The Namix Factor - An Excerpt from the book "E File Fun Burna"

The Namix Factor – An Excerpt from the book “E File Fun Burna”

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The Namix Factor – An Excerpt from the book “E File Fun Burna.”

Below is an excerpt from the book “E File Fun Burna: The Incredible Stagecraft of Burna Boy” by Nigerian writer Jide Taiwo. In this chapter, he explores the relationship between Burna Boy and his mother, Bose Ogulu; it is a major factor in his success. The full book is available here.


Let me tell you about the first time I almost met Burna Boy: in 2014, after he had released his first album L.I.F.E, and was working on his second album, On A Spaceship. This was way before he became the world-famous Burna Boy we know today, but one could tell already at the time that he was special. He had had a slew of successful singles along with the album and was already enmeshed in controversies of different kinds – he’d slipped and fallen on stage at the 2012 Headies, been rebuked by the Anikulapo-Kuti family for his misguided homage to Fela when he performed at Felabration wearing only his Y-fronts and ended the year storming out of the Headies when he didn’t win the highly anticipated and coveted Next Rated award. But it wasn’t all bad news for the young starlet: in the same year under review, he had bagged a lucrative endorsement deal from the telecommunications company Globacom.

At the time, I was the Editor of Bubbles Magazine, and we decided on Burna Boy for the cover subject of the August 2014 edition because he was young, talented and newsworthy, and we were convinced that he was the next big thing. It took several weeks before we got the okay from his record label that he was available for an interview in the Tony Lekki neighbourhood. However, that day, we didn’t get to see Burna Boy. Piriye Isokari, CEO of Aristokrat Records he was signed to, was warm and gracious as he received us before gently informing us that Burna Boy wouldn’t be joining us that afternoon. He didn’t reveal why but spoke briefly of the label’s plans for the near future and suggested we speak to producer Leriq instead. It was not like we had a choice; we had come all the way, and it would be foolish to leave without getting an interview.

My BlackBerry went off with different notifications as we returned to the Lagos mainland afterwards. It didn’t take long to discover the buzz: Burna Boy had fired his manager, who happened to be his mother. She had been a constant feature of his career thus far, and sacking her was surprising, to say the least. “It’s been a long road to where I am today, and my mother, Bose Ogulu, has managed me the best she could up till this point and am grateful,” he wrote on Twitter. At this point in my life and career, it is time to let my mother and my manager be my manager; therefore, Bose Ogulu is no longer my manager.” His mother didn’t speak on the purported sack until almost a month later. “Whether I am his manager or not, he is my child, and there is no role bigger than that. I have no problem with my child, and as far as his career goes, I still do what I have to do … I still manage some of his accounts, transactions and endorsements … still handle his corporate shows because nobody else can do that for now.”

Now let me tell you about the last time I met Burna Boy: it was in August 2019, and I had recently joined a music streaming company which somehow had wormed its way into being a part of the Lagos leg of the listening parties for Burna’s new album African Giant. This was a different time and a different Burna. This was the Burna to whom controversy was no longer career-threatening – he had beaten all the charges laid against him and was truly free to be himself, whatever version of him that was. This was the Burna who had released Ye and inserted himself into the world’s consciousness after Kanye West named his 2018 album Ye. This was the Burna Boy who took offence at the font size Coachella used to display his name and was laughed at for the perceived arrogance. He called himself an African Giant and stood by it, and by the time his album of the same title was released, nobody was laughing anymore. The man was sure of himself and didn’t care how anybody felt about it. This Burna Boy was on a global ascent, and the best was yet to come.

On that night at the Lagos State Waterways Authority in Ikoyi, Lagos, attendees were excited that Burna Boy was being celebrated. The Lagos event was the last after having previously been held in Los Angeles and London. It wasn’t an advertised event, yet it had all the important people in attendance, from fellow artistes like Tiwa Savage and Seyi Shay (this was before their catfight at a Lekki hair salon), Zlatan Ibile, the late Sound Sultan, media executives, music execs and such like. The plan was to get an exclusive, the first interview he’d grant to local media in a long time. As we cornered him and more or less shepherded him to the set, he glanced around to find his mother. He called out, “Mama, mama! Who be these?” She glided over, smiled and said, “No, no, they’re approved. They’re our people.” Only then did he relax and give a solid three-minute (maybe five) interview. But what struck me was how he called out to his mother then and didn’t oblige until she told him it was okay. The difference in the five years between when he supposedly sacked her as his manager and the present, where he seeks her approval before he gives an interview, couldn’t be more stark. At twenty-three years old, he wanted her out of his business. At twenty-eight and now one of the biggest names on the continent, he needed her green light for something as minor as an interview. How?! What changed?

Àgbàrá òjò ò lóhun ò nílé wó, onílé ni ò ní gbà fun. Flood waters always threaten to sweep away the house, but the house owner prevents that from happening.

The first time I heard that Yoruba proverb was when I had my spell of adolescent angst and ran away from home. When I returned after ten days on the road, an older neighbour heard the ruckus and had a mellow counsel for my mother: “Teenage boys do this, he said. “They will never test you because that’s what they do. As this one’s mother, you must do all you can to ensure he doesn’t break you. But you must be determined like the house owner preparing against a flood; you must never cave in.” (My mother never did cave and never gave up on me. I’m eternally grateful for her unconditional love).

When people see Bose Ogulu today, it’s mostly when she’s catching a vibe dancing offstage at her son’s concerts and rehearsals.  Or when she’s forced to make an extemporaneous speech when he vanished just before he was announced as the BET Best International Act winner in 2019.  As she’s known, Mama Burna is a popular figure among fans who see her as the ideal cool mum. After all, she supports her three kids’ nontraditional career choices – two are singers, and one is into fashion, and she doesn’t seem to care that her oldest smokes weed openly, even when she’s there. That’s like the ultimate dream for millions of young fans whose parents appear harsh about certain habits. (Sidebar: to the average young reader out there, you are not Burna Boy, so listen to your own mother and Stephen A. Smith: stay off the weeeeeeeeeeeeeed!) But then, if you know where the two of them are coming from, you’ll understand that Burna Boy’s marijuana habit is the least of his mother’s concerns.

Long before Essence Magazine described her as the force behind Burna Boy’s success, she was Bose Idonijie. Her father is mostly mentioned for his work with Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, who he managed and remained a close confidant till death did them part. However, the venerable Benson Idonije is all of that and more: he was a journalist, broadcaster, music critic, jazz expert and cultural icon. When Bose was growing up, her father was no longer managing Fela daily, but he was still involved in his career as an adviser and as a friend. Unlike Fela, who raised his family in a rather unorthodox way, Idonijie ensconced his in Ikoyi, far from the madding crowd of Kalakuta Republic. But there’s no way anyone could avoid being in the Fela orbit, and as such, she was familiar with his life – which many times was of excesses and indiscipline. In his book Dis Fela Sef, Pa Benson Idonijie wrote freely of Fela’s sexcapades (among many other things) and how his bachelor pad was Fela’s “slaughter slab.” Certain things could not have escaped a family friend like Bose. Beyond everything, though, she knew firsthand how much Fela trusted her father because he genuinely looked out for him. So when her child chose to pursue a music career, it was almost natural for her to slip into that role of guiding him through the terrain. Officially asking her was a formality; she would look out for him anyway.

When she did come on board, it was with the understanding that being a mother was a different duty from being a manager, no matter how many times each role wandered into the other. The firing in 2014 didn’t do much as she still handled large parts of his business, but by the time she took on the job full-time in 2017, even she had to concede certain things to function in both roles efficiently. When Mama Burna granted an interview to Ebuka Obi-Uchendu on the show Rubbin’ Minds in 2021, she owned up to the responsibility that the talent and manager, who was also mother and child, both had in ensuring that they were successful in their mission. “Also, there’s maturity… maturity had to come in both ways, not just from him but from me,” she said. “I needed to understand that I’m privy to this part of his life… is because I manage him, not because I’m his mother. Also, when your child reaches a certain age, you respect them and their space. I needed to respect him more.” Now that’s an epiphany that eludes many individuals because they’re perpetually stuck in the parent persona and forget that that child is also his own person. It’s not an easy job, parenting.

As much as Mama Burna is Burna Boy’s manager, both seem never to forget their older and more important relationship, being mother and child. She published a video on her Instagram account (@thenamix) the day he turned thirty. It’s in a slide of videos of them two together at different times. This one is backstage before a show, and she’s praying for him. She starts in English and switches to Yoruba. She holds him by the shoulder and looks at him in the eyes. At that moment, there’s no confusion: this is a mother connecting to her child in a sacred way only she can. He stands there, receiving it and saying his amens quietly. It’s a short clip – only sixteen seconds long, but it’s poignant. I know how it feels to be in that moment because I have shared it with my own mother all through my life. I imagine many other people do too, and they can tell the significance of that bond.

It can’t be surprising that having secured their mother-to-child relationship; they have enormous success as managers and talent.

Lastly, stay updated with all you need about African music at S.O.A. right here.