Bringing Burna Boy To The Bowl: Duke Concept Builds The U.S. Into A Viable Touring Market For Top African Talent

Burna Boy
@jenjphoto / Jennifer Johnson
– Burna Boy
Burna Boy’s Oct. 8 headline show at the Hollywood Bowl is being hailed as the first by an African artist.

The live entertainment business, like just about any entrepreneurial endeavor, is often about finding new opportunities. The industry continues to grow, with varied events of all kinds, developing markets at home and abroad and finding untapped potential within all forms of live entertainment, from podcast-themed tours to concert cruises and everything in between.

While established but maturing markets such as Latin, K-pop and even American hip-hop continue to grow in the United States, one genre often overlooked just had its biggest milestone yet, with Afrobeat star Burna Boy selling out the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles as a headliner Oct. 8.
“That was a special one. It is a big accomplishment,” says Osita “Duke” Ugeh, the Nigerian-born, New York-based founder of concert promoter Duke Concept. 
“This is the first of its kind so I’m happy to have been the first to do it. It’s the first Afrobeat artist to play that capacity venue in the United States as a headliner.” Duke also booked Burna Boy’s first sold-out show in the U.S., another first as an Afrobeat artist to sell out the Apollo in Harlem, as well as a sold-out Revention Music Center (now Bayou Music Center) in Houston. 
Duke Concept
Zaawadi Kalem
– Duke Concept
Osita Ugeh, also known as the “Duke” behind Duke Concept, says he has five arena shows and around 20 tours in store for 2022, after putting on major events in 2021 including Burna Boy’s headline show at the Hollywood Bowl.

Duke Concept, originally started in Lagos, Nigeria, has been promoting concerts by African artists in the U.S. since 2011, with artists on tour now or just recently wrapping up legs including Wizkid, Davido, Tiwa Savage, Omah Lay, Burna Boy and others. 

Having recently partnered with Live Nation, gaining access to the promoter’s venues and other resources, Duke says he is planning five Afrobeat arena shows in the U.S. for 2022 and as many as 20 full tours, with the goal of continuing to grow and establish the Afrobeat audience in the United States while not rushing or biting off more than he can chew.
With a background and previous employment in engineering, Duke says the need for improvement at Afrobeat concerts was obvious.
“The first thing I noticed was there was an opening,” he says of first observing the concert landscape in the U.S. “Everyone knows the type of venues the pop artists are playing, but the Afrobeat artists were not playing proper venues, they’re playing the warehouses and clubs. 
“For someone from Lagos, Lagos is a very fancy city. A lot of times people hear of Africa, they think of the starving Africa the mainstream media wants to show you. But in 
the reverse, Lagos is a luxurious city. The concerts of Lagos are so luxurious that when I got to New York and saw the Afrobeat concerts there, I could not understand. How do the artists leave the ambience and luxurious setting of Lagos and want to come play here in warehouses?” This matters when artists are used to the red carpet treatment back home, as well.
“It takes a lot for you to want to do that, the amount of money to spend on logistics, stage props and everything,” he says. “I was not satisfied by the quality that was being presented. So I said to myself, there’s a lot to do here and there’s something that needs to be done.”
Duke says it was a challenge to break into the market, “which is sometimes very much who-you-know,” but he remained persistent, gaining wins and relationships along the way. 
A major moment included Davido’s first concert in New York, a warehouse endeavor that was so packed that fans were lined up out the door and the fire marshal had to shut it down.
“That was an awakening for me, that told me we have the numbers to make this happen, we have the music, but we need a proper structure and to get into the right venues that can deal with the capacity and everything that comes with it,” says Duke. 
With challenges including fans buying tickets at the door and making it difficult to gauge demand before show day, Duke Concept steadily but surely developed its own tour history and found its way to true concert venues while Afrobeat music saw a surge in popularity. 
Of course, others became interested in artists that Duke Concept had developed on U.S. soil. 
“Live Nation was trying to get a Burna Boy tour in 2018, but he told them he would not do it without Duke Concept,” Duke says. “They didn’t know the audience, they didn’t have the data and technical know-how,” Duke says. “The way we market at Duke Concept and how they do North American tours is very different.”  
Duke says that led to calls from established American agents and promoters asking how he was able to produce successful Afrobeat shows. With that came potential suitors. 
However, a strict co-promotion deal wasn’t going to work.
“We understand our strength in the market,  and we can do it on our own, so we turned down those deals,” Duke says. 

Prince Williams / Wireimage
– Davido
hDavido, pictured at the Hot 107.9 Birthday Bash 2019 at State Farm Arena in Atlanta in June 2019, is another Afrobeat star that Duke Concept has championed in the U.S.
“But Live Nation came and said, ‘You guys are giants in your space. We want to come and make this market as economically viable and visible as possible, but with a true partnership deal.’ That’s what we wanted to hear.”
While Duke Concept handles production and logistics for tours, it now has support from the largest entertainment producer in the world, and its network of venues to tap into. 
With three Burna Boy tours done together, Duke says Duke Concept and Live Nation have developed a partnership that works for both sides, with Wizkid’s recent theatre / club tour mostly sold out, a successful run with Omah Lay as well as others. Davido’s 2020 tour was well on its way before the COVID shutdown. 
While a big accomplishment for Duke Concept has been servicing and identifying the Afrobeat market in the United States, another goal is for growth. As much as 95% of audiences at Afrobeat shows are African or Black, but there’s potential for a wider audience. 
“There’s still work to be done, you understand,” he says. “If you’re marketing an average American artist, you’re marketing to 200 million people and you only need 20,000 [to attend], it’s easier for me to sell. But if you’re targeting 400,000 people across the country to a 10,000-capacity venue in New York or L.A., it’s a whole different madness to the marketing.”
While Afrobeat music has seen wide crossover appeal, Duke says converting those fans to buying tickets will take work, and time.
“The streaming numbers are getting there but we need to get the attendees at the shows,” he says. “At this point, only very few artists are able to get to the top level. The whole genre of music does not move. 
“The whole idea is the music needs to move as a unit, and the only way to do it is to tour. The more you tour, the more crossover you get.” 
He says mass media hits such as the “Black Panther” soundtrack, featuring hip-hop as well as African music, have done well to attract fans, but the potential does not end there – and it shouldn’t. Going forward, Duke wants to bring other types of African music to the U.S., including gospel and East African music, which, of course, is far different from West African or Afrobeat specifically.
“We want to go to the white markets as well, where everyone is able to attend an African concert without thinking where the music is from,” he says, acknowledging major festival plays from Burna Boy (Governors Ball in New York, Outside Lands in San Francisco), Davido (Essence Festival, YAM Carnival) and others getting artists in front of a wide audience.
 “You don’t have to understand the music to enjoy the music.”