Nigerian broadcaster and music critic, Benson Idonije, who is the grandfather of multiple award winning singer, Burna Boy speaks about how he never envisaged that his grandson, Burna Boy would be a big act.
African Giant, Burna Boy, who is arguably one of the most successful young artistes currently making Afrobeat popular, gained international appeal with his latest feat being a Grammy Awards nomination.
The ‘African Giant’ crooner was nominated in the Best World Music category alongside other A-list acts like Angelique Kidjo, Altin Gün, Bokanté & Metropole Orkest, and Nathalie Joachim and Spektral Quartet’s.
Speaking to Saturday Beats about his 28-year-old grandson, Benson Idonije, said he initially didn’t envisage that Burna Boy would be a big act.
Idonije said, “I did not envisage it initially but at some point, I knew that he was going to go very far because of the eclectic and elevated nature of his music. I didn’t know this from the beginning but at some point, I knew.”
Idonije, popularly known for being the first band manager of the late Fela Kuti, also expressed excitement that ‘African Giant’ is now regarded as a “world music”.
He said, “I feel great, I’m happy that his music has reached the level that he can be considered as part of world music.
“I think Burna will win his category because his music is stronger (than the music of others) and his image is bigger. I think that the whole trajectory is leading to him winning the Grammy. I am very optimistic.”
Speaking about the similarities between Burna and Fela’s song, the music critic said, “Fela, as a pioneer of Afrobeat, was playing the roots of the music but Burna Boy is infusing Afrobeat with other elements of music and that can make it more appealing to younger generation and various countries in the world.
“Burna’s music has elements of every music category. You find jazz, rock, country, reggae, and everything (in it). This is what Fela did not do; he just infused his jazz with African music. Burna Boy’s music is spreading to more countries and people. That’s the advantage he has; his music is eclectic.”
Many have wondered why the “Gbona” crooner fashioned his lifestyle after Fela Kuti, but interestingly, his grandfather said Burna Boy never visited the shrine as a young boy,
He said, “No, there was nothing like that, he’s just 28 years now and Fela died in 1997. At the time that Fela died, he was still very young.
“But what brought him closer to Fela was that when he was in secondary school, he spent most of his time with me in Lagos State. Fela’s music was all over the house and that was what he listened to a lot.
“He also listened to jazz, Miles Davies, Manu Dibango, Jimmy Hendrix and so on. My house was littered with Fela’s CDs and other types of music.
“He also has music in his blood; he was a member of his school band, but Fela’s influence started from my house. He didn’t grow up to meet Fela or interact with him.
“I think Burna Boy will last; he is a very brilliant guy and has a mind of his own. He is highly disciplined and has a vision.”
Idonije, who is regarded as one of the most credible chroniclers of Fela’s music career and sexual escapades, however, opined that nobody could supersede Fela’s legacy.
“Nobody can supersede Fela’s legacy because he was the godfather of Afrobeat. All these musicians are building on what he established. They are inspired by Fela’s foundation. Fela’s music will continue to be the one that is ‘rootsy’”, he said.
“Winning a Grammy was not one of Fela’s dreams; he was not quite interested in winning laurels, he just felt good with himself. He felt that he was his own judge; deliberately, he didn’t intend to win laurels.
“As a matter of fact, when he released ‘Jeunkoku’ in 1971, and the single was recorded to be played in South Africa, he warned that it should not go beyond there.
“At the beginning, he didn’t want his music to go around because he wanted to be popular; he created his music because he felt it was good. He didn’t play music in other to win anything, he played music to please himself first and please Africa.”
When he was asked if he still chastised Burna Boy, the octogenarian said, “In the beginning, when he was venturing into music, I told him to go to a school of music and have a degree, instead of venturing into hip hop. That was where we disagreed.
“But he ventured into it and at some point, I discovered that he had a lot of promise.”
As a music critic, Idonije said he still vetted his grandson’s music.
“I listen to his music and approve it and at the beginning, I was involved in organising live music for him.
“When he records, I go to listen to what he does. In recent times, he is more abroad than in Nigeria but all the same, he sends them down; I listen and make comments.”
Debunking rumours that his daughter, Bose Ogulu, was one of Fela’s dancers, Idonije said: “Burna’s Boy mother was not one of Fela’s dancers. It’s a wicked lie. The guys saying that are just being wicked and malicious. Burna’s mum never went to the shrine. They are just concocting stories.”
Meanwhile, the news of Burna Boy’s Grammy Awards nomination has since received applauds from music lovers, fans and other celebrities, such as Don Jazzy, Wizkid, Banky W, and Patoranking.
When asked if his grandson would be walking down the aisle soon, the octogenarian said: “I don’t think he is seriously considering marriage now; what is uppermost in his mind is his music.”