We barely had a foot in 2019 when Coachella announced the line-up for their forthcoming annual festival. Shortly after the line-up reveal, Nigerian-born Afrobeat artist Burna Boy reacted to the placement and size of his name on the flyers in a now infamous moment. “I really appreciate you,” he wrote in an Instagram Story, “But I don’t appreciate the way my name is written so small in your bill. I am an AFRICAN GIANT and will not be reduced to whatever that tiny writing means. Fix tings quick please.”
You have to be a certain calibre of musician to receive flak from fans and music critics alike, but then to release an album and subsequently a tour, named ‘African Giant’ – that requires a certain gravitas. Heading off on a UK tour, after a self-proclamation that you’re the best artist in Africa, requires a guaranteed follow-through, and last Sunday, that’s exactly what Burna Boy did, when he kicked off the tour with a sold-out SSE Arena date at Wembley.
The hype surrounding this particular Burna show was near-unmissable. ‘African Giant’ was released in late July, and despite being his fourth studio album, has opened up Burna to a much wider audience than your typical Afrobeats listeners. Sitting comfortably as one of the best releases of the year (so far), it’s been abundantly clear that this concert was going to be high in demand. A quick search of the hashtag #AfricanGiantTour illustrated the desperation for last-minute tickets, with people willing and ready to pay upwards of £150, a huge mark-up on the original £20-60 price range. The same eagerness transcended Twitter and made it’s way to Wembley, with a queue pushing and shoving with unfiltered keenness.
Multi-layered UK group WSTRN opened for Burna Boy and were a fitting support act following the moderate successes of ‘DOU3LE 3AK’ (Double Back) and ‘WSTRN Season, Vol. 2’. Reeling off hits such as ‘Sharna’, ‘Medusa’ and ‘Night n Day’, the recent duo brought out third member Akelle, much to the delight of the crowd, who seemed relaxed on stage with the trio back in full effect. You could call it something of a second-coming following their prematurely locked off show at Brixton the night of Akelle’s recent release from prison.
With the DJ getting the crowd going, all eyes were on stage with expectations high for Burna’s appearance. Burna Boy has never hidden his adoration for African icons such as Fela Kuti, who’s command of both stage performances and showmanship is clearly a giant influence. Strapped onto a harness and flying out onto the stage from the mouth of a giant gorilla, a victorious tone was set early on. Opening with the title track, Burna delivered the opening line of ‘African Giant’ – “tell em Africa, we don’ tire” – with vigour, but also a rawness that told the crowd that he meant every word he was singing.
Seamlessly juggling melodic afro-R&B tracks; ‘On the Low’ and ‘Pull Up’; to dancehall-influenced ‘Secret’ – at one point you could hear the entire room of 12,500 fans simultaneously singing Serani’s “sssshhh” line. Burna proved his Coachella rant might not have been that out of line. Dancing as if music runs in his bloodstream, he transitioned with such style and grace, allowing his aura to lead his performance. Special guests added to the atmosphere of the evening, including an appearance from fellow Afrobeats star Wizkid (who was a 6-hour flight away in Nigeria earlier that day) and ‘Another Story’ collaborator M.anifest. Representing the UK, Streatham’s own Mercury Prize winner Dave made a sweet appearance to spar over their anthem ‘Location’ whilst Stormzy joined the party to perform a slightly out of place ‘Vossi Bop’.
Just as the night was coming to a close, Burna Boy added another crown announcing that he’d just won Best African Act at the ongoing MTV EMA’s, taking place in Seville. Shortly after, another presentation followed with a plaque to commemorate Burna as the first African artist to sell out the Wembley Arena. Overwhelmed with emotion, he turned to the crowd to simply say “thank you” before launching into a sprint of anthems. The socially-charged ‘Dangote’ filled the arena, with the entire crowd singing along to every heartfelt lyric.
The night rather appropriately ended with ‘Ye’- a track that has certainly helped propel Burna Boy’s global takeover in the last couple of years. The infectious hook, almost hymn-like, closed out what was undoubtedly a monumental night for Burna Boy and for Afrobeats.