Photos: Burna Boy Brought His 'African Giant' Energy to NYC's Historic Apollo Theater

The artist preformed to a sold-out crowd on Friday night, running through several hits and encouraging fans to love people before it's too late.

Burna Boy was in full "African Giant" form on Friday night, when he took over Harlem's historic Apollo Theater for a sold out show, marking his return to NYC ahead of his highly-anticipated, upcoming set at Coachella.

While the artist follows in the steps of fellow African acts Salif Keita, Sarkodie, and Black Coffee, who've all sold-out shows at the Apollo, he is the first Nigerian artist to have accomplished this feat. The storied venue has also hosted legends the likes of Fela Kuti and Miriam Makeba in the past. The occasion felt special—like a sort of cementing of the cultural influence of Nigerian pop.

The seats of the close-knit space filled quickly as the night's hosts entertained the well-dressed and energetic crowd with the usual Ghana versus Nigeria banter. The lively audience chose to ignore the theater's signature velvety red seats in favor of standing and jamming out to the string of now decade-old "afrobeats" classics played by DJ Buka ahead of Burna's arrival.

A few openers later and Burna Boy hit the stage in a confident stride, triumphantly scoping out the jam-packed crowd before reaching down to meet fans' expectant hands.

Photo by Emmanuel Sasu Mensah Agbeble

He opened his hour-and-a-half long set with "Heaven's Gate," his 2018 collaboration with Lily Allen, before jumping into the 2013 banger "Yawa Dey."

This was followed by performances of nearly every track from his celebrated 2018 album Outside, throwing in renditions of one-off releases like "Deja Vu" and "Hallelujah" in between, as well as earlier fan-favorites including "Like to Party," "Don Gordon" and the heavily Fela-inspired "Soke."

He brought out British-Nigerian rapper Dave for a performance of their recent collaboration "Location,"as well as choreographer and 100 Women Honoree Izzy Odigie who showed off her impressive zanku during "Killin' Dem."

Photo by Emmanuel Sasu Mensah Agbeble

Of course, the song on everyone's mind was "Ye," the anthemic hit, which closed out the night. As if on cue, the audience went into an uproarious sing-along as soon as the beat dropped, leaving Burna with little work to do besides holding out his microphone in the crowd's direction.

Before the show's end, the artist called for a moment of silence and (phone) lighters raised in honor of Eritrean-American rapper Nipsey Hussle and Kolade Johnson, who was killed by Nigeria's Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) last Sunday. It was clear that the fickleness of life and the importance of cherishing loved ones was on Burna's mind, even during the cheerful occasion. 'Whoever you love, tell them you love them at all times," said the artist in a parting message. "Cause you don't know when life is going to end and you're never going to see them again...make sure you do it as much as you can because when you're gone and you can't do it anymore, you're going to feel like a dickhead for not doing it now."

Check out more photos from the show below, by photographer Emmanuel Sasu Mensah Agbeble.

Photo by Emmanuel Sasu Mensah Agbeble

Photo by Emmanuel Sasu Mensah Agbeble

Photo by Emmanuel Sasu Mensah Agbeble

Dave performing with Burna BoyPhoto by Emmanuel Sasu Mensah Agbeble

Photo by Emmanuel Sasu Mensah Agbeble

Photo by Emmanuel Sasu Mensah Agbeble

Photo by Emmanuel Sasu Mensah Agbeble


6 Samples From 'Éthiopiques' in Hip-Hop

A brief history of Ethio-jazz cultural exchange featuring songs by Nas & Damian Marley, K'naan, Madlib and more.

This article was originally published on OkayAfrica in March, 2017. We're republishing it here for our Crossroads series.

It's 2000 something. I'm holed up in my bedroom searching for samples to chop up on Fruity Loops. While deep into the free-market jungle of Amazon's suggested music section, I stumble across a compilation of Ethiopian music with faded pictures of nine guys jamming in white suit jackets. I press play on the 30 second sample.

My mind races with the opportunities these breakbeats offered a budding beat maker. Catchy organs, swinging horns, funky guitar riffs, soulful melodies and grainy and pained vocalists swoon over love lost and gained. Sung in my mother tongue—Amharic—this was a far cry from the corny synthesizer music of the 1990s that my parents played on Saturday mornings. I could actually sample this shit.

The next day, I burn a CD and pop it into my dad's car. His eyes light up when the first notes ooze out of the speakers. “Where did you get this?" He asks puzzlingly. “The internet," I respond smiling.

In the 1970s my dad was one of thousands of high school students in Addis Ababa protesting the monarchy. The protests eventually created instability which lead to a coup d'état. The monarchy was overthrown and a Marxist styled military junta composed of low ranking officers called the Derg came to power. The new regime subsequently banned music they deemed to be counter revolutionary. When the Derg came into power, Amha Eshete, a pioneering record producer and founder of Ahma Records, fled to the US and the master recordings of his label's tracks somehow ended up in a warehouse in Greece.

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