Burna Boy earned his metaphorical flowers – and his very literal bras – as he ripped through a majestic two-hour set at New York’s Madison Square Garden, the first Nigerian headliner to do so at the famed venue. The first firefighter red bra was thrown onstage at the beloved Afro-fusionist at the start of his set as he performed ‘Rock Your Body’ from his breakthrough album, 2018 Outside. By the end of the night, no less than six more had been thrown at him – at one point he slung several around his waist like a utility belt. “Burna is so cool, yo!” shouted a male fan as Burna descended his long track, fenced off by sharp strobes, to “Gbona” from his seminal title, African giant.
The audience’s only moment of relative stillness came as they listened intently to a new song sampling Toni Braxton’s “He Wasn’t Man Enough for Me.” Burna performed the unreleased track after revealing that his next album would be called Love, Damini and file on his 31st birthday, July 2. Beyond that, the Garden crowd was in constant motion, their rows of bodies like waves in a dark ocean of predominantly black diasporas. Burna Boy’s frequent use of a cappella or minimalistic arrangement meant that eager attendees could often be heard singing clearly, their voices as soft as Burna’s smile. While “Ye,” the closest, elicited an undeniable response from across the Garden, a close look in the stands showed just how different everyone’s favorite songs from Burna’s deep discography could be.
In the pit, three young men laugh at his remix of Ghanaian rapper Black Sherif’s “Second Sermon”, carefully throwing their bodies into each other without disturbing the people around them. Deeper in the seats, a young woman in a top wrapped in a bright pink bandage had a witty response to ‘Way Too Big’, from Burna’s latest album, the pandemic product twice as big. Over a railing, a young man dressed more for a day at the office than the hottest gig in town punched “Bank on It” into his girlfriend’s phone at the top of his lungs, his lamp pocket illuminating beads of sweat on his face. Burna’s mother and manager, Bose Ogulu, nicknamed “Mama Burna”, watched stoically from stage left until she relaxed with party initiator “Killin Dem”.
The show reinvented Burna’s long catalog, elevating already excellent songs. A demolished brass section African giant remarkable “On the Low”. Violins upped the ante for “Rental”. A saxophonist competed with Burna’s passionate vocals as they finished “Onyeka.” For “Ja Ara E,” a team of traditional African drummers surrounded their trusted singer of five, Christina Matovu, and they danced in unison from left to right as they performed. Burna Boy’s live arrangements brought the funk and drama.
Dubbed “One Night in Space”, the show found Burna as urgent as ever, performing a barrage of songs while only stopping to drink water or address his fans a few times. “Feel free to throw more,” he encouraged after the first bra throw, before listing New York venues he’d performed at earlier in his career as he worked at the Garden. After performing “Soke” for just over half the night, he quickly admitted that the fulfillment was “emotional shit for [him]before setting MSG on fire with some of its biggest hits, songs like “Jerusalem”, “Anybody” and “Kilometer”.
Burna has performed several solo collaborative songs – the remix of “Second Sermon”, “Enjoy Yourself” by the late Pop Smoke, his latest album with Wizkid “Ballon D’or” and his remix of “Sungba” by Nigerian rapper Asake (a of the first contenders for the Afropop song of the summer). In fact, aside from a quick spoken introduction by Busta Rhymes, there was only one musical guest, one of his heroes, Senegalese legend Youssou N’Dour, who opened the show with his song “New Africa”, which has been cleverly translated to the screen. . “Calling all Africans,” read the sprawling graphics. “Let’s come together and let nothing separate us. His message was hopeful, yet somber: “When I think of how our grandparents suffered, I cry,” read one lyric.
A section of three of Burna’s most political songs lent even more seriousness to the evening: “Collatorial Damage” spoke truth to a greedy power; “Another Story” began with a visual lesson in the ravages of colonialism; and most excitingly, Burna performed an unreleased track online, often referred to as “Off Your Mic.” In it, he passionately sang of a snake in human form swallowing money as a critic of Nigerian politics – “Off your mic”, one of the lyrics, likely refers to an incident that happened in Nigeria. summer of 2020 when a Nigerian government official accused members of the National Assembly of corruptly pocketing profitable government development contracts for themselves.
However, Burna Boy – whose team forbade him to be asked political questions during the interview for his rolling stone UK cover story – is more rockstar than pundit. He smashed an acoustic guitar to pieces, sprinted down its long track, danced with bouncy knees and quick feet, and maintained an absolutely pristine voice throughout the performance. The energy, the joy and the feeling of being seen were palpable in the Garden. “We made history tonight,” said the evening’s host, Young Prince, an African from the Bronx, after Burna came out in a storm of sparks from the ceiling. “We started it all,” Prince said of the Africans. “We are going to finish everything. Kudos to culture.