Being an outsider at a concert is a humbling experience. Most genres in popular music expand and conform to their growing popularity, resulting in a heterogeneous fanbase teetering on the brink of appropriation. In the world of Nigerian afrobeats, the soaring popularity of artists like Davido, Wizkid, Niniola, and Tiwa Savage have contributed to a globalized bricolage of the genre. Burna Boy’s recent show at The Fillmore Silver Spring showed that despite receiving co-signs from trans-demographic artists like Drake and Quavo (to name only two), Nigerian afrobeats is still predominantly localized to a specific demographic; a demographic unlike any I’ve seen at recent live shows.
Let me just start by saying that most shows I go to are either hip hop or three degrees away from what could be considered hip hop. And at these shows, whether it’s A$AP Rocky, Earl Sweatshirt, Pusha T, or Freddie Gibbs, a good number of the attendees are usually white. Walking into Burna Boy, I knew that this show, my first Nigerian afrobeats show ever, was not going to follow that formula. Almost immediately, I was hit with the transcendent energy of fans from Nigeria, Togo, Ghana, Senegal, Kenya, Gambia, and Burkina Faso. Having arrived at the Fillmore WAY TOO EARLY, I watched as the venue slowly reached capacity, each wave of concert-goers seemingly better dressed than the one before. I usually don’t dress up for concerts, but even if I had tried for this one I would have still felt like I was wearing rags. At one point in the lead up to Burna Boy’s performance, I glanced at my best friend who joined me for the concert. Born in Kenya, but raised stateside, my friend had a look on his face hard to describe in words; it was almost as if he looked upon the crowd from the rafters of The Fillmore and felt at home. Say what you will about empathy, but as a white man in America there few real situations where the actual feeling of being the minority manifests itself in real life.
Burna Boy’s thunderous entrance onto the stage coalesced the energy of the waiting crowd. Born Damini Ebunoluwa Ogalu, Burna Boy’s synthesis of dancehall, rap, and afrobeats is a calling card that resounds in every aspect of his music. The underlying versatility of Burna Boy’s sound lends itself to a globalized stage; many of the drum patterns swing between reincarnations of Fela Kuti and something you’d hear on a DMX album. People often refer to Burna Boy as a musical ambassador of Nigerian afrobeats, and it’s easy to see why. His music is infatuating, songs like “Ye” off of his 2018 debut Outside welcome you in with reminders of the colorful bounciness of late-2000’s hip hop but move into a distinct direction once guitar strings break the reminisce. Burna Boy is a showman unafraid to take chances. While the term “ambassador” is a bit stale, his polychromatic take on Nigerian afrobeats is an addictive variant for people unfamiliar with the depth of this genre. As an outsider looking in, Burna Boy was the window to cultures, sounds, and expressions I rarely live through.