The long walk to freedom of Grammy-grovelling African music industry

When the Recording Academy announced the renaming of the Grammy  ‘Best World Music‘ album category to ‘Best Global Music‘ album, to avoid “connotations of colonialism“, it was a clear indication that the award platform was still struggling to embrace music from regions that were colonised in the 19th and 20th century; particularly Africa.

If any region deserves several categories for its brand of music, it’s Africa. The continent’s music export, Afrobeats is arguably the most sought after genre globally – such is the attention Afrobeats singers have been getting in recent times.

American music star, Beyoncé Knowles went to great lengths in diversifying her music towards Afrobeats with ‘The Lion King: The Gift‘ album. She collaborated with Afrobeats champions like Wizkid, Burna Boy, Tiwa Savage, Yemi Alade, Tekno and Mr Eazi.

In the same vein, Afrobeats has continued to expand its frontiers on several global platforms and fests. One of such is the featuring of the songs of Fireboy and Rema on FIFA ’21 soundtracks.

Albums in the Afrobeats domain have also consistently dominated music charts in not just the US and the UK but in several other countries across the globe.

An instance in Wizkid’s latest album, ‘Made in Lagos‘ which peaked at number 1 in the UK and number 3 in the US on Apple Music.

Despite the obvious success of African music, it still finds itself grovelling to foreign awards such as America-based ‘Grammy’.

The pedigree of the gramophone gong is not in doubt but if in 2020 the Recording Academy is still trying to avoid “connotations of colonialism”, then it’s high time African musicians looked inward for the sense of fulfilment they seek rather than kowtow to West-inclined awards.

For Africa to attain a similar level of prominence, it would need to do better than the status quo. Despite the proliferation of awards that cater to entertainers, so far, none is huge enough to attract the ambition of the stars that litter the African music scene. It is then up to all the stakeholders – from musicians to fans and organisers – to ensure that recognition platforms meet up with the fast pace and dynamism of the industry.

To start with, awards need more respect from music stars. Wizkid organised a music fest on the same day as Nigeria’s The Headies last year and many of his colleagues preferred his fest at the O2 Arena in London.

Such a disregard should be discouraged. Fans and influencers alike should also provide support for indigenous awards on and off social media while critics and analysts need to stop using foreign accolades as the benchmark for success and achievement. 

On the part of organisers, while controversies are probably inevitable in the award business, the need for transparency would enhance their integrity and acceptability.

The journey to having an African ‘Grammy’ won’t be a straightforward one or happen overnight, but it is necessary to give Africa full bragging rights when it comes to music and not look up to acclaimed foreign elitists for approbatory honours.

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