The euphoria that has trailed the announcement of Damini Ogulu, popularly known as Burna Boy was expected. We had been there before…waiting with bated breaths in periods of heightened anticipation that often ended up in disappointment when artistes like King Sunny Ade and Femi Kuti bagged multiple nominations that failed to result in the big prize.
And even when artistes of Nigerian origin like Babatunde Olatunji and Sikiru Adepoju were named winners, it felt a little weird to associate ourselves with their uncommon feat—a result of their foreign affiliation.
And so, the question remained: When will a homegrown singer win the Grammy? Something Nigerians can lay claim to and brag about without feeling or sounding like usurpers. A musical offering that is undoubtedly acknowledged as meriting the award based on undeniable proof that the artiste is original and creative.
God heard us and proceeded to bless us with Burna Boy.
It’s safe to call him the Zlatan Ibrahimovic of the music industry. Irreverent. Talented. Creative. Non-conformist. A man who knew who he was and how much he had to offer before the world had an inkling of his genius.
So self-assured was he that he predicted his Grammy win and gave himself the appellation, “African Giant”, not minding the sneers and snide remarks that followed.
Folks questioned his effrontery to ascribe such an audacious sobriquet to himself, comparing him to artistes who have won more local awards and earned more international recognition, but he was unperturbed.
Like one who was intent on riling up his critics, he went ahead to declare himself twice as tall.
When Burna Boy got his first Grammy nomination, quite a number of people hoped he wouldn’t win. “His arrogance would be insufferable,” “He will be twice as proud and boastful”. They got their wish the first time but not the second time.
Burna Boy’s “great sin” is not subscribing to the Nigerian view of how to react to success.
For the Nigerian, humility is the most important virtue a person can possess. To be self-effacing, self-deprecating even, is what’s expected when an individual is doing well. You should pretend not to care about your wins and remain humble. If you decide to up your dressing game after a publicised success, then you are beginning to depart from the modest person they used to know. If you are insulted and bark back, your achievement is “getting to your head”.
It’s hard to reconcile this expectation with the perception that Nigerians are some of the most self-assured people in the world.
Burna Boy wasn’t going twist himself to fit into the expectation of Nigerians. He wasn’t going to adorn the cloak of false humility that we so crave in these parts. He, instead, chose to own his personality.
The young man is not humble and he is not ashamed of this reality.
We can’t comprehend it. We are quick to refer to people who are more successful yet refuse to hype themselves and even deflect attention from themselves as case studies of what the response should to being accomplished should be.
But who are we to tell others how to view their success?
If I burnt the midnight candle while my mates partied, deprived myself of fun and endured the isolation and loneliness that comes with gruelling work, why should I be expected to move on like nothing happened when I achieve outstanding success?
Burna Boy is unrepentant in his claim that nobody paved the way for him; while I do not subscribe to this thought pattern, I can understand his decision to not pander to the faux humility inclination of the average Nigerian.
One time I shared an achievement on the social space and one comment caught my eye while the congratulatory messages poured in. It included a piece of advice to “remain humble”—it made me smile—it wasn’t a surprise.
We are fixated on humility, and it is not the good kind.
The first thing that comes to mind when a person attains an uncommon height is how they need to be self-effacing, and again, I appreciate those who can act as though they do not care when they do something out of the ordinary, but I will also not begrudge the ones who elect to adopt the other approach; one of “I know I am exceptional and I have no apologies for it.”
We, the watching public are the ones who need a mindset shift. One that accommodates the “arrogant” because the truth is, not everyone will align with our desire to see them humble when they are celebrated.
Besides, the world would be a boring place if we all exhibited the same mannerism when confronted with life’s many winding expressions.