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Burna Boy review – historic gig is a swaggering, star-studded triumph | Burna Boy


Burna Boy makes history here, becoming the first African artist to headline a UK stadium. The Grammy award-winning, Nigeria-born artist has popularised Afro-fusion – the blending of Afrobeats with pop, dancehall, hip-hop and R&B influences – for more than a decade and, long cherished by Britain’s African and Caribbean communities, has edged into the UK mainstream with starry collaborations (Ed Sheeran, Stormzy, Jorja Smith) and summer 2023’s ubiquitous Top 5 solo single Last Last. Embodying sonic influences that shape an entire continent, this show affirms African music’s place as a staple in British culture.

Thumping talking drums, saxophone licks and expressive moves from a captivating white-clad troupe of dancers pre-empt Burna’s arrival. The stage set is a fairground – dubbed the Love, Damini Fair after his most recent album – complete with a golden merry-go-round that turns to reveal the man himself in a bold orange jumpsuit blowing in the breeze. Kickstarting a two-hour set, it’s clear that the star’s swagger – his wide grin and explosive movements in tandem with a vivacious band – rests on gratitude, articulated in generic but affectingly heartfelt overtures to the crowd: “Words can’t explain my emotions right now … there’s nothing else I’d dreamed more of.”

He starts with a series of early releases including Don Gorgon and Tonight, showing what led to this moment. It wasn’t until 2018’s Outside that he became more broadly famous, and the tracks seem to go over the majority of the crowd’s heads, so he sings directly to those who recognise this early work; through Burna Boy’s buoyancy – charismatically skipping across the stage – the rest of the audience warms up too.

A few issues arise, out of his control, such as poor sound quality which occasionally makes crowd murmurings louder than the performance itself, and a fight breaking out in the golden circle. Unfettered, that buoyant energy re-engages the crowd again and again, and theatrics continue as pole dancers assist him for Secret. By the standout track, It’s Plenty, he is truly in his groove, and begins the song suspended in the air beside a table of cakes (which recall the Love, Damini album cover). As he sings the opening verse a cappella, the audience takes over and Burna is clearly taken aback, that swagger overcome by humility.

J Hus, left, and Burna Boy.
Collaboration … J Hus, left, and Burna Boy. Photograph: Burak Çıngı/Redferns

J Hus appears live for the first time in years to co-perform Play Play and Sekkle Down; Dave and Stormzy also each belt out their collaborative hits. The final guest, Jamaican vocalist Popcaan, brings a second wind to the set, and the duo’s obvious chemistry affirms the fact that Black music is borderless, echoing the words of Burna’s mother from the 2019 BET awards: “You were Africans before you became anything else.” Closing out the night is Last Last, Burna Boy brazenly jumping through smoke cannons as the whole stadium mixes English and Yoruba on the hook, in a joyously debauched call for weed and alcohol: “I need igbo and shayo!”

Burna Boy successfully unifies the diaspora and wider British community for an evening. His kaleidoscopic setlist bursts with pride in his heritage, fanbase and collaborators, making for a warm and communal confirmation of star status.



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