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Do We Need an African Grammy? 

Do We Need an African Grammy? 

Iyke Bede

Despite losing in all categories, the multiple nominations of Nigerian afrobeats artistes at the 66th annual Grammy Awards show the growing dominance of the genre that has continuously been in the Grammy spotlight for a while now.

The influence of the Recording Academy is crucial; it stands as the World Cup of Music. This prestigious status was attained, even when its categories lacked inclusivity, notably before the additions of rap in 1989, reggae in 1985, and Best World Music Album in 1992 (later repurposed to Best Global Music Album) which accepts entries for continental music not initially released in the United States.  A recent addition to the Grammy roster is the Best African Music Performance, claimed by South African singer Tyla.

While these supplementary categories mirror the dominance of specific genres during certain periods, it’s worth noting that the Academy has demonstrated its ability to discontinue them when it starts declining in popularity. Examples include the elimination of Best Hawaiian Music Album in 2011 and the one-time presentation of Best Disco Recording in 1980.

So far, afrobeats has built palpable momentum, but even that throttling speed to the global stage hasn’t earned it its category. It still battles with every other genre deemed by the Grammy of recognition. Enter the Minister of Art, Culture and Creative Economy, Hannatu Musawa, who proposes a separate Grammy ceremony that beams the light on Africans — The African Grammy.

Musawa’s assessment of galvanising African musicians on a platform, at first glance, comes off as a novel idea. But there has been poor precedence to this pattern of ‘Africanising’ foreign awards shows or creating spinoffs mirroring the mannerisms of their Western counterparts to make African artistes seen.

In 2008, the first edition of the MTV Africa Music Awards (MAMA), Africa’s answer to the MTV Video Music Awards (MTV VMA), was held in the country’s capital. The follow-up events were held in Kenya and Lagos respectively, after which it entered a three-year hiatus, resurfacing in South Africa in 2014, and ran for three years before it entered another five-year hiatus. The latest edition was planned to be held in Uganda in 2021 but was postponed indefinitely.

Other indigenous awards, such as the KORA Award (referred to as Africa’s Grammy), faced numerous fraudulent activities under founder Ernest Adjovi. Additionally, the esteemed Channel O Music Video Award, in operation from 2003 to 2014, was eventually discontinued.

In fairness to Musawa, it’s essential to acknowledge both MTV and the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences(NARAS), the parent body of VMA and Grammy, respectively,  are not held to the same standards. An iteration of the Grammy Awards, the Latin Grammy, has been hosted 24 times without a hitch. Unlike the music of the Latin music industry which accepts music originally made in Spanish and Portuguese, the African music industry presents the unique problem of diversity that questions any yardstick for quality music.

It evolves into a challenge of determining the music deserving of acknowledgement. Following the Grammy standard, popularity doesn’t necessarily equate to better quality. Questions will arise about what influences the voters in each category, the criteria for establishing categories to cover all African genres, and whether African musicians will continue facing a lack of understanding from the academy in a way that is similar to its international arm. Additionally, how will the committee identify emerging talents deserving of recognition if not based on popularity contests?

This problem further boils down to poor infrastructure and organisation of the African music market. Unlike her counterparts who invest in their market, Africans rely on the same international platforms for support. Only recently, Prime Video halted funding for African content. The African film Industry, with Nollywood as its hub, is mostly self-funded. And when production companies assist, they cut a huge size of the cake for themselves, leaving creatives to languish in penury. On the music side of things, artistes have it worse, with some relying on the PAYOLA system. Perhaps this should be the government’s pressing problem. 

Echoing the sentiments of CEO, Trending Musik, Segun Ogunjimi, how will the presence of this African Grammy strengthen other struggling indigenous award bodies who, over the years, have continued to perfect the standard of selection to ensure music with African essence is properly spotlit? Will the Grammy become a monopoly being that is the government’s favourite child?

Questions lingering involve the plans for continuity after she departs from office. Will the legacy endure, or will it transform into a ‘white elephant project’ like many government-backed ventures in the creative industries, with Tinapa being a prime example? Furthermore, what is the reception from other African countries? Do they want this?

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