Burna Boy always seemed destined to play a Carnival.
“The reason for everything I do and how I do it is for one goal and one goal only, and that’s the eventual unity of Africa,” the Nigerian superstar told GQ in 2020.
Burna’s music promotes a form of Pan-Africanism that meshes well with the celebration of Caribbean culture that is Carnival. The Grammy Award winner’s musical Garveyism aided his transformation into international star, endearing him to fans, fellow artists and music executives across the African Diaspora. It’s also why Burna’s Tipsy Festival performance on Friday, the opening of Miami Carnival weekend, can be seen as the Caribbean’s long overdue embrace of Afrobeats, says soca legend Machel Montano.
“To see it merging with Carnival is really something that is natural and organic but timely,” said Montano, who’s also scheduled to perform at Tipsy Festival with artists like Teejay, Skinny Fabulous and Hypasounds. He called Burna’s performance a “full circle” moment.
The musical connection between Montano and Burna is obvious: Both styles originated from Africa. More specifically, they both rely on tresillo, a three note rhythmic pattern popularized in the Caribbean, says University of Miami musicology professor Melvin Butler.
“You find it in dancehall, you find it in calypso, you find it in soca, you find it in conpa from Haiti and you find it all over the African continent as well,” Butler said of tresillo. “These kinds of rhythmic ideas are really great evidence of how so many of these dance musics from around the Caribbean, really around the African diaspora, are connected. They’re part of a family.”
Born Damini Ebunoluwa Ogulu in the oil-rich city of Port Harcourt, Burna’s influences are found across the African Diaspora — the Naughty by Nature that he memorized as a toddler, the Super Cat that his father used to blast as a kid, the Joe CD that his childhood crush gave him — and laid the groundwork for what he coined as “Afrofusion,” a blend of Afrobeat with various genres including dancehall, hip-hop and R&B. Nigerian artist-activist Fela Kuti pioneered Afrobeat in the 1970s, however, Afrobeats has become the popular umbrella term given to all the new music coming out of Africa.
Although Carnival purists may resent any diversion from Trinidadian soca, the digital age has hastened the spread of Black music from country to country. Few know that better than Grammy Award-winning producer IzyBeats. Born and raised in Jamaica, IzyBeats grew up listening to dancehall and soca yet ultimately fell in love with creating Afrofusion.
“I love mixing everything up and just seeing where the experiment takes me,” said IzyBeats, whose production credits include the Jorja Smith-Burna collaboration “Be Honest,” Koffee’s “Toast” and Masego’s “Silver Tongue Devil” featuring Shensea. “I always keep that little splash of dancehall in whatever I do. It’s just only natural for me to do it.”
Even Montano attributed his own success to his ability to infuse soca with hip-hop, house and dancehall got “the young people in the nation to love their home music.”
“Soca music was always about social commentary,” Montano said, noting that the great soca artists would “hold the government accountable and talk about issues that had to deal with larger society.”
A similar nicely packaged, social commentary can be found in Burna’s music. Across six studio albums, he flawlessly flows from dancehall to reggae to R&B to hip-hop while offering critiques about wealth inequality, political corruption and colonialism over beats that make listeners want to move their hips.
Genre fluidity — coupled with the amount of untapped talent in the Caribbean and Africa — has led to the current explosion of the music. Beyoncé dabbled in Afrofusion with “The Lion King: The Gift.” Smith did the same with “Be Honest.” Even Justin Bieber joined the remix of Wizkid’s “Essence.” This is because entire world is embracing Afrofusion, says Ron Telford, the founder and chief managing officer of the entertainment company Creative Titans.
“Every single [record] label has set up an office in Africa over the last three years. Every single label,” said the Guyana-born Telford, who started Creative Titans to discover and develop some of these unheard talents. He added that the labels have also done “partnerships” with every single African streaming service due to the sheer size of the continent’s audience.
Telford credited Burna and Wizkid with driving the interest in all types of African music but warned that this is only the beginning. To him, it’s only a matter of time until Africa produces the most dominant sound in music. If that happens, just remember Burna said it first.
“The truth always just circles back, you know?” he said on “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah” earlier this year. “Things always back to where they started from you know? Music as a whole started from Africa. So it’s always gonna circle back home.”
Tipsy Music Festival
When: 3 p.m.-11 p.m. on Oct. 7, 2022
Where: Bayfront Park (301 N. Biscayne Blvd., Miami, FL 33132)
Tickets and more information: tipsymusicfestival.com