Now on his sixth studio album as the sounds of his continent continue to proliferate across the globe, Afrobeats sensation Burna Boy returns for the first time since breaking through to the mainstream in a big way with the Diddy-produced and Grammy-winning project that was 2020’s Twice as Tall. Spanning 19 tracks and bringing a group of Western stars like Khalid, Ed Sheeran and Kehlani along for the ride with other globetrotting sensations like Popcaan and J Balvin, Burna Boy’s latest is essentially a celebration of the barriers to global music being broken down as he continues to bring his energetic and charismatic delivery to the table. While its feature-heavy hour in length makes it a little more inconsistent than usual, the highs of this project are as high as they’ve ever been. 2022 continues to prove itself as a year when non-Westernized music is becoming dominant – it’s certainly always refreshing to hear.
Just as Burna Boy delightfully interspersed African choral and gospel music into his work on his previous project, Love, Damini is bookended by appearances from the legendary Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Opening track “Glory” is a great way to ease listeners in with a more lowkey sound as Burna reminisces on his journey over a passionate 70s R&B sample, the choir echoing “this is my story” behind him. One of his greatest strengths has always been combining his positive demeanour with a message, and dropping lines about apartheid and his experiences coming from Africa into his tale without making them a huge focus does a lot to bring us into his world. The track “Science” kicks the party off as Burna uses the classic Afrobeats sound to tell a unique story. Becoming entranced into a voodoo curse by a love interest’s dancing, Burna is helpless under her control as the mysterious, sinister guitar parts in the back build out an appropriate atmosphere. Complete with gunshots and ambulance sounds, it genuinely resembles a Disney villain song at times. “Cloak & Dagger” doesn’t have an incredibly strong hook, but the novelty of the track alone is engaging as he trades bars with British rapper J Hus, their two different sets of dialects and slang terms bouncing off each other as worlds collide. Single “Kilometre” hits hard with a fantastic mix as Burna uses the titular metaphor to celebrate how far he’s come. Combining the stuttering Afrobeats rhythms with a bit of reggae energy, Burna’s flow is relentless on the track as he barks out some deep-voiced ad-libs and infectiously repetitive triplets.
For all the celebration of someone like Bad Bunny recently scoring the first Spanish-language #1 album in the USA, hearing Burna Boy speaking in Yoruba and cracking the top 20 is pretty incredible. The track “Jagele” shows just how refreshing global music can be, as Burna’s delivery and syllables that simply don’t exist in the Western sphere can be so engagingly percussive – a word like “gbekele,” for example. With a catchy guitar riff in the back and Burna reaching into his falsetto, it’s another memorable track here. “Whiskey” and global smash “Last Last” find Burna tackling similar themes as he goes deep about the end of his relationship with singer Stefflon Don and issues facing his Nigerian hometown, including flooding and dangerous problems with air quality due to the city’s status as an oil port – on both tracks, we find Burna drowning his pain in alcohol. The harmonies and deep bari sax on “Whiskey” are striking, while the latter is more of a party atmosphere with soulful gang vocals and driving, relentless guitar strums in the back. “Different Size” comes equipped with an already-outdated and cheesy sample from Squid Game, and seems awkwardly placed to switch gears to a straightforward club anthem after getting political, but the Afrobeats energy stays afloat despite the more standard elements, while “It’s Plenty” features a highly uplifting and positive chorus as Burna expresses his desire to focus on the good things in life and spend his days on “enjoyment” over a bassline that contributes to the overall joyful vibe.
The back half of the album brings a run of big-name features on board, and it makes it a little too overt at times that Burna Boy is aiming for some kind of crossover hit and playing it safer than the early goings. Even beforehand, the track “Dirty Secrets” is a pretty formulaic piece of Afrobeats that feels low-impact in comparison. “For My Hand” brings Ed Sheeran on board to show off his increasingly obnoxious nasal vocals, although Burna dropping into his lower register to provide a complementary foundation works oddly well. Still, the track is clearly penned by Sheeran on autopilot with some vaguely romantic lyrics and feels a little watered-down. “Rollercoaster,” despite how cool it is to hear Spanish on this project with a J Balvin feature, feels like it was ripped from the height of Chainsmokers popularity with some EDM synth chords and an instrumental dance breakdown. The back-to-back tracks “Toni-Ann Singh,” an ode to a Jamaican beauty queen featuring Popcaan, and “Solid” fare a lot better. Popcaan brings his best to a chorus that’s simultaneously full of quotables and adorably romantic, while “Solid” continues the bright, head-over-heels in love charm as Burna prepares for commitment while Blxst and Kehlani provide some nice additions.
The album’s length begins to reveal itself as it winds down. The track “Vanilla” has a couple more engaging saxophone embellishments but easily could have been cut for not breaking much new ground, while “Wild Dreams” brings Khalid on board for an America’s Got Talent-core generic “follow your dreams” ballad that’s mixed too loud. Still, Burna gets a couple more opportunities to showcase his talents. “Common Person” greatly benefits from the addition of some tender female vocals harmonizing in the background as Burna harnesses the warm and heartening instrumental to sing about how nobody – even someone of his stature – is above anybody else, while “How Bad Could It Be” closes things out with a contemplative acoustic track with some passionate vocals, Burna once again advocating for a positive outlook before the a cappella title track puts a cap on the proceedings.
Love, Damini is a bit a sprawling and unfocused effort in comparison to Twice As Tall, but Burna’s ear for a catchy hook and a solid message is only growing stronger as he eases his way to world domination. Some of these tracks should be in rotations all year round, and the shadow of the African Giant continues to grow and grow.
Favourite Tracks: Kilometre, Science, Last Last, Common Person, Toni-Ann Singh
Least Favourite Track: Rollercoaster