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Dear Grammys, Africa Didn't Ask For This
The Grammys granting an entire continent a category appears to be an antidote for representation, but this isn't the progress we asked for.
With the Grammys recent creation of Best African MusicbPerformance, we as a culture have lost our rights to the biggest spaces, and invariably truncated our ability to compete at the highest levels.
Afrobeats as a sound culture has been on an upward trajectory since 2016 when the major corporations began to put boots on the ground and offer contracts that bridge our culture with the wider music market.
Via these contracts and the servicing of our beautiful music expressions in global spaces, we've done the unthinkable: crack the global pop framework. For the first time in a generation, we've comfortably began to compete and recently dominate pop music spaces.
Burna Boy and Drake aren't distant colleagues servicing different markets. Their music sit and play side-by-side as equals across the dance and radio circuit around the world. And now, with "Calm down" penetrating the global south, our cultural exportation is reaching new levels of maturation and unlocking markets we can only previously dream of.
When we clamour for representation at the Grammys, we aren't saying, "give us a category to house us." We are saying, we are worthy of being seen as equals. Our high traffic qualifies us. Our high impact, even within major music markets, now certify us as the new kings of the block, and we need access to these spaces.
Burna Boy's "Last Last" was robbed from the nomination stage last year. That was a "Song Of the Year" major candidate being shunted to Best Global Music Performance, and eventually lost out to people without an ounce of his dominance and influence. That is robbery.
At the moment, "Calm Down" is number 3 on Billboard Hot 100. And it might maintain that for a while. When the next Grammys come, it'll be denied entry into the major categories and moved down the pecking order into these fringe considerations. That hurts our legitimacy. And undervalues our contribution to the market.
Best African Music Performance, makes that devaluation easier. We now have a category abi? Let Africans fight themselves there, and leave the major spaces, even if we are qualified for bigger honours. Further cheapening our flight.
Also, the language of that category leaves a lot to be desired. Grammy says, "A track and singles Category that recognizes recordings that utilize unique local expressions from across the African continent."
First, all our unique expressions of creativity have now lost the chance to be recognised as genres in their own right. Even our classic African genres like Afrobeat, Highlife and Bongo Flava. They're all grouped together now as "Best African Music Performance," further devaluing their uniqueness.
And finally, this gives us no protection from non-Africans experimenting with more resources than the kid in a dingy studio in Surulere with just music acumen and "Baba God help my life."
Just as we've seen happen to Reggae where white people are winning Grammys for Best Reggae Album.
Anyone in the world (white, black, Asian, Hispanic) who infuses pidgin, and heavy drums into their music, will have a shot at winning this category for their "unique African expressions" drawn from across the African continent.
So while this new Grammy creation markets itself as an antidote for representation, it devalues our contribution to pop music, ignores the uniqueness of our diverse music cultures, while also opening us up to competition from non-African pretenders looking to cash in on our hype.
While it appears as progress, this sets Africans and our global ambitions, back a notch. Congratulations to everyone. We're further removed from the centre.
The only way this might appear to be progress is in the execution. If the Grammys will rank our biggest records high, and allow us the fair chance to compete in the major categories, then Best African Music Performance becomes a formality, not a politically correct attempt at limiting our impact on their awards.
Let's wait and see.