria, singer Nissi Ogulu did her best (with ups and downs, to put it politely) and the program’s first DJ, Spaceship Billy, returned to warm up the room before Burna Boy triumphed for two hours. Generous!

The playground is an urban setting inspired by a working-class district of Lagos. A telephone booth is set up in front of several local shops, including a barber and a grocery store. The 4 reeds and brass instruments overhang the stage on the right, while the 3 backing singers do the same on the left. Drums and percussion are arranged at the ends, with the harmonic core of 4 musicians (keyboards, guitars, bass) in the center. A string trio (violin, viola, cello) appears a few times, while 6 dancers express themselves throughout this highly ambitious show.

Burna Boy is frontman, bandleader, crooner, groover and sex symbol all rolled into one. His ascendancy over the female gender is more than obvious, with the ladies clearly in the majority singing along to his megatubes, particularly his romantic ballads.

On the PAN M 360 side, we preferred the mostly epidermal Afrobeats grooves, an infectious mix of dancehall, reggaeton, afro-funk, juju, konpa, soul/R&B or even jazz, matched with a significant layer of Nigerian culture.  Among the thirty or so songs on the program, we’ll have noticed the performance of the following hits: “I Told Them”(also the title of the tour), “Gbona”, “Pull Up”, “On The Low”, “On Form”, “Giza and more.

We all know that humanity is going through a critical period in its presence on Earth, but it’s not all bad news. The rebalancing of planetary cultural forces is good news! Burna Boy is here to remind us that there is always hope for humans of good will.

Photos by Stephan Boissonneault

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