In the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s 95 theses that propelled the Protestant Reformation, it is timely to recall that the shockwaves were not just confined to Christian doctrinal matters but were central to the rise of industrial capitalism that transformed the whole world. This thesis was set out in the most famous link between religion/ethics and economic development by Max Weber in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, published in 1904. I should like to make the claim that it has relevance in the present day in regard to the development of the Global South. In the introductory chapter, Weber makes some forceful observations that are of considerable importance to the goal of global development: “Only in the West does science exist at a stage of development which we recognize today as valid … A rational chemistry has been absent from all areas of culture except the West … [A] rational, systematic, and specialized pursuit of science, with trained and specialized personnel, has only existed in the West in a sense at all approaching its present dominant place in our culture”
Why these advances took place in Western Europe is what Weber sought to explain and provides the foundational reason as to why capitalism – which so enormously developed productive capacities and capabilities and transformed the world at extraordinary speed – originated among Protestants in Western Europe: “business leaders and owners of capital, as well as the higher grades of skilled labour, and even more the higher technically and commercially trained personnel of modern enterprises, are overwhelmingly Protestant”.
Weber’s thesis was striking and compelling; the rise of capitalism was rooted in Protestant (especially Calvinist) ethics and attendant cultural dispositions that stressed the importance of hard work and wealth creation (for the glory of God) and thriftiness. It was this trinity of factors that fomented a new economic system characterised by accumulation of capital – rather than wasteful expenditure – that financed investment and further expansion of enterprises. Hence, the Protestant ethic engendered the ‘spirit of capitalism’.
Protestantism was a movement of protest against the Catholic Church and the severing of ties with its centralised, hierarchical institutions. Accordingly, primacy began to be accorded to the individual’s relationship with God without recourse to institutions and clergy and it is this that arguably nurtured individual economic and political freedoms. Nascent capitalist enterprises in an increasingly marketised economy originated in initiatives by such individuals; a capitalist class imbued with a Protestant ethic was thus born.
Might this foundational hypothesis of Weber’s provide helpful insights for the present-day developing world? That is to say, those countries and societies that are characterised by a Protestant-type culture offer a more conducive environment for economic development than those that are not. Consider the large tracts of the world where development has been stagnant or sluggish in the post-colonial era. Can we argue that they are characterised by ethics and norms that are decisively at variance with the Protestant work ethic? If so, might the culture and religion of such societies powerfully militate against such an ethic?
The Weberian thesis is that those religions and cultures (Catholicism and even more so, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam) that stress anti-materialism and ‘other-worldliness’ and focus on spiritualism, discourage entrepreneurship and wealth creation, act as a brake on economic development.
A reasonable riposte is that while the Protestant work ethic may well have been a decisive factor in the origins of capitalism in Western Europe that is of little relevance now. Other, non-Protestant societies have also attained high levels of economic development by acquiring requisite institutions and skills. This is indeed true but a rejoinder to this argument is that this has entailed the overcoming or even rejection of their non-productive legacies; in other words such countries and societies, and cultures therein, have markedly changed.
In an edited collection Culture Matters: How Values Shape Human Progress, Samuel Huntington makes a striking comparison between South Korea and Ghana: in the early 1960s both had very similar economies and comparable levels of GNP per capita. Thirty years later, South Korea had become the 14thlargest economy in the world with a powerful manufacturing base whereas Ghana had not undergone anything like such a transformation and, accordingly, its GNP per capita was one-fifteenth of South Korea’s. Huntington concludes that “South Koreans valued thrift, investment, hard work, education, organization, and discipline. Ghanaians had different values. In short, cultures count”.
Ronald Inglehart and Christian Wetzel show that the worldviews of people living in rich societies differ systematically from those of people living in low-income societies across a wide range of political, social, and religious norms. The differences run along two basic dimensions: “traditional versus secular-rational values and survival versus self-expression values. The shift from traditional to secular-rational values is linked to the shift from agrarian to industrial societies. Traditional societies emphasize religion, respect for and obedience to authority, and national pride. These characteristics change as societies become more secular and rational”.
The inference here is clear: economic and social development requires a move to more secular and rational values. The question naturally arises as to whether enlightened governments can speed up development by implementing political, social, and religious reforms so as to lessen the ‘drag effect’ of traditional values. And is it possible for high levels of development to proceed without the concomitant move away from traditional values?
International institutions such as the UN and World Bank have neglected to explore the link between religion and development. In stark contrast, W Arthur Lewis argued that some religious codes are more compatible with economic growth than others. If a religion lays stress upon material values, upon work, upon thrift and productive investment, upon honesty in commercial relations, upon experimentation and risk bearing, and upon equality of opportunity, it will be helpful to growth, whereas in so far as it is hostile to these things, it tends to inhibit growth. Given that throughout the world, above all in the Global South, religion is profoundly important to many aspects of society, and strongly moulds people’s lives, the prevalence and intensity of religious belief will, accordingly, have a great impact on the trajectory of society in terms of growth and development.
The decline of religion in modern societies is termed the ‘secularisation thesis’ where economic development and rising living standards lead to a fall in the adherence to religious beliefs and practices. Importantly, if attributes of a religion and attendant cultural norms affect the attitude towards work, saving, investment, propensity to innovate, that is, the workings of an economy, as posited by Weber, then the secularisation thesis argues that the resulting economic and social advancement has a feedback effect on religious belief, that is to say, reduces it. Where a religion militates strongly against rising productivity and innovation, it has a dampening effect on the economy so, in turn, reduces such a feedback on the belief system. This suggests a curious result: cultures and religions that most effectively protect themselves against economic advancement are best able to ensure that their hold on a population is little diluted.
In the absence of rigorous research on this issue, there is nevertheless good reason to think that both the levels of believing and belonging are significantly greater in the Global South than in the developed world. Moreover, the intensity of religious belief is also likely to be greater given its imposition from a very young age. That being so, and in the absence of a secular state, institutions, and laws, religion and its cultural accoutrements permeate every vestige of society and, by so doing, profoundly impact the determinants of development and growth. True, these are strong claims and generalisations but they are worthy of extensive investigation and empirical research – in particular by international development institutions, especially the World Bank and UNDP which have never done this.
MEET FRANKY 5: The Tale Of A Banker Turned Journalist
He started off as an astute Banking Executive, after he had the opportunity to undertake his National Service assignment with Akuapem Rural Bank at Mamfe, Akuapem in 2005. Following this feat achieved, he worked professionally at the same bank for 24 months as an Assistant Accountant. Later in 2008, he joined United Bank for Africa (UBA) as a Retail Banking Officer. Due to his dedication to work, he won the Most Outstanding Staff award and later was poached by Access Bank, where he worked as Head of Asian Corporates desk.
In less than 3 months at Access Bank, Frank Kwabena Owusu liabilities portfolio had risen to $25million, unprecedented in the history of the bank, as he got recognized by the Board of the bank. Then he moved to Unibank as Head of Commodities Banking, later to Fidelity Bank as Head of Exports desk then finally left to First Atlantic Bank as Branch Manager at North Industrial Area, where he reigned to follow his passion in music and media.
Prior to the banking experience, he had his basic school education at the Alajo Basic School and had his secondary school education at Koforidua Secondary Technical School in Koforidua. He had his first degree at Valley View University where he studies Business Administration (Accounting option) and graduated with 2nd class upper division.
Franky5 has become a household name and one of the most talked about radio personalities in recent times. He is the host of “This is Gospel” radio show on Hitz 103.9 fm, a Multimedia Group. During this period he has conducted big interviews with top showbiz names such as Sarkodie, Stonebwoy, CK Akonnor, Prince David Osei, Obrafour, Yaw Sarpong, Joe Mettle, Diana Hamilton, Nacee, etc, and also securing two nominations, one each at the Ghana DJs Awards – 2019 and
RTP Awards – 2018.
Franky5’s entry into radio space started when he was into Artist Business Management where he managed Gospel music stalwarts such as Nacee and No Tribe music group, Ceccy Twum, One Voice Choir and OJ. There, he developed great love for radio as he encountered and studied top radio hosts such as Kuami Sefa Kayi, Akwasi Aboagye, Andy Dosty, Abeiku Santana, etc.
Later in 2016, he decided to divert to radio and television. His first application was to host the TIG Show on Pluzz fm which fell off along the way, until Mark Okraku-Mantey (Programs Director at Hitz fm) decided to give him a chance to develop his passion at Hitz fm in the same year.
Absolute belief and faith has been his guiding principle in the processes that has led him throughout his career. “If you don’t believe you can absolutely transform your life and get what you want, then you might as well forget about goal setting and do something else”. If you are in doubt, look around you. Everything you can see began as a thought. Make your thoughts turn into reality. The ultimate is to be able put a smile on someone’s face by virtue of my service to God and humanity.
Having worked in the corporate world, creative arts and the media space, his dedication to work and excellence has positioned him to serve on the Board of the 2nd biggest music awards scheme in Ghana, ‘3 Music Awards’ as the only Gospel representative. He also serves as an Academy member the biggest music awards scheme in Ghana, VGMAs. He is also a consultant to Africa Gospel Awards Festival and the Ghana National Gospel Music Awards. He also served on the Board of Zylofon Arts Fund, Ghana Tourism Authority Film Support Fund and currently a member of the “Beyond the Return” planning committee.
The 7 Record Producers Making Afrobeats Music A Globally Accepted Genre
When Drake hopped on Wizkid’s “Ojuelegba Remix” back in 2015, his co-sign helped elevate the blossoming Afrobeats scene to global heights. With the impending Afrobeats bonanza in his sights, a year later Drake, the globe’s biggest (and most opportunistic) artist, again sought Wizkid’s helping hand for his own Afro-inspired single “One Dance,”
This foray into the unknown paid off for him as “One Dance” exploded into one of the most successful singles of the streaming era. Just like that, almost in the blink of an eye, Afrobeats became a global commodity.
The emergence of artists like Burna Boy, Rema, Mr. Eazi, and the continued success of the likes of Wizkid and Davido, have propelled the genre globally. The recent release of Beyoncé’s The Lion King: The Gift, which featured the who’s who of the Afrobeats scene—Mr Eazi, Wizkid, Yemi Alade, Burna Boy, Maleek Berry, Tiwa Savage, Shatta Wale—is further evidence of the world’s growing interest in Afrobeats.
Throughout the years, there have been several producers who have consistently been behind many of our favourite hits. We take a closer look at the cream of the crop.
It took almost two years for Davido’s “Fall” to make its mark across the world, but when it did, it quickly became a torchbearer for the expansion of Afrobeats. The Kiddominant-produced record broke ground in the US and became the longest charting Nigerian pop song in Billboard history, peaking at number 13 on the US R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay chart. It also notably rose to one of the top 100 most Shazamed singles in America in early 2019 and was enlisted among Pitchfork’s 200 best songs of the 2010s. Other notable production credits by Kiddominant include AKA’s “Fela In Versace”, DJ Neptune’s “Marry” (feat. Mr Eazi) and Orezi’s “Rihanna”.
African Giant, Burna Boy’s magnus opus, would not have been possible without Kel P. A producer and co-writer on 10 of the album’s 19 songs, including the standout singles “Pull Up”, “Killin Dem”, “Dangote”, “On The Low” and “Gbona”, his production on African Giant provided a smooth canvas on which Burna Boy could showcase his immense talents. With multiple gold and platinum certifications all over the world, African Giant has arguably been the most important project in Afrobeats’ ongoing global expansion. Aside from his work with Burna Boy, Kel P has produced for an array of gifted African acts such as Niniola, Phyno, Wizkid, Solidstar, Ceeza Milli, Diamond Platnumz and Davido.
London-based producer P2J is perhaps the continent’s most visible Afrobeats production export. The versatile Nigerian has worked with the likes of Doja Cat, Chris Brown, Stormzy, Mario, H.E.R and Tiwa Savage. On Beyoncé’s album, Lion King: The Gift, he produced arguably the two most memorable songs, “Brown Skin Girl” and “Ja Ara E”. Other notable records produced by P2J include Amine’s “Easy” featuring Summer Walker, DJ Tunez’s “Cool Me Down” featuring WizKid, and Wizkid’s “Smile” featuring H.E.R.. Last year he had the impressive distinction of having two of his songs featured on President Obama’s list of his favourite songs of 2019: Gold Link’s “Joke Ting” and Burna Boy’s “Anybody”.
When E-Kelly and Mr Eazi came across each other in Lagos in 2016, Mr. Eazi was fresh off the success of his breakout singles “Skin Tight” and “Bankulize”, while E-Kelly had recently left his role as an A&R for Patoranking. Both were in search of a new challenge. The two connected instantly, and it wasn’t long before they had their first record together—the easy, infectious and sultry “Leg Over”. As the song enjoyed global success, they soon collaborated on yet another chart-topping single, “Pour Me Water”, which helped propel the Nigerian star into the continent’s highest streaming artist in 2018. Aside from his work with Mr Eazi, E-Kelly has produced songs for other stars such as Major Lazer, Patoranking, Vanessa Mdee, Tekno, Ycee and Waje.
Since bursting onto the scene in the early 2010s, Nigerian producer Sarz’s production style has evolved year on year. A pioneer of the growing Afro-house scene, his extensive work with Nigerian singer Niniola continues to break boundaries. The award-winning producer’s work stands out for its smooth, bouncy African rhythm and minimalist production. He counts among his collection of hits songs such as Wizkid’s “Closer” featuring Drake, Niniola’s “Maradona” and Skepta and Wizkid’s “Energy (Stay Far Away)”.
Award-winning Ghanaian DJ and record producer, GuiltyBeatz has been on a tear since he released his breakthrough single, “Akwaaba” featuring Mr Eazi, Patapaa and Pappy Kojo in 2018. After collecting several awards, including most notably Best African Collaboration and Song of the Year at the 2018 All Africa Music Awards, he went on to co-produce three songs off The Lion King: The Gift: “Already”, “Keys to The Kingdom” and “Find Your Way Back”. On his recently released debut EP, Different, GuiltyBeatz presents a more uptempo rhythm than the mellow, sexy vibes that have become his signature sound. It’ll be interesting to see if the sparse, clubby Afro-house world he imagines on “Different” will be a staple in his production work going forward.
Few songs have been as important in elevating the Afrobeats genre than Wizkid’s “Ojuelegba”. The soulful melody on this gold-standard production paved the way for Wizkid to provide a spiritual and joyous classic about harsh life in the streets of Lagos. With Skepta and Drake’s contribution on the remix, the song received critical acclaim in the UK, North America and beyond. Aside from producing several hit songs for Wizkid, the multi award-winning production duo, which comprises siblings Uzezi Oniko and Okiemute Oniko, have also produced for the likes of Mr Eazi, Seyi Shay, Ice Prince, L.A.X and Skales.
– Shingai Darangwa/okayafrica
Shatta Wale Curates A 10 Track Playlist For Essence [LISTEN]
I wanted to personally thank you all for making the Mariah The Scientist edition pop in a major way! That piece did so well that we’re evolving the format of ESSENCE’s The Playlist to feature more song selections by your favorite rising and established artists, such as this week’s co-curator, Shatta Wale.
The Ghanaian reggae-dancehall talent from Nima, burst onto the American scene thanks to his show-stealing appearance alongside Beyoncé in Disney’s Black Is King. And although here in the U.S., people are warming up to the sounds of Afrobeat, Afrovibes, and more—Shatta Wale has always professed himself to be a worldly talent and his latest single, “Winning Formula,” proves why the crown is secured firmly on his head.
“In life, if you fail to plan, you are planning to fail,” Shatta tells me. “You need to have a plan, a strategy, and stand for something. ‘Winning Formula’ will be your key to always being triumphant.
It also doesn’t hurt to shine brightly alongside Queen Bey in “Already,” a standout moment from Black Is King. I asked Shatta what was like when he first arrived on set and what lessons he learned after the experience, to which he said, “It was a superb feeling because I wasn’t just representing Shatta Wale, I was representing Ghana and the entire continent of Africa. I had to bring my A-game alongside the Queen Beyoncé. To be a part of such a masterpiece is an honor and to showcase our Black heritage and the beauty of Africa was a moment never to be forgotten and a lot of fun! The experience reinforced my belief that when it’s your time, no one can take that away from you, and the journey of Shatta Wale is a winning formula within itself.”
Ranked as one of the most influential artists in Africa, Shatta Wale has the unique ability to connect his story to the listener and infuse his charisma with relative ease. “I have been on the top, went down, and now I am back and making all these great moves. [“Winning Formula”] represents all the phases of my hustle [and] I think listeners can learn from these relatable stories to cook up their own recipe,” Shatta says. Whether encouraging the youth through charitable actions (Shatta Foundation) or through his evocative use of song, this Akata has mad respect for the leader of the Shatta Movement and I say “nhyira” to him and all his future wins.
To all my chalés, I say, “Medaase paa,” for enjoying this week’s version of The Playlist, served fresh with a side of Red Red and Waatse!
Shatta Wale & Gold Up — “Winning Formula”
The artist formerly known as Bandana from Ghana kicks off The Playlist with his latest single, “Winning Formula,” via Gold Up. The Black Is King co-star offers up motivating lines about what it takes to bring home championship gold. “Tell yourself that you are more than enough, keep God in your life, and go after what you want,” he shares as advice with yours truly. Wise words indeed, especially when you’re bigging up those who went from nothing to something, and makes me recall a line from Wale’s “God Is Alive”.
“Mɛda w’ase oo yehowa,” which breaks down to “I thank you Jehovah,” a belief that anyone can identify with deeply, and should apply to their own lives to experiment with their own winning formula.
Darey — “Jah Guide Me”
Nigerian’s Darey Art Alade (mononymously known as Darey) released his first single in five years titled “Jah Guide Me”. The Pheelz-produced single is blessed by the Creator and feels (pun intended) like an instant hit. Imbued with hope and positivity—two things we need an abundance in these difficult times—”Jah Guide Me” is an aural experience which anyone from any walk of life can participate in. In short, this song serves a higher purpose, and you cannot lose when following the word of the Almighty.
Kelvin Boj — “Whip It Up” (ft. Gucci Mane)
Shatta Wale’s second pick for The Playlist introduces Kelvin Boj and his Afrobeats and hip-hop blended song called “Whip It Up.” The man formerly known as LayLow connects with Atlanta rap icon Gucci Mane for a carefully crafted blend meant to get you hype and excited for something new from an artist with some substance. “The energy this song gives off is a superb feeling,” Shatta shares. A compliment from the King of Dancehall and Afrobeats is a win that is strong enough to ensure ears will be enticed for this diasporadical ditty.
Cuppy — “Jollof On The Jet” (ft. Rema & Rayvanny)
Cuppy is a supremely talented force on the scene and I really hope that you all add her to your rotation ASAP! The brilliantly titled “Jollof On The Jet” is a smooth slice of Afro-pop from the talented Naija DJ, producer, and all-around star, and features contributors Rema and Rayvanny. Over producer Killertunes‘ celebratory beat, Cuppy and her two cohorts craft a lavish and lush song that, with an extra dash of bongo spice, makes “Jollof On The Jet” a very catchy and irresistible track to play wherever you’re at in the world.
Iwan — Gye Nyame
Iwan, a reggae and Dancehall artist also from Ghana, is known as “Lyrical Gunshot,” and has a reputation in the Gold Coast for being ahead of the curve. As Shatta Wale’s third pick for The Playlist, “Gye Nyame”—which means “there is nothing but creation or God”—is a song that resonates because “in life you only have yourself and God to be a motivator.” With a name that is an acronym for “I Win Always Naturally,” this song should align one’s faith with the energy to make one’s dreams a reality.
Ecool — “Knock“
Ecool and Oshow Beatz as a tandem have put numbers on the boards for a minute. But now, with “Knock,” they add a huge win for pollinating Afrovibes around the world. As DMW Records‘ in-house DJ, Ecool floats over this mid-tempo cut—with its soft major chords, brass melodies, and trademarked Afrobeat drum sequence—and proves that vocal artistry can add a huge W when you’re using love for that special somebody as motivation.
Jada Kingdom — “WiN”
Ghana and Jamaica are connected not just through the love of Dancehall, but through shared familial bonds that date back to the forced Ashanti/Akan emigration to the Caribbean. For Shatta Wale’s next selection, Jada Kingdom‘s “WiN” is a bouncy track that articulates the struggle, what goes on around us, and inspires us all to go for the gold. “This song is uplifting, inspirational, and relatable,” Shatta says. “No matter how many times you fall along the way, put God first and keep going!” If you’re looking for melodic, yet motivational song, then this is it!
DJ Tunez — “Cool Me Down” (ft. WizKid)
DJ Tunez and WizKid are two world-renowned Afrobeats stars and their collaborations are must-see events. Their new offering, “Cool Me Down,” is right for those who enjoy a mellow, yet dance-worthy song after working up a sweat. With WizKid dropping some cheeky lyrics over DJ Tunez solid production, these two make a winning combination that would make Thierry Henry and David Trezeguet envious.
Vybz Kartel — “Big Bizniz” (ft. TeeJay)
By now the entire world should know “A Gaza Mi Sey,” which is a fantastic bop if you haven’t heard it yet. According to Shatta Wale, the street certified Dancehall King, “This song is encouraging to the youths in the ghetto, giving them hope that they can achieve anything if they work hard for it.” Vybz Kartel and featured artist TeeJay pack this song full of wisdom and financial advice for the listeners that want the size of their bankroll to be on championship levels.
Yemi Alade — “True Love”
Award-winning artist (and friend in my mind) Yemi Alade arrives just in time with this record, “True Love.” Fresh from her appearance in Beyoncé’s Black Is King, this song is a refreshing number for those who have had bad luck in romance or are just feeling a bit lost during this COVID-19 crisis. Poised to breakout across the globe, Yemi’s exciting, youthful, and exuberant vibe will not only brings a smile to one’s face, but also prove that the Yoruba and Igbo talent has one of the most beautiful voices inside and outside of the Afrobeat genre.
Burna Boy Has the Whole World Listening
Burna Boy — the Nigerian songwriter, singer and rapper who was born Damini Ebunoluwa Ogulu — once thought he’d be content writing the sleek, self-assured party tunes that first drew fans to his mixtapes in the early 2010s. But as his popularity spread worldwide, the spirits who guide his songwriting had other plans for him. Soon, he was taking up broader, more consequential ideas.
“Music is a spiritual thing,” he said in an interview via video call from his studio in Lagos. Wearing a white Uber jersey and puffing a hand-rolled smoke, with jeweled rings glittering on his fingers, Burna Boy spoke about his fifth album, “Twice as Tall,” which was still getting some finishing touches ahead of its Aug. 13 release date.
“I’ve never picked up a pen and paper and written down a song in my life,” he said. “It all just comes, like someone is standing there and telling me what to say. It’s all according to the spirits. Some of us are put on this earth to do what we do.”
Success has brought him “a very huge responsibility that I didn’t think I would have,” he added. For his new album, he said, he’s “basically continuing the mission I started, which is building a bridge that leads every Black person in the world to come together, and to make you understand that without you having a home base, you can’t be as strong as you are.”
Burna Boy, 29, has assembled an international following since he released his 2013 debut album, “L.I.F.E.: Leaving an Impact for Eternity.” He sold out Wembley SSE Arena in London last year, and songs from his 2019 album, “African Giant,” have drawn tens of millions of streams and views.
His fans include Beyoncé, who featured a solo Burna Boy song, the irresistibly insinuating “Ja Ara E,” on her album full of collaborations, “The Lion King: The Gift,” which became the visual album “Black Is King” last month. Sam Smith shares their new single, “My Oasis,” with Burna Boy as singer and co-writer. And when the 2020 Grammy Award for world music went to Angelique Kidjo, a three-time previous winner, over Burna Boy and “African Giant,” she held up the trophy and dedicated it to Burna Boy, praising him as a young African artist who is “changing the way our continent is perceived.”
Burna Boy is a leader amid a bounty of new African pop that has been increasingly welcomed in the West: a confluence of widespread availability via streaming, discovery via word-of-internet rather than former gatekeepers, and the sheer inventiveness taking place outside established music-business strongholds.
But Burna Boy also sees newfound interest in African music as a turn toward refuge. “From what I’ve read and from what I’ve studied and from what I researched, the world started from Africa,” Burna Boy said. “So music must have started from Africa. And I feel like when everything starts kind of going left, like what is going on right now, everybody runs home.”
He calls his music Afro-fusion rather than the catchall label, Afrobeats, that has been attached to recent, electronics-driven Nigerian music from performers like Wizkid, Davido and Mr Eazi, and even more vaguely to other current African pop as international listeners discover it. (The term Afrobeats also invites confusion with Afrobeat, the complex, steadfast, handmade protest funk that Fela Kuti, also from Nigeria, forged in the late 1960s and 1970s.)
Burna Boy’s Afro-fusion is omnivorous and supremely catchy. Its beats are often programmed, but their stops and starts evade expectations. Instruments, sampled or hand-played, bounce against the rhythms or deftly dodge them, while his voice — which can be as staccato as a rapper or as cottony as a crooner — glides easily across and atop everything else.
For “Twice as Tall,” Burna Boy enlisted an American executive producer: Sean Combs, a.k.a. Diddy, who has long guided rappers and singers (most famously the Notorious B.I.G. and Mary J. Blige) toward wider audiences. “I’m on record that I like hit records. If they’re not hit records, I don’t like them,” Combs said via FaceTime from Los Angeles.
“A lot of times when an artist wants to be coached or pushed to maybe a greater level, that’s where I’ve come in,” he said. “He, as every artist, he wants his music to be heard by the world. He doesn’t care about crossing over. You know, he’s not trying to get hot. He’s not, like, ‘I want to be a big pop star’ — he’s already a star. He wants his music to be heard, his message, his people.”
Most of the album was recorded during the pandemic, and Burna Boy and Combs collaborated across an eight-hour time difference via frequent Zoom calls and file transfers. Combs brought in musical contributions including drums from Anderson .Paak on the foreboding “Alarm Clock” and additional production from Timbaland on “Wetin Dey Sup,” a song punctuated by gunshots and sirens that warns, “They only respect the money and the violence.”
Combs also makes his presence audible with voice-over intros on some songs, briefly upstaging Burna Boy. But he said that the music was about 80 percent complete, including all of the songwriting, before he was brought in to provide “fresh ears” and his sense of detail. The album he added, is “a modern but pure, unapologetic African body of work.”
For the most part, Burna Boy hasn’t diluted his African heritage to reach his global audience. Instead, he has placed an unmistakably African stamp on music drawn from all around Africa and from across the African diaspora. He has a calm, husky, resolute voice that exemplifies the West African cultural virtue of coolness: poise and control transcending any commotion. His melodic sense is rooted in pentatonic African modes but unconstrained by them, and he has a stable of producers who deliver some of the most innovative rhythm tracks in 21st-century pop — usually working alongside Burna Boy in his studio, he said. He sings, most often, in a pidgin of English and Yoruba, confident that his meaning will get through even if listeners don’t recognize all the words.
“The thing that I learned about him is the importance of what he’s doing for his nation and representing the people that aren’t really heard globally,” Combs said. “Through this album, I think it’s important for Africa to be heard. And so it’s bigger than just an album. He’s not just on a musical artist trip. He’s a revolutionary. His conviction is serious.”
Hip-hop, reggae, R&B and rock were all part of the mix of music Burna Boy grew up on in Port Harcourt, the southern Nigerian city where he was born, and then in London, where he spent some teenage years in Brixton before returning to Nigeria. His lyrics have often mentioned that he kept some rough company. In “Level Up,” the brooding-to-triumphant song that opens “Twice as Tall,” he celebrates his own achievements, but also notes, “Some of my guys might never see the sun/Some of them still peddle drugs.”
On “African Giant,” Burna Boy pointedly addressed Nigeria’s colonial history and lingering corruption alongside more hedonistic songs. And with “Twice as Tall” he sought to make music as, he said, “a citizen of the world.”
In the 15 songs on “Twice as Tall,” Burna Boy takes stock of his accomplishments and his vulnerabilities, and he encourages ambition and perseverance against long odds; he also parties. And he lashes out at racism, exploitation and widespread misconceptions about Africa.
“We’re not what they teach in schools out here,” he said. “They don’t teach the right history, the history of strength and power that we originally had and that they should be teaching now. They don’t really teach the truth about how we ended up in the situation we’re in. They don’t teach the truth about what’s going on now and how to overcome it. And I believe that knowledge is power.”
He wants all the countries and cultures of Africa to unite as one continent. “I want my children to have an African passport, not a Nigerian passport,” he said. “I do not identify with any tribe. I do not identify with any country. I do not identify with anything, really. I identify with the world in the universe — I believe I am a citizen of the world, and I have a responsibility to the world. But at the same time in the world, it’s my people who are really getting the short end of the stick. It’s just doing what I have to do when I have to do it.”
The songs on “Twice as Tall” hold echoes of Nigeria, South Africa, Jamaica and the United States, and there are guest appearances from Naughty by Nature, the Kenyan band Sauti Sol and Senegal’s musical titan, Youssou N’Dour. The momentum is crisp and nonstop as the songs draw on — among many other things — Zulu choir singing, electronic dance music, alt-R&B and the patterns of West African marimbas and Zimbabwean thumb pianos.
On the album’s most vehement song, Burna Boy, with Chris Martin of Coldplay arriving on choruses, turns to stark, echoey roots reggae in “The Monsters You Made,” an indictment of miseducation, historical injustice and systemic racism, delivered in clear English with mounting fury. “When they’ve been working like slaves/To get some minimum wage,” he sings, “You turn around and you blame/Them for their anger and rage.”
It’s the rare Burna Boy song where he lets coolness fall away. “That song comes from a lot of anger and pain, and me having to witness firsthand what my people go through and how my people see themselves,” he said. “I see how many people are deceived and confused. I just try to blend all of that in and make it understood that we’re all going through the same problems. We just speak different languages.”
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