The Nigerian pop star on Black Lives Matter, how British fans find it easier to tune into his wavelength – and why everyone’s got it wrong about Muammar Gaddafi
Burna Boy might be Africa’s biggest music star, but when he speaks, it’s hard to place exactly where he’s from. Ask him about the US, and a mid-Atlantic lilt comes into play; quiz him on his time in the UK, and he sounds more like Skepta than King Sunny Ade.
But when he talks about his beloved Nigeria, the rich tones of the west African country are exposed, and it’s this that has made him arguably the continent’s most sought-after musical export. “I don’t really speak one language and I don’t only talk one way. That shows in the music,” he says, referring to the fact that he sings in a mix of Yoruba, Igbo and pidgin English. Is that to make a political point? “It’s not a statement – it’s just me being who I am.” And who is that exactly? The music site Pitchfork described him as an “everyman, local griot, global ambassador, party-starter”, but before we can find out, we have to get hold of him.
Getting in touch with Burna Boy isn’t easy. After a couple of false starts, his sister, who has been tasked with ensuring the interview takes place, answers the phone. As the handset is passed around, I get a tour of the living room in his Lagos home. It looks a bit like the Korova Milkbar from A Clockwork Orange, all geometric shapes and bursts of dazzling white. Then, after a few moments, the phone is put in front of Burna Boy, who says hello before picking up a PS4 joypad and carrying on a game of Grand Theft Auto. “I love the helicopter, you know,” he says, as I struggle to wrestle his attention from the on-screen destruction. It’s hardly an encouraging start. I’m told he hates it when journalists expect long, detailed answers if he feels a short, curt response is all that’s needed. “If you ask a question, he’s gonna answer it honestly, but it’s not gonna be a very long answer,” says a member of his team before we get started. In the end, however, it turns out he has quite a lot to say.