DISCLAIMER: This post is the opinion of one man, and one man only. Read at your own discretion.
I grew up around a lot of music. My mother was in the choir. My father’s radio almost always blasted with some of the richest African sounds from Nigeria’s world-renowned Fela Kuti to South Africa’s Brenda Fassie. I also had my tiny radio which played kiddies’ tunes right before I went to bed. I soaked in some of the music that saturated the community I grew up in as I grew to become a singer myself.
Music became my escape as it is one of my core mediums of expression.
So it gets to me and eats on my last nerve when people who have gained so much influence through music begin to take the craft lightly.
“Music is the weapon of the future.” — Fela Anikulapo Kuti
Modern African artists seem to have forgotten these words of Fela, who is arguably the greatest African musician to have ever lived, as their songs lack the secret spice which makes songs extraordinary—purpose.
I was reading this article which highlighted 7 African musicians who have won Grammy Awards (although some names are missing on that list), and I could not help but notice how different they are to the modern-day African musicians that we celebrate on the continent. They were literally virtuosos in the craft of music possessing distinct sounds.
Then I got curious.
I asked myself the million-dollar question: “Why are Africans no longer winning Grammys?”
When I came to a conclusion, these four reasons stood out.
There’s no depth in our music
When I turn on my computer and tune to Spotify to listen to African songs, I hear just two things—great beats and meaningless lyrics. This is obviously a generalisation as we have some amazing musicians like Johnny Drille, Asa, Brymo, and so many more whose music tell stories that scintillate the soul. Songs that win Grammys are deep; not necessarily in the delivery, but definitely in the origin. All we do is sing about money, drugs, sex, booties, and in the case of Princess Vitarah, 20-inch dicks. There are definitely a number of songs based on similar themes which have won Grammys, but those songs were dripping with masterful artistry. Professional music is an endeavour for creative wizards, and we have that on the continent, but in their bid to produce ‘marketable’ music, they end up sounding like noisy hippies. How then do we expect to win big at the Grammy’s?
We organize live karaokes, not performances
First, watch the first 20 seconds of this clip. What do you think is wrong with this ‘performance’?
Did you notice that the actual song track was playing the whole time and all he had to do was jump around, lip sync, and scream? That’s literally all he did. This sort of performance requires no rehearsal or any actual WORK. He just needs to know the lyrics and be a little high. That’s a karaoke right there. Have you ever watched a Beyoncé performance? She flipping does legit choreographed moves on heels! Now tell me if you are still surprised that she wins a Grammy almost every year and we don’t? She puts in the work! Music performances serve as opportunities for artists to physically connect with their fans. It’s a ritual, and should be executed with utmost reverence for the art of music itself, and for the fans who come out to watch the artist perform. Music is spiritual as performances allow a grand invoking of spirits of legends of the past, and of everyone listening in the arena. When our artists treat performances like some karaoke night show, it reflects just how unserious they are about the art of music—which ultimately disqualifies them from winning a Grammy.
We are not professional
Recently, I read an article about the disaster that the One Africa Music Fest organised in London was. We started our own show late and towards the end started rushing artists to perform, and cutting some performances off completely. Jidenna—a whole Jidenna—had his performance cut off because of our “African time.” We went to Rome (in this case, London) and refused to behave like the Romans (by keeping to time) in their own land—for which, we paid dearly with our reputation (which is, most times, irredeemable). When you keep your fans, who are basically your market, waiting for hours only to speed them through performances, waste their money, and have them leave unhappy…what do you expect to gain if not mistrust and bad press? Why then should we be surprised when Grammys elude us?
We all sound the same
Wizkid has unarguably been the most internationally successful African act since 2016. He has gotten to work with the likes of Drake, Chris Brown, Trey Songz, etc. which is fantastic news. But there’s a problem. The rest of our artists now want to sound like Wizkid. But they forget that in the game of music, differentiation is key! If I hand you two oranges, you’d want to pick only the best one. But if I hand you an orange and an apple, you’d be more likely to pick both…why? They are DIFFERENT. One music executive whose work I respect so much is Don Jazzy. He perfectly understands this principle of differentiation (ehh, mathematicians…it’s not what your thinking). He picks the artists he signs to Mavin Records carefully; making sure that each one has a ‘unique’ sound. That’s why the Mavins are so successful as individual artists, and even more so as a team. Steering the conversation back to the Grammy’s, differentiation is even much more important because at the Grammy’s, artists are competing ‘globally’. For people to know YOUR sound and vote YOU, they need to know YOU through your music. But when you lack originality, why then should you be shocked to see that you don’t win Grammy’s?
Let’s pause on our argument about the racism of the Recording Academy (the organisation which runs the Grammy’s…FYI) and focus on getting our music right. Until we begin to produce world-class music (which we have), become world-class artists (Uhm…), develop world-class artistry (there’s hope), and give music our all (God help us), we should not attack the Academy for its ‘perceived’ racism.
Hopefully, we still have a chance to win big at the Grammy’s. I’d be here waiting for us to get our s**t right, and when our musicians win big at the Grammy’s, I’d be cheering them on!