Music Festivals

Burna Boy Brought Afro-Fusion to Tipsy Music Festival During Miami Carnival Weekend

Burna Boy headlined Tipsy Music Festival during Miami Carnival weekend.
Burna Boy headlined Tipsy Music Festival during Miami Carnival weekend. Photo by Andre Dawson
At Bayfront Park last week, waves of Caribbean flags splashed against the crowd donning all-white attire at Tipsy Music Festival. Soca, dancehall, and kompa emanated from the stage and electrified the revelers who descended on the grounds, signaling the arrival of the Miami Carnival.

From the front of the stage, rows of flags brushed and blended against one another: Trinidad and Tobago's red, white, and black grazed Jamaica's black, green, and yellow, which blended with Guyana's yellow, green, black, and red. The mashup of Caribbean and African cultures was only fitting for both titans who performed that night: the King of Soca, Machel Montano, and Afro-fusion artist Burna Boy, AKA the African Giant.

The brainchild of Twisted Entertainment, Tipsy tapped Burna Boy to headline its summer festival in July, where he kicked off his Love, Damini Summer 2022 Tour. Taking place during Barbados' two-month Carnival season known as Crop Over, Burna Boy's performance embodied the African roots of Caribbean Carnival celebrations.

After hosting a smaller Miami Carnival fête at ArtsPark at Young Circle in Hollywood in 2021, Twisted Entertainment partnered with GenX, one of the largest South Florida Carnival bands, to duplicate the Tipsy Music Festival experience in downtown Miami. Burna Boy as the headliner alongside a diverse lineup of renowned DJs and artists made the festival's return to Miami Carnival "bigger and better," says Crystal Cunningham, Twisted Entertainment's public relations consultant.

"We wanted to open up our culture to the U.S. market to make them understand what Caribbean and African culture is about, hence Tipsy Music Festival and coming back in year two with an artist like Burna Boy," Cunningham explains. "We wanted to communicate that Caribbean music and African music can be appreciated by everyone."

Just before Burna Boy's sister Nissi Ogulu glided across the stage during her jazzy Afrobeats set, Bajan DJ Puffy and Tipsy host Patrick "the Hypeman" Anthony had the crowd in sync as they sang and danced to a mix of classic soca, reggaeton, and dancehall cuts. Just as DJ Puffy transitioned into the soca anthem, "Ready fi di Road" by Trinidadian artist Bunji Garlin, Anthony instructed everyone to tie their flags together as a symbol of unity.

"I don't care where you're from; you're from Africa," he remarked about Caribbean heritage.

While the crowd belted and jumped to the chorus, "We're ready fi di road," rows of waving, interlocked flags rippled against the sky.

That moment represented the euphoric expression that Montano describes as "art in motion."

"Carnival involves music, food, fashion, and most importantly, relationships, like how human beings interact when they come together to share their music, share their fashion, share their art. It's a living thing. We put them on and move through the streets," Montano tells New Times.

Birthed in Trinidad and Tobago, every element of Carnival — from the music to the dances and costumes — represents the history of freed slaves in the Caribbean who usurped the lavish themes of European masquerade balls and fused them with African customs to celebrate the ending of slavery. As variations of the Trinidad and Tobago Carnival began to pop up throughout the Caribbean and in cities in the U.S. and U.K., certain themes and customs changed to reflect the local culture. Still, the music and roots of the festival remain universal.
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Machel Montano, AKA the King of Soca, ignited the crowd with a nearly two-hour set.
Photo by Andre Dawson
"If you understand the real history of Carnival and how it came to be in Trinidad and Tobago, it was the results of us being enslaved and a celebration of our freedom. Because the ways we celebrated as Black people were prohibited, they found different ways to celebrate through music and dance," Cunningham adds.

A soca luminary who recently celebrated 40 years in the genre, Montano's discography has become the soundtrack of Carnival fêtes all over the world. His energetic, nearly two-hour performance was walled with his most iconic hits like "Carnival," "Fast Wine," and "Famalay." Backed by a live band and dancers, he wined and jumped across the stage, embodying the freedom and joy his songs evoke.

"My excitement lies with the fans," Montano says. "We've been sharing fans. The soca fans are Afrobeats fans, and Afrobeats fans are soca fans. The excitement for me is for us to combine our power and to combine our messages and this soothing music. Music that'll make people celebrate and have fun. Dancehall is like the glue in between it both."

Following Montano's buoyant set, Jamaican dancehall artist Teejay anchored his performance with popular  songs like "Up Top Boss" before bringing out Shaggy to perform his classic dancehall hit "It Wasn't Me." His performance brought together nostalgic and current dancehall sounds, symbolizing the symbiosis between soca and calypso, dancehall, and Afrobeats.

In recent years, Afrobeats, the West African pop music genre, has exploded into the mainstream and garnered fans from all over the world. Nigerian-born artist Burna Boy, the self-proclaimed African Giant, is a part of the crop of Nigerian artists leading the genre's influence on pop culture. He pioneered the term, Afro-fusion, to describe his music, which blends Afrobeats, dancehall, R&B, and hip-hop, and he's collaborated with an array of international stars, including Beyoncé, Justin Bieber, Ed Shereen, Popcaan, and Stormzy. Last year, he won his first Grammy for his album Twice as Tall, and this year, he became the first Nigerian artist to headline Madison Square Garden in New York City. In July, his Love, Damini album debuted at number 14 on the Billboard 200 chart, making it the highest-charting album by a Nigerian artist.

In an interview with Billboard, Burna Boy spoke about the global impact of Afro-fusion, saying, "It's making people who don't even speak the same language start dancing with each other."

After Teejay closed out his set, the crowd's anticipation for Burna Boy boiled over as they began to chant his name in unison. As his band strolled out to the stage playing "Science," the opening song of his performance, he marched on stage, self-assured in shades and his signature charismatic grin. His towering stature only exalted his stage presence; no matter the angle a person stood in the crowd, it was nearly impossible to miss the African Giant dominating every corner of the stage. He danced and ignited the crowd with popular hits, "Gbona," "Jerusalema," and "Kilometre." Closing out his performance with "Last Last," the Toni Braxton-sampled hit, his Afro-fusion set was emblematic of the diasporic unity at Miami Carnival and the ways music strings together different cultures dispersed throughout the diaspora. It's why Burna Boy's performance didn't overshadow the importance of Caribbean heritage but amplified the connection between two cultures that can be traced from the ingenuity of Carnival to its influence on Afrobeats.

"With Miami Carnival, because of the fusion of cultures there, it provided the perfect background to show soca roots are in African culture," Cunningham says. "It's a liberation of mind, body, and soul, and in African cultures, there's a lot of rituals that facilitate a similar expression. In bringing these artists together, it was our way of celebrating Caribbean and African culture."
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A Deerfield Beach native, Shanae Hardy is a South Florida-based culture and copy writer. When she’s not pressed over deadlines or Beyoncé, you can find her fixated on a book.

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