Austin Daboh has told Music Week that Burna Boy's maiden No.1 album marks a "monumental moment" for Afrobeats.
Burna Boy, signed to Our Bad Habit/Atlantic, topped the charts last week with his seventh full-length I Told Them... as the record hit No.1 with 14,164 sales (5,879 CDs, 675 vinyl albums, 212 digital downloads and 7,398 sales-equivalent streams).
His fourth Top 20 and second Top 10 album, I Told Them… surpassed the No.2 peak and first week sales of 10,018 his last album, Love Damini, secured on debut 13 months ago. Burna Boy’s first chart album, African Giant, reached No.16 in 2019 and remains his biggest-seller with 126,220 sales to date. Love Damini has 90,991 and Twice As Tall, which hit No.11 in 2021, has 44,366.
Daboh is EVP, Atlantic UK & president, Black Music, and has been working with Burna Boy since his arrival at the major.
Burna Boy's achievement as the first Afrobeats artist to secure a UK No.1 album is monumental for the genre
He suggested that I Told Them... will continue to make an impact in the wake of Burna Boy's chart milestone.
“We have an album that's one of the biggest streaming records in the country right now," he said. "And the team have pulled together a very interesting plan that will see Burna continue to engage his fans up and down the country. We don't want to be one of those albums that flies in and out of the chart, so watch this space!”
Team Burna Boy celebrated the No.1 last week as Daboh (above, second from left) toasted the No.1 with (L-R: Atlantic marketing manager Leila Singh, creative director Ronami Ogulu, Burna Boy, manager Bose Ogulu and Matthew Baus of Our Bad Habit Records.
Read on to hear Daboh's thoughts on Burna Boy's evolution, the story behind his first chart-topper and how Atlantic, together with the star's team, helped make it happen...
Burna Boy poses with his No.1 award
How big is this moment for Burna Boy and Afrobeats? What was key to this campaign that enabled Atlantic to secure the No.1 result?
“Burna Boy's achievement as the first Afrobeats artist to secure a UK No.1 album is monumental for the genre. While we narrowly missed this distinction last year with Love, Damini, we left no room for error this time. We leveraged Burna's immense cultural influence across digital, live, and traditional media, ensuring that every opportunity was seized to secure the top spot.”
Over half of the weekly total was down to streams, how have DSPs embraced the record? Who have you partnered with on this campaign?
“Over two billion streams in the UK across Burna's catalogue underscore the dedication of his organic fanbase and the exceptional support we've received from the DSP ecosystem. Afrobeats has unique nuances compared to other genres, necessitating a tailored strategy for each streaming service. Big up to Atlantic's streaming team and Warner Music’s commercial team for leveraging those vital relationships and finding the best way to partner with those platforms.”
Cheat On Me featuring Dave has made the Top 20 - how did this collaboration come about, and what are your ambitions for the single?
“Burna Boy and Dave stand out as exceptional talents in their own right. Their previous collaboration birthed Location, an undeniable classic. When Cheat On Me first pumped through our office speakers, it was evident that they had crafted another masterpiece. In collaboration with management and our global label partners, we strategically prioritised this record around the album release – the aim was to agitate the fanbase to create organic heat. The overwhelming audience response is a testament to the song’s quality, and we're pleased to celebrate a Top 20 single in tandem with a No.1 album.”
When it comes to the A&R process with Burna Boy, how important is his versatility across styles and genres to the overall vision for the records? What's it like working with such a prodigious talent?
“Atlantic fully supports the process when tasked with ideas and suggestions. But major credit goes to Matt Baus for his exceptional work A&R'ing this album from start to finish. His expertise and foresight allowed the space for Burna to craft a distinct Afro-Fusion sound that has captivated global audiences. Burna's versatility across various styles and genres showcases his dynamic range and positions the music to resonate with a broad spectrum of listeners. Speaking to Matt and Kirk Harding, Bad Habit's label boss, it's clear that every session brings new levels of creative output and musical innovation, where they push boundaries and consistently elevate the sound.”
Burna Boy is clearly a global artist, but how important is the UK label relationship given his success here and his London base?
“Our relationship with Burna is both special and multifaceted. While he is signed to the US label, his frequent presence and considerable influence in the UK positions him akin to a domestic artist in our eyes. This compels us to invest substantial energy, time and resources into meticulously crafting and refining his campaigns and activations tailored for the UK audience. These bespoke strategies highlight the significance of our UK/US label relationship, especially given this region has a key role in Burna's journey.”
How would you describe the label's working relationship with the wider team including his mother, Bose Ogulu?
“Bose and Burna’s sister Roni are pivotal figures. They are not just family, but are also instrumental in steering his career. These two powerhouses drive the vision and strategy with unmatched zeal and passion. Working alongside them is invigorating. Their keen insights, combined with their fierce dedication, make them vital components in the Burna Boy machinery and inspirations for all who collaborate with them. Atlantic's synergy with the broader team is rooted in mutual respect and a shared commitment to elevating Burna Boy's global brand.”
What role does Atlantic UK have in the global album campaign, where are you helping Burna Boy expand his reach?
“Burna's decision to be in the UK for the release weeks of his last two albums isn't a coincidence. This choice speaks volumes about Atlantic UK's pivotal role in shaping his journey over the past five years. Our involvement has been crucial in orchestrating and amplifying his album campaigns. Our dedicated team has not only been fostering Burna's existing fanbase but also breaking new ground, helping him tap into diverse markets and demographics. There's been a constant upward trajectory in his reach due to our planning, intensive market research and targeted activations. This evolution isn't solely about numbers or chart rankings, but about understanding cultural nuances, ensuring Burna Boy's music penetrates multiple cultures and tribes. Our aim has always been to augment Burna's natural talent with strategic direction, allowing him to transcend audiences and continually expand his footprint across digital and media. As we look ahead, we remain focused on pushing the boundaries of what's possible, ensuring his artistry is celebrated throughout the UK.”
How important was the viral success of City Boys for this campaign? Can you share insights on that TikTok impact?
“TikTok's ability to catapult songs into the centre of cultural conversations has been evident repeatedly, and with City Boys we're witnessing this phenomenon again. The platform has illuminated a modern truth: when content, timing, and audience engagement converge seamlessly, music can transcend boundaries at an unprecedented pace.
“During release week, we were armed with a triple threat - Sitting On Top Of The World, which found its momentum through radio airwaves, Big 7, whose success was fuelled by streaming platforms and City Boys, which became an explosive hit thanks to TikTok. Each track had its own medium of ascendance, and TikTok's influence has undeniably cemented City Boys as a viral sensation. The dance associated with City Boys embodies the spirit of fun and accessibility that TikTok champions. It's hard not to get caught up in its simplicity and allure, so I'd encourage everyone reading this to embrace the challenge and give those dance steps a try… I won't judge you!”
Live has always been our ace card with Burna, when I saw him play The Other Stage at Glastonbury, I knew we had a future Pyramid headliner on our hands
The album title nods to his achievement with the London stadium show, in front of 60,000 fans. How did Burna Boy’s growth as a live act help in the build-up to this campaign?
“I'll rewind to 12 months prior when I was standing in the searing Glastonbury heat watching Burna convert thousands of fans en masse during his performance on the Other Stage. Live has always been our ace card with Burna, but at that moment, I knew we had a future Glastonbury Pyramid headliner on our hands. With that pivotal moment, intertwined with valuable insights we'd gathered over time, we then carved the blueprint for our album strategy. It was rooted deeply in the 'live' experience, so our job was to harness that energy for the campaign. Reflecting on the past week, our strategy wasn't just apparent, but also effective, permeating every initiative. An ethos of closeness and immediacy with fans underpinned our approach. From strategically located pop-ups to engaging fan activities and live performances, every element was choreographed to amplify Burna's dynamic presence and connect with his audience.
“In the run-up to I Told Them..., we strategically leveraged Burna's past successes and songs, creating a sense of recent nostalgia while building anticipation. This synergy between his previous hits and new releases showcased his musical evolution and set the stage for the album's unveiling, solidifying Burna's position as a global music juggernaut.”
What are the plans for 2023 and beyond for Burna Boy in terms of new music and live?
“Burna is constantly creating, so I'm sure his team are weighing up different options as we speak. As for live, he'll definitely be bringing his show back to the UK next year, so stand by for some exciting announcements in the coming weeks...”
Atlantic has now secured chart-topping firsts for drill and Afrobeats. How does the label work to identify, build and connect rising genres with audiences to achieve these huge breakthroughs?
“At the heart of Atlantic UK's success in chart-topping breakthroughs for drill and Afrobeats is an unwavering commitment to being attuned to the pulse of culture. Beyond merely reacting, we proactively immerse ourselves in emerging musical landscapes, striving to understand and champion nascent genres before they crest the wave of mainstream popularity.
“Our approach is twofold. First, we maintain a keen ear to the ground, identifying trends that resonate with underground audiences. By being deeply embedded within these subcultures, we can recognise the potential of genres like drill and Afrobeats long before they hit the broader circles. Secondly, we invest significantly in nurturing and building these genres. Through dedicated resources, strategic partnerships, and bespoke promotional campaigns, we work meticulously to amplify their reach, connecting them with a global audience.
“But our success isn't solely based on strategy. It's about passion. At Atlantic UK, we deeply love music in all its diverse forms. This love drives us to take risks, push boundaries, and champion genres that might otherwise remain in the shadows. As is evident by our chart-topping achievements, this combination of cultural insight, strategic execution, and genuine passion has cemented our role as pioneers in connecting emerging sounds with eager mainstream audiences.”