By Oluwapelumi King
In 2020, Burna Boy was nominated for his first Grammy. This could be attributed to one of his most successful albums, African Giant, which was nominated in the Best World Album category. There was a lot of anticipation for him winning in that particular category but surprisingly Angelique Kidjo won the award. In 2022, Wizkid’s album Made in Lagos, a record-breaking album, was also nominated in the same category (although with a new name).
There were also high expectations of him winning not until Angelique Kidjo was again announced as the winner of the award. That was her second Grammy in three years. Both times Angelique Kidjo won the category over Burna Boy and Wizkid, an issue arose. This issue became bigger after Wizkid was snubbed for the Grammys. And that is – the stringency and the somewhat rigid rules of the Recording Academy. These rules can be said to be one of the major reasons Wizkid and Burna Boy – the first time – did not win that particular category. This may also prevent Burna Boy from winning the Best Global Music Album category over Angelique Kidjo.
One of the rules guiding the category stated by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences states:
“This Category is intended for vocal and instrumental performances with strong elements of global cultural significance that blend music forms and techniques found in pop, R&B, dance, rap, and folk with unique music forms, local expressions, and techniques found among the global diaspora originating outside the United States. The combination gives a unique sense of melody, rhythm, harmony, and lyric that is of global appeal.”
From the words written in bold, it is clear that the vital thing needed to win an award in that category is judged by the artiste’s unique abilities in being indigenous in their style of music before standing a chance to win the award. Here is a problem Genevieve Nnaji partially identified when she said, “We did not choose who colonized us” after her movie “Lionheart” was disqualified by the Oscars in 2019. This is a result of most of the dialogue being in English. The problem is that American or foreign sounds now greatly influence our sounds, an influence increasing as the day goes by. Looking at it even from a cultural perspective. The American and British cultures have gradually slipped into major parts of our culture and our music industry. This has had a rippling effect on how it has been affecting our artists’ chances of winning the Grammy.
Afro-beats have grown into a worldwide phenomenon that has become a center of attraction for many American and British artists and to an extent, Caribbean and K-Pop artists. Many have sampled it and also added some of the features of their sound. Interestingly, this is beginning to affect the originality of the sound and make it look like their idea and sound. Recently, the Recording Academy, the organizers of the Grammy, defined Afrobeat as a “blend of West African and Black American music”, a definition which triggered a lot of anger amongst Africans. Although, it was later changed and the “blend of African music” was removed after the backlash. However, the damage had already been done, and “the message” was already received by Africans, particularly Nigerians.
Angelique Kidjo is one of the African artists whose style has remained African over the past few years. She seems to have hacked and understands how the Grammy awards operate. It is no surprise that she is one of the African artists with the most Grammy wins and nominations. She has been nominated for Grammy 12 times and won 5 times. She beat Burna Boy in 2020 and beat Wizkid again in 2022. It should be noted that when Burna Boy won his first Grammy in 2021, Angelique Kidjo was not nominated as she did not release an album before the deadline for submission. It is clear that Angelique Kidjo winning the category is not only about her being a fantastic artist whose albums are top-notch but also as a result of her songs and albums fulfilling the criteria of the Recording Academy.
To win the award the second time around, Burna Boy implemented some changes in his Grammy award-winning album, Twice as Tall; he made it fit into the screening criteria of the Recording Academy. And Angelique Kidjo not getting nominated made him a clear favorite for the award category which he later won. Wizkid’s snub at the awards led to many people calling the award organizers, “narrowminded”, “stereotypical” and “not acknowledging the growth of Afrobeat”. It is important to analyze the rightness and wrongness of this briefly.
Lionheart was disqualified from the Oscar International Feature category as most of its dialogue was in English. Wizkid didn’t get the award because it might be deemed not African enough and had too many influences of foreign sounds. The Recording can be said to be right and not stereotypical and narrowminded as they want to preserve and appreciate indigenous sounds; a sound Angelique Kidjo excels in, just like the Oscars Academy in the movie industry.
On another hand, Afrobeat music, particularly in the Nigerian music industry, has evolved a lot that it has become practically impossible for it not to be influenced by foreign sounds, particularly with its sampling by American and British artists. African music, on the other hand, has grown and evolved past the structure of purely African indigenous sounds, and putting it in a box will hamper its growth and slows its further development. By not acknowledging its growth and evolvement, the Recording Academy can be said to be somewhat stereotypical and narrow-minded.
Is the Recording Academy too stringent in its rules in that award category? Yes. Do those rules need to be updated to accommodate the changes? Yes. Would any change to the rules affect the development of indigenous sounds? No. Updating the rules will only make more African new generational artists stand a chance of winning the award. Under the current screening criteria. Burna Boy might lose out again to Angelique Kidjo in this award category. Both deserve this award. However, Angelique Kidjo seems to be the favorite, as her sound is still purely African and purely indigenous to win the Grammy.