March 13, 2020

OLUWABURNA…Who Needs The Grammy??

Let’s Talk Music by Mallm Abdul Okwechime







The 2020 GRAMMY AWARDS like every other one in the past, came long before the sounds of the year under review were heard. That’s the way of the Grammys.

Awards are given to sounds imagined. We have all come to live with it. Perhaps it is these imaginary winnings that affected Burna Boy, our own Oluwa Burna’s sensibilities.

I sympathise with him concerning his outbursts at not winning an Award at the 2020 Grammys. There’s nothing wrong with being ambitious. But not a Grammys ambition. Grammys itself lacks ambition and foresight. Ambition should be made of and from sterner stuff. Grammys lacks this. Listing him and sharing same platform with Angelique Kidjo therefore, was enough Grammys award for Burna. By this, the world was told that, Burna had arrived, if they didn’t know this before. That turned out to be the only positive of The  Burna Boy Grammys’ nominations. No more.

Sincerely, what manner of Grammys are we talking about?

“Go and ask D’Banj, or P-Square. Nothing as traumatic as living in the memory of yourself in your lifetime.”

 A Grammys that doesn’t know or refused to recognise that these two artistes play different categories of music to each other and could not and should not be categorised alike. Lumping them under some obscure “World Music Category”, belittles any claim to professionalism by the Grammys’ Academy. It shows that the Academy is a pretender to the academia. Have you ever wandered what the judges would be looking out for, for instance, between Angelique Kidjo and Burna Boy? What criteria?? Two personalities with two completely different modes of interpreting music are pitched against each other, just so Grammys wiould feel fulfilled at being all inclusive.

Oluwa Burna: You shouldn’t lose sleep over the Grammys because it doesn’t add any value to you or your career as an African artiste. The best it could have done for you, would, perhaps, be an image booster to push you to your creative limits, to make those who repose so much belief in you, proud. And this should be your take away from all the Awards hullabaloo. A wake up call to self assertion.

Angelique Kidjo won her First Grammys for the best contemporary world music in 2008.

On February 8, 2015, Kidjo won her Second Grammys in the same category as she did the first.

She won her Third Grammys on February 15, 2016.

And on January 27, 2020 Kidjo won her Fourth Grammys in same category she had won repeatedly and in which Burna Boy was pitched against her.

In between these Grammys, she had won the Kora, won the Mobo, BET, AFRIMA, and almost all the world’s most acclaimed music awards available in the Industry. She had been honoured by renowned institutions including the BBC, Forbes, World Economic Forum, Davos and given honorary doctorate degrees by Yale University and Berklee College of Music, USA,  (arguably one of, if not the best, music school worldwide). This is what I call true grit. It’s what I referred earlier to, as sterner stuff.

To be listed again therefore, for the umpteenth time in the same category, for me, is an insult. What it means in real terms is that Grammys has not seen any growth in her over these years. So each time Angelique Kidjo climbs the stage to collect that award, she confirms to the world that indeed she doesn’t deserve anything better. That her growth is stunted.  Sadly. The truth is that Angelique can conveniently compete in any other category as proper to her music in the Grammys. But the academy would rather restrict or box her to a “condemned for Africans” category. Or, what in this world is world music?

What should drive Burna is to build on himself, NOW. Build on whatever it was that fascinated the awards team to nominate you in the first place. That’s if you know it. I don’t know it. Sincerely I can’t feel the Burna Beat, if there is anything like that. I feel the euphoria and that is what it is. If they are deceiving you, please don’t deceive yourself. You have not evolved any beat. None. By some magic, and this industry is full of magics, you have become larger than your life. You need to wake up and build on this. You must evolve the Burna Beats. You must dream it, produce it and make it your call to fame. Enough of sampling and or acting FELA. You cannot be him. No one can. Not even his children. Fine, you climbed to fame sampling his music but that should be about it. Stop linking your steps and acts to FELA, otherwise you will remain a caricature. Some of your young fans don’t even know that those tunes were FELA’s. That’s how bad it is. Please work on your music. You have a distinct voice that should set you apart, and you can rule the world if you create a distinct beat to go with it. After all, you are a musician not just a chorister. I am not saying you should create another genre of music. But why not?

“The truth is that Angelique can conveniently compete in any other category as proper to her music in the Grammys. But the academy would rather restrict or box her to a “condemned for Africans” category. Or, what in this world is world music?”

What is important is to create a Burna Boy completely different from a caricature FELA you are striving to be. You have to do it NOW, otherwise start planning for early retirement.

Go and ask D’Banj, or P-Square. Nothing as traumatic as living in the memory of yourself in your lifetime. You still have a golden opportunity to right your wrongs. Not thinking about awards. FELA, your mentor once said, “I don’t play for awards. I am too busy creating music to change humanity, to remember awards”. That’s the way to go. We need to create as many styles of Afrobeat as possible. You might just be one of such. Otherwise, you would have passed through here wasted. Forget present day euphoria. It dies before the person.

The Grammys you seek is, in itself, suspect. What manner of Grammys didn’t recognise the man who created Africa’s Biggest Music Export and whose music is the most sampled beat in world music today?   A Grammys that didn’t know Jimi Hendrix, by far the best guitarist the world has ever known. Grammys that couldn’t categorise the music of legendary Bob Marley. It took The Grammys almost forever to give Carlos Santana awards, at the twilight of his career. Is that the Grammys you should worry about?

How do we begin to worry about an Academy Award that does not know the Afrobeat music other than bunching it under an umbrella called World Music? Whatever that means. If they are truly an academy shouldn’t they be researching now into the essence of Afrobeat, a music genre that has suddenly taken over the space worldwide. As an academy if they find the genre difficult to comprehend, they should commission researches into it. They should enlist knowledgeable Afrobeat pundits into the Academy. It’s an insult to continue to put Afrobeat under the name “World Music”, as If the others are music from outer space. It’s even more insulting to put all African Stars under one backyard category, only heard and not to be seen on stage on the day of the awards proper.

And you are sulking that you missed the disgrace.

Afrobeat, as played by the originator, FELA, is scored   So a serious music academy should embark on a research aimed at espousing the basis of the beats, to the music world. But either they are too mentally lazy or are reluctant at celebrating Africa’s Biggest Gift to the music world, most likely, this latter, they don’t honour the musicians of Africa. They make you feel that they are doing you a favour with Grammys’ nominations. Meanwhile the Beyoncé, Jay Zs, etc of this world, are being crowned Kings and Queens of music for sampling the same music they are finding difficult to recognize!   What an irony. By now Grammys should have all the various wining categories for the Afrobeat Genre. It’s easy to do.  Grammys is reluctant not at the research but at having a certain  Afrobeat genre dominate the music world. That’s the fear. Grammys knows that giving Afrobeat such recognition by its academy, is a clear endorsement for the music world to go that direction. The West cannot afford this. But that is the inevitable way forward in music. A few of the western musicians have now realised this and are leading the drive to Africa. African artistes must seize the tide. Not waiting to be crowned by a clueless Academy.

The take home today for Burna Boy is, again in the words of his mentor FELA advising Ghariokwu Lemi and me, “Anything you do in life, do it to perfection. If they don’t appreciate you while you lived, they will come for you in your grave, when you are dead and gone”. Indeed today, the whole world has gone for him in his grave. Including you, Burna Boy.

“Sincerely I can’t feel the Burna Beat, if there is anything like that.”

The Question is, if you go today, will people be scrambling for you and your works in two years’ time or beyond?

The answer is No.


There is nothing to scramble for.  Now is the time to evolve it.  A word is enough for the wise.

 -Okwechime has written about music in top music journals for close to 40 years. He was a columnist in The Daily Times of Lagos, Nigeria, in the early 1980s and did both culture and crime reporting for This Week from the middle of the 80s. He was close to Fela Anikulapo- Kuti and was briefly a manager of Femi Kuti. He will write the column LET’S TALK MUSIC every fortnight for


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