International awards should not speak for African culture

In 2019, the Canadian rapper Duck won “Best Rap Song” at the GRAMMYS. In his viral celebratory speech which is etched in the sands of time, he uttered the following words;

“I want to take this opportunity while I’m here to talk to all the kids watching this aspiring to make music,” said Drake. “All of my peers who make music with their hearts who do pure things and speak the truth, I want to let you know that we play in an opinion-based sport and not a fact-based sport. So isn’t the NBA where at the end of the year you hold a trophy because you made the right decisions or won the games.”

“It’s a business where sometimes it’s up to a bunch of people who maybe don’t understand what a mixed-race kid from Canada has to say or a Spanish girl from New York or anybody else , or a brother from Houston right there, my brother Travis [Scott]. But what I mean is you’ve already won if you have people singing your songs verbatim, if you’re a hero in your hometown. Look, if there are people with regular jobs going out in the rain, in the snow, spending their hard-earned money buying tickets to come to your shows, you don’t need them here. I promise you you’ve already won.”

The broadcast cut in advertising before Duck finished talking.

Although this discourse that continually resurfaces at major music awards moments over the past two years seems to hint at the Recording Academy’s questionable track record with hip hop and artists of color. With the emergence of Afrobeats into the picture, that is to say, the Afrobeat genre and culture is elusive.

Even if/when efforts are made by foreign academies to recognize and understand projects born in Africa, it reeks of performative representation with little or no authenticity. It raises these questions, “What/where does the future hold for international awards and Afrobeat, Nobel Prizes in Literature and Nollywood?. Is it to insinuate that they should not promote diversity in their ceremonies?. Actually it depends. Whether through music, film or literary works, celebrating African culture is more than a checkbox. If the people involved in the nomination process and the voting truly understand what it means to be African, the stories surrounding the artists, filmmakers and creatives working on these projects, then we should go for it! and deal with all the results that follow knowing that the process was objectively performed without western sentiments.

Going forward, what should the Nigerian and African creative industries do to strengthen the celebration of their own excellence?

Nigeria being the epicenter of pop culture in Africa must be the giant it claims to be. This goes beyond saying that we should revere our own awards ceremonies with more prestige. In all African countries, the creative industries should be generously involved in each other’s award ceremonies. This will enable a bold pan-African alliance that rejects the need to seek international validation. If this is done, Assistant lose a GRAMMY, or Kemi Adetiba not being nominated for the Oscars won’t be a big deal. It is exemplary to seek international recognition, but not at the cost of losing our cultural identity in the process; not at the risk of putting foreign plugs on ours.

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