Burna Boy’s Ambition and why Nigerians love to Ignore Yemi Alade

Oris Aigbokhaevbolo
3 min readAug 7, 2020
  1. Recently, Yemi Alade trended for her bit in the Beyonce film “Black is King”. Nigerians were happy she was in the film…but that affair never really lasts.
Burna Boy/Yemi Alade: Why one and not the other?

2. We are proud of her accomplishments but Yemi Alade is something like the bastard child of Nigerian pop. We are proud when she does well abroad. But not long after, we are repelled by stuff she makes all by herself.

3. Compare Burna Boy. We are proud of his foreign wins. But we are also proud of the music he makes. Of course, his behaviour and politics are frequently shitty but his artistry makes us forget. With Miss Alade, it’s the music we want to forget. That’s an important distinction.

4. Then there is the issue of politics. We at least know where Burna Boy stands. He codes his privilege and recently has become much too given to punching down at the less fortunate but we know him. Yemi Alade is opaque. She has energy; but does she have thoughts? What are they?

5. Part of the problem is our media: We have forgotten journalism in our pursuit for eyeballs. But a huge part is her PR. For instance, around the time she started to claim that undeserved title “Mama Africa”, there was nothing that showed us she had a single political bone in her body.

6. Whoever gave her the advice did well in consolidating her numbers in foreign countries but it was inconsistent with her image.

7. For those who know, Mariam Makeba had shown how to own and deserve the name Mama Africa. Yemi Alade piggybacked on the nickname but didn’t quite show her working.

8. It’s that failure on Yemi Alade’s part that makes it possible for someone on Twitter to criminally suggest that Beyonce be called “Mama Africa”. But there’s a method to the madness: Think about it: If all it takes to be the mother of Africa is popular songs, Beyonce is over-qualfied.

9. Yemi Alade pulled off the old trick of acquiring respect by featuring a respected star. She got Angelique Kidjo on a song. Burna Boy did so too. The difference is in the results. Put simply: Is Ms Kidjo likely to dedicate an award to Yemi Alade as she did with Burna at the Grammys?

10. From his recent interview with the New York Times, it’s clear that Burna Boy is still courting the respect that he thinks he deserves by going after the African greats. He has sampled Fela, featured Angelique Kidjo, and is now going to release a track with Youssou N’Dour. That’s an interesting ambition.

11. Yemi Alade might do all of that but the results are unlikely to be the same for two reasons: (a) For now, she doesn’t have the lyrics to come close to matching them verse for verse. (b) Nobody knows her politics or philosophy, meanwhile Burna is steady saying interesting things. Look what he told the NYT:

“I want my children to have an African passport, not a Nigerian passport. I do not identify with any tribe. I do not identify with any country. I do not identify with anything, really. I identify with the world in the universe — I believe I am a citizen of the world, and I have a responsibility to the world. But at the same time in the world, it’s my people who are really getting the short end of the stick. It’s just doing what I have to do when I have to do it.”

12. Does Burna Boy believe all of what he says? Maybe or maybe not. And we still can’t say if he’s really for or against poor Nigerians. But, damn, he’s saying the right things and looks like he believes those things. His better PR is better business.

13. And maybe that’s the lesson Yemi Alade needs to learn. Or maybe not. As she once told her critics, she has money.

14. Of course, the funny thing here is this: With a few tweaks, adding good songwriting and some philosophy to her obvious hard work, Yemi Alade’s bag will be heavier. But but. Maybe she’s content with her bag’s current size?