- The 66th Grammy Awards will feature 3 new categories, including Best African Music Performance
- The award will recognise local genres from across the African continent
- African music has often dominated the Global (formerly World) Music Categories
- Critics believe the new category undervalues African music’s growth and contribution to the global industry
Last week, the US’s Recording Academy announced the introduction of three new categories, including Best African Music Performance, to the prestigious Grammy Awards’ 66th edition next year.
The new African music category was created to recognise tracks and singles which “utilise unique local expressions from across the African continent”. This includes records from genres such as Nigeria and Ghana’s Afrobeats, SA’s Amapiano, Tanzania’s Bongo Flava and so on.
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The Recording Academy also introduced the Best Alternative Jazz Album and Best Pop Dance Recording categories, in a bid to “acknowledge and appreciate a broader array of artists”.
Speaking on this, Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason jr. said, “The Recording Academy is proud to announce these latest Category changes to our Awards process. These changes reflect our commitment to actively listen and respond to the feedback from our music community, accurately represent a diverse range of relevant musical genres, and stay aligned with the ever-evolving musical landscape.”
The category additions were said to be voted on at the Academy’s most recent semi-annual Board of Trustees meeting last month.
The Recording Academy is a non-profit organisation made up of music professionals from diverse backgrounds.
The Academy’s Voting Membership comprises music performers, songwriters, producers, engineers and instrumentalists, who get to vote in Grammy winners annually.
The Case for Celebration
In another post on the Grammy official website, the Academy expatiated on the importance of the new genres.
For the African music category, staff writer Morgan Enos started by giving an ode to Africa’s influence on popular American music.
“Historically, the Best Global Music Album and Best Global Music Performance GRAMMY categories have nominated and awarded African music and artists. Now, the creation of Best African Music Performance category will amplify and expand the reach of African music and its creators,” Enos added.
Therefore, it seems the new category will widen the scope for African music in the Grammys, often tagged “Music’s Biggest Night”. The category could give room to more than just the few big names that make the global music categories every year.
Rather than having to compete with music from around the non-Western world in a single genre, or be othered as “world music”, African music can finally have its own slot in the esteemed awards.
The argument is that African music now has a big enough stake in the American and global market to earn its own place.
The Recording Academy is however, slightly late to the party.
Back in 2020, the UK’s Official Charts Company launched an Afrobeats singles chart and earlier this year, Billboard debuted a US-based Afrobeats chart.
African music has largely crossed over into mainstream pop, with its stars selling out mega concerts on foreign soil and dominating streaming charts and social media apps like TikTok—which has immensely fuelled the global reach of our music.
Consequently, many would say that the Grammy’s move has been a long time coming.
The Case for Concern
However, some, like Nigerian music journalist and podcaster Joey Akan, fear that this new category will just be another way to side-line or other African music.
In a tweet, Akan expressed his fears in detail, stating, “With the Grammys creation of Best African Performance, we as a culture have lost our rights to the biggest spaces, and invariably truncated our ability to compete at the highest levels”.
He asserted that the rising dominance of African music on the “global pop framework” should be the basis of its inclusion in major categories, rather than its move to the fringes.
According to Akan, Burna Boy’s smash hit song ‘Last Last’ was robbed of the Song of the Year nomination and relegated to the Best Global Music Performance where it “lost out to people without an ounce of his dominance and influence”.
Akan went on to explain how this new category could be dangerous for Rema’s ‘Calm Down’, arguably the biggest song out of the continent currently and a top 5 track in the Billboard Hot 100.
“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,” Akan argued.
He added that the new genre would offer no protection from non-Africans who decided to delve into our local music genres, citing the heavily criticised wins of White musicians in the Reggae category.
Akan’s concerns about being side-lined are valid, considering that the year before, Wizkid’s ‘Essence’ track and ‘Made in Lagos: Deluxe Edition” album were also confined to the global music categories. This was in spite of the fact that they made waves on the global pop scene and ‘Essence’ was widely dubbed the ‘Song of the Summer’ in the US.
Even before there was an African music category, African music was never given the chance to cross over into the Grammy’s major categories, how much more now?
It is, however, noteworthy that last year’s Grammy Awards saw South African DJ Black Coffee win the Best Dance/Electronic album category for his ‘Subconsciously’ album.
Still, that particular category does not fall under the Grammy’s ‘Big Four’, namely Best New Artist, Record of the Year, Song of the Year and Album of the Year.
While a few are of the opinion that Africans should create their own platforms instead of “clamouring for recognition from foundationally White platforms”, as Akon put it, the view is largely simplistic.
The reality is that the American music industry wields the most influence globally, and our continental music industry has a significantly long way to go.
Local awards like AFRIMA, the Headies and so on, pale in comparison to the world-renowned Grammys.
African music has certainly earned the right to desire global recognition, not in a token form, but in the real sense.