The Complex Nature of an Artist's "Sound"
Updated: Aug 21, 2020
2020 Grammy-nominated artist, Burna Boy, recently released a new album – Twice as Tall. Remembering the euphoric feeling that took over me when I first listened to his previous album, African Giant, I quickly clicked play on this new one. The first song, Level Up (Twice As Tall), took me by surprise as a 1950's Broadway – sounding song oozed through my headphones. The song smoothly transitioned to a more afro-beat like sound as Burna opened up about his tumultuous journey to the top and the importance of never giving up. Hearing such words from a
renowned Nigerian artist who managed to permeate the global music space last year is nothing short of encouraging.
Level Up (Twice as Tall), being the first song on the album, does a spectacular job at being a pacesetter for the aural and lyrical theme throughout the collection. His sound is remarkably different from his previous albums since it is not only centered around the danceable beats that are characteristic of African music. The songs entail seamlessly merged hip-hop, neo-soul, RnB, and even pop-rock sounds from the song Monsters You Made, which features Coldplay's, Chris Martin. The seemingly drastic change in Burna's musical tone poses the question, "has Burna Boy lost his sound?"
It is my belief that viewing music purely from how it sounds does a disservice not only to the artist but to the art as well. In the same way that we see abstract art as relative and dynamic, let's see music. We should analyze the lyrics and assess how they marry with the tempo. We should weigh the relevance of the artist's new work to their lived experiences – especially the more recent ones. Music, like any other form of art, reflects the soul. Just as our interests and priorities shift as time goes, so do those of artists. Humans, by nature, are dynamic, ever-shifting, never the same more than once. It would be unrealistic and demeaning of an artist's capabilities to expect them to recreate the same album over and over to fit into a box that we, as the listeners, have put them into.
Another angle to be taken into consideration is the emotional weight behind the music. Artists have a large capacity within them to feel and process their feelings through their art. The overarching message in Burna's work can loosely be termed as African empowerment and reclamation of the power and time that was and still is stolen from Africans through colonialism and imperialism. Through Burna's lyrics, his passion for this cause emanates. A clear message is passed. To restrict an artist to a particular style is to deny them their freedom to speak on the things that are the very essence of their beings.
When we accord artists the grace to break out of the shackles we have inadvertently put them into, we allow them to create magic. A classic example is Taylor Swift, who has eight studio albums that are distinctly different. She has transitioned from country to pop to alternative and gone ahead to show us just how beautiful music is when the artist is allowed to exercise their freedom of creative expression.