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  • Afrobeats To The World: Where's Nigeria's Grammy?

    Burna Boy performed at the main stage of the Grammy show, making him the first African to achieve the feat. (Getty)

    It hurts, doesn’t it? To see your friends and colleagues walk down the prestigious aisle, climb onstage and breathlessly mumble out an often pre-crafted speech, in acceptance of a trophy that could have been yours. The world tells you to suppress that cocktail of emotions that well deep within your chest, as you clap in fair play. Show support for Africa. Clap until it is your turn. Even though — knowing the Grammy, and the myriad variables that go into winning one trophy — your turn might never come. 

    Someone has to win today. And it isn’t you. Your insides are burning. There’s the salty taste of defeat on your tongue, as disappointment crawls up your chest and into your mouth. But you must clap. And so you clap. For the cameras. For regard and respect to everyone watching for your response. For the good in your nature. And for your colleague who bested you in a contest. Above all, you clap because although it is hard to do so in the moment of loss; it is the right thing to do. 

    I’m clapping for Tyla, the 22-year-old South African singer who’s enjoying a dream start to her time in the global pop circuit. Her smash hit record, ‘Water,’ crossed over in 2023 as one of the biggest songs ever released by an African. And last night, she triumphed over Asake, Olamide, Davido, Ayra Starr and Burna Boy to pick up the coveted trophy for the inaugural Best African Music Performance category. Her story is the stuff of dreams, showing the beauty of art and the spontaneity of fortunes within the space. A real African miracle. 

    But that blessing comes at a cost for the biggest snub of the night — Nigerians. All award systems tend to do so during their annual cycles, with their winner vs losers format. Pain and laughter come together, as every winner mints a set of losers. Never mind that these losers didn’t create their art as a sport, or in competition with their peers. Never mind that Nigerian artists and nominees impacted hearts and playlists across multiple countries and communities. Never mind that everyone on that list is an utter music monstrosity, bulldozing through their markets with the strength and quality of their output. At award shows, it all comes to Creator A vs Creator B, and someone has to taste defeat.

    As a Nigerian professional member of the Recording Academy, it doubly hurts. We’ve only just got here. Afrobeats to the world is nascent around the Grammy circles, as the culture and organisation navigate mutual rules of engagement. In everyone's defence, in recent years, Afrobeats has enjoyed a fair deal of collaboration with the Grammy. There are more Lagos-based members invited to the academy ranks, and their showcases and editorials feature Nigerian talents. Recent award nights have also given us a measure of joy, with Wizkid, Burna Boy and Tems making us all dream again. That’s why tonight feels like a betrayal. We’re supposed to be friends now.

    What? With an African record number of nominations, a new category where Nigerians dominated the nominations, including unfamiliar categories like Best Melodic Rap Performance, where Burna Boy got a nod. We had reason to expect something. Everything. Anything.

    And in the wake of Afrobeats' shut-out, Nigerian emotions are amok. There’s talk about our culture being used for promotional proposes. Talk inferring that Nigerian superstars are artistic influencers for the Recording Academy, strutting through LA in large numbers, partying and performing across a plethora of pre-Grammy parties and mixers. Nigerian artists and the professionals handling their business emptied Lagos for LA—each person seeking a chance at “linking and building” with US-based executives. The Grammys and its surrounding spectacle offer a premium melting pot for business card exchanges, cross-cultural conversations about winning some more, and maybe nights of ecstasy filled with industry-standard partying. 

    The tears from the local industry players and creatives do reek of a layered brand elitism. It’s fashionable to cry for the Grammys. Even though we’re technically guests, invited to an American spectacle to diversify their ranks. We’re still fringe players at the Recording Academy, with negligible numbers incapable of swinging the odds in our favour. We still have a few voting cycles to cry some more. And that privilege of crying depends on Afrobeats maintaining its hold on pop culture. We are still building over there, and todays lesson teaches us that growth isn’t linear. Afrobeats, please hold this one.

    Where was this level of support for the Headies, Nigeria’s homegrown, legacy award show with 16 years of honouring the local scene? Nominees are often absent and late. The chatter about the show borders on derisory. We don’t pack our halls in honour of the event, neither are we interested in elevating it. But we can cry for the Grammy. Fashionable tears for what could have been. 

    What we need is to return home. Tails between our legs as the realisation that all we got is us. And if we don’t take care of home, build, support and elevate it locally, we at risk of delegating our pride to foreigners. Afrobeats have intrinsic value. But the current business model has funneled the entire ecosystem into exportation. And while we can boast of improved finances and investment pathways, we’re now forced to negotiate our cultural impact on parameters that weren’t created for us, in spaces where our existence is still a moot point. 

    Why are we hurt? Because we are playing a game that wasn’t created for us. And it sucks to lose.

    Perhaps, this spurs us as a creative and business class. To look inward and see our worth within us. That our local industry and all its institutions are enough, and exploration is just what it is; exploration. Perhaps across the continent, we can resurrect our reward systems, intentionally imbuing cultural power and credibility in local award shows and bodies that seek to celebrate us. And to see those platforms worthy of our artistry and ego. 

    The Grammys snubbed Nigeria this year. And rather than mope around and petulantly kick some dust, let’s fight back by getting stronger at home. 

    It’s the only way out.

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