Burna Boy has received both praise and criticism for his socio-political advocacy through music. His messages have struck a chord with millions of people all around the world, and his music has served as a starting point for significant discussions on social and political issues. Whilst some have praised him for using his platform to address pertinent issues and spark social change, others have accused him of engaging in “convenient activism”.
Burna Boy has often denied being an activist. On his recent appearance on the Craig Mitch-hosted Kick Game Youtube show, he said: “I wouldn’t call myself an activist, all I am is someone who sees the truth and says it.” It appears Burna Boy remains undeterred in his mission to bring attention to the issues affecting Nigeria and the African continent through his music.
This article delves into the discography of the Grammy Award-winning musician and presents our selection of the ten songs we find to be most intriguing that speak to social and political themes.
1. Freedom Freestyle (2011)
Burna Boy reportedly recorded “Freedom” when he returned to Nigeria from London in 2010. The biographical piece explores the relationship between the justice system and racial minorities as it tells the tale of his arrest by the London Police for his alleged involvement in gang violence. By fearlessly telling his story via this freestyle, Burna Boy highlights the flaws of the UK criminal justice system.
2. My Cry (2013)
Burna Boy’s “My Cry” delivers social commentary on Nigeria’s sociopolitical climate, calling out corruption, incompetence, and neglect on the part of Nigerian government officials. Burna Boy is aided by M.I Abaga who delivers a lyrical and poignant guest verse. “My Cry” is lifted from Burna Boy’s debut album “L.I.F.E”.
3. Soke (2015)
“Soke” is the only bonus track on Burna Boy’s second studio album “On A Spaceship”. Burna Boy’s message may not be immediately evident as the song opens with a bouncy celebratory hook. Nevertheless, the song’s sole verse, is one of social consciousness, as it addresses various problems plaguing Nigerian society. By incorporating social commentary into a song fitting of a party anthem, Burna Boy presents an artistic contrast that reinforces the stereotype of Nigerians as a “suffering and smiling” people.
4. Dangote (2019)
The song is titled after Aliko Dangote, a Nigerian businessman who is ranked as the richest man in Africa by Forbes. At first listen, the song simply appears to be a motivational song which sees Burna Boy use Africa’s richest man as a point of reference to encourage listeners. On second thought, it is quite evident Burna Boy also wants to draw attention to the stark economic divide between the rich and the poor in Nigeria. With the music video opening with an appalling statistic about unemployment in Nigeria, “Dangote” stresses Burna Boy’s desire for Nigerians to close the extreme economic disparity between the rich and poor.
5. Collateral Damage (2019)
Burna Boy discusses Nigeria’s pervasive culture of political and economic corruption in “Collateral Damage”, a popular song from his 2019 album African Giant. The bouncy and danceable tune ironically describes the painful reality of Nigerian citizens being conned out of their country’s wealth and resources by government officials. “Ambassador go dey chop / And governor go dey chop / And president go dey chop,” the self-proclaimed African Giant croons.
6. Another Story (2019)
On the M.anifest assisted “Another Story”, Burna Boy addresses the corruption of British colonialism and how it continues to have a negative influence on Nigerian politics today. Lifted from the Grammy-nominated “African Giant” album, the song opens and closes with a skit revealing the shocking origin of Nigeria as a business transaction between the British colonialists and a commercial entity. M.anifest also delivers a memorable guest verse that juxtaposes the socio-political climate in Ghana with that in Nigeria. “Same sh-, Ghana, Naija, man tire”, he raps.
7. Different (2019)
Also lifted from his fourth studio album “African Giant”, “Different” sees Burna Boy rhyme about the perils of democracy in Africa, detailing the false promises and deceptions made by government officials. The song is a fitting fusion of African and Caribbean music, featuring vocals from famed Beninese vocalist Angélique Kidjo and Jamaican reggae icon Damian Marley aka Jr. Gong.
8. 20.10.20 (2020)
The #EndSARS protests ended abruptly on October 20, 2020, after Nigerian military soldiers opened fire on protesters at the Lekki Toll Gate area and several other locations in Nigeria, killing dozens and injuring many more. The song “20.10.20” by Burna Boy is a grim account of what happened that evening. Although paying respect to the deceased, he also accuses various political leaders of being responsible for the horrifying massacre.
9. Monsters You Made (2020)
“Monsters You Made”, Burna Boy collaborates with Coldplay lead singer Chris Martin and makes use of an interpolation of Michael Jackson’s “Dirty Diana”. The song tackles the impact of colonization on Africa, particularly Nigeria, which was an English colony until independence in 1960. Using a vocal delivery that exudes rage, Burna Boy fiercely rebukes the evils of colonialism and imperialism in Africa. In addition to their excellent musical chemistry, Chris Martin and Burna Boy’s collaboration offers the song more thematic nuance, making it appealing to a global audience.
10. Whiskey (2022)
Burna Boy discusses the several issues that affect his hometown of Port Harcourt in “Whiskey,” a song from his “Love, Damini” album. These problems range from pollution and flooding to unemployment. Singing “I fall too easy, and I pour the whiskey”, turns to a stiff one to help him cope with the myriad of difficulties faced. The song was promoted in conjunction with a hard-hitting documentary of the same title, which featured interviews with a variety of community residents, including a flood victim who tragically lost her son.