On Sunday, Wizkid lost the Grammy award for Best Global Album to Angelique Kidjo. It marked the second time, in three years, that a Nigerian urban act was upset in that same category by Mama Africa after Burna Boy’s ‘African Giant’ failed to enthral the Grammy academy as much as her album, ‘Celia’, did.
As was expected, Nigerian music fans, in their typical main character syndrome reaction, have been venting on social, disillusioned by what they were certain was going to be an easy win by an album that had broken stream records, whose flagship song “Essence” had weaved its way into the Billboard Top 10, grabbing a remix with Justin Bieber on its climb, and is well on its way to be considered an Afrobeats classic by the next decade.
It was yet another confirmation that the young Nigerian music audience lives in an Afrobeat bubble, is erroneously confident in its influence and reach, and that it is lacking in music culture – to which one can add their oblivion to the wealth of music out there.
What was not expected, however, was the violence with which Wizkid’s core fan group, the notorious Wizkid FC, responded to the loss. Some have gone as far as inundating Angelique Kidjo’s Instagram comment section, accusing her of corruption and witchcraft. A sad reminder that stan culture is one of the worst things the internet has birthed. But that is a topic for another day.
But while everyone else is focusing on whether or not Wizkid or Angelique Kidjo was the more deserving person to win the Grammy for the Best Global Album, the right question that perhaps we should be asking ourselves is this: What the heck is Global Music?
In a bid to redeem itself over criticisms of the now-defunct ‘World Music’ category, The Recording Academy that awards the Grammys came up with the genius (insert sarcastic mocking tone here) idea to rename the category “Global Music;” thus, in effect, pouring old wine into new bottles. And because of that, we had Wizkid and Mama Africa vying for the same trophy in a category in which they should never have been grouped in the first place. Because Wizkid does Afrobeats. And Angelique Kidjo does…. well… she does Angeligue Kidjo music.
That music enthusiasts can find it hard to give a name to Angelique Kidjo’s music shows the extent of the problem. The World Music under which it was recently classified is problematic. What is for sure is that what she does as music today is by far and large rooted in African music. Her last album, Celia, however, was a tribute to Cuban singer Celia Cruz. The album is essentially a salsa album that is layered with an Afrobeat undertone (mind you, I said Afrobeat, and not Afrobeats). Her latest album isn’t so. It leans more towards Afropop, Afrobeats and some Funk Afrosoul.
And there, lies the problem with the Grammys.
You see what the Grammy does is that it takes music from outside the USA and bundles them all into one category – Global Music. At the end of the day, it becomes a competition of who produces the most-eurocentric sound that is rooted in non-European music.
That is why Wes Madiko won it by singing/chanting on electropop. Or Ali Farka Toure by doing and Afro version of Jazz meshed with Blues. Or Richard Bona by doing Afro Jazz. It goes without saying that Angelique Kidjo’s earlier albums were also done on that electropop wave. Her first major worldwide hit ‘Agolo’ is an example. With African acts, that is usually the formula with the Grammys.
And when one thinks about it it’s is a wonder that Burna Boy won the Grammy when Sauti Sol’s ‘Midnight Train’ was an album that stuck more to that Grammy formula with songs like Suzanna, Midnight Train, and Brighter Days. Brighter Days even features the Soweto Gospel Choir, a three-time laureate of the Grammy for the then World Music category.
But that, also, is a topic for another day.
The problem with the Grammys is that it is trying to box a plethora of diverse music from diverse origins into one. How do you even start differentiating music from Africa alone? Between Makossa, Kizomba, Bongo flavour, Afrobeats, Raï, Kwaito, Ndombolo, Rumba, Amapiano, Fuji, Bikutsi and the many other genres and their successive subgenres that exist today, where does one start? And when you start adding to that music from the Caribbean, from Latin America, the Middle East and the Pacific and put all of that under the category “Global Music” there are lot more questions than there are answers. Even the AFRIMMA category of Best Francophone is a big problem. And that is an intra-African award.
And as long as this tradition continues, we are certainly going to have this Wizkid/Kidjo in the future. Because what we are witnessing is a generation clash in the audiences from Africa.
For those born in the 80s and 90s, they grew straight in the middle of the divide between the analogue and the digital eras. They know what it was like to see TV programmes start at 6 pm. As children, they grew up on the music of Angelique Kidjo, Ismael Lo, Salif Keita, Lokua Kanza, king Kester Emeneya, etc. In their teens, they grew up on RnB of the late 90s and 2000s from the U.S. Now in their late 20s and 30s now, they are witnessing Gen X ask who Angelique Kidjo is over Wizkid and are left with a bitter taste in their mouths.
And the Grammy isn’t much different from that. Decades of communication disconnect have made them award a certain type of music that was usually submitted by a certain kind of label. That is the politics of it, and Burna was aided by that politics. But Wizkid wasn’t, and tomorrow someone else will not. Whether Wizkid put out a better album than Mama Africa is another argument. But in the face of tradition, even if he did, he very likely still wouldn’t win. That disconnect is strong and it will take, perhaps a few more years to re-orient or completely recategorise in a manner that is more representative of this continent, and of the other continents’ realities.
That is the problem with the Grammys. Maybe they should consider scrapping that category altogether.