Entertainment

Africa: The New Grammy Still Fails to Recognise African Music Genres


It is a great disrespect to African and Japanese music to lump together Afrobeats and instrumental Japanese music under World Music.

If the Grammys truly want to be seen as a global institution, there is no reason why music from non-Western societies should be homogenised and accorded only three slots. Even though the introduction of Best African Music Performance represents recognition of the growing influence of African music on the world stage, it still falls well short of what is required for the acceptance of the Grammys as a universal award winning institution.

The decision on 14 June 2023 by the Grammys to add an African category to their yearly awards is an improvement on the grouping of African music under the all-encompassing and nebulous category of Global Music. However, this new category still fails to recognise the rich variety of music genres across Africa.

The Grammys have for decades ignored music genres in non-Western societies by adopting a broad brush categorisation. This lumps all music from such societies into the single category labelled ‘Global Music’.

The term Global Music itself is a recent creation. Before 2021, music generated in Africa and Asia, including the Middle East, were categorised as World Music by the Grammys. Criticism of the colonial or exclusionary undertones of ‘world music’ (or music from exotic lands) in the imagination of Western music consumers led to the adoption of the new name Global Music in 2021.

Artists and ethnomusicologists around the world who campaigned for the change, as well as the Recording Academy of the United States that runs the Grammys, believe that the new name is ‘more relevant, modern and inclusive’. One has to stretch credulity to believe that there is a difference in meaning between World Music and Global Music.

African music genres, such as Soukous, Makosa, Afrobeats, Amapiano, Juju, Fuji, Highlife, Hiplife, South African Jazz, Ethio Jazz, Bongo Flava, Kwaito, Township Music, Chimurenga, Mbalax, Isicathamiya, Goombay, Bubu and African folk or traditional music are homogenised and subsumed under Global Music.

If you walked into a music store in Western cities before the emergence of music streaming platforms, which signalled the death of vinyls, cassettes and CDs, World Music had a special corner that distinguished it from the huge spaces occupied by Western music — the only music that was deemed important to be classified into various genres, such as pop, rock, country, classical, soul/R&B, reggae, hip hop, gospel and blues. The Grammys have retained this dichotomy, despite the changes that have occurred in its 64 year history.

The pull of the US market, which tops the world with 38% of global music sales in 2022, accounts for the Grammys’ dominant position as an award granting body in the music industry. However, the Grammys are still a long way from becoming a truly global institution. They will have to shed their global and regional music categories for categories based solely on music genres in other parts of the world to achieve their goal.

Established in 1959 as an American music award winning show, the Grammys have evolved as the most important badge of honour in the global music industry. It is an unrivalled reference point for music lovers in the US, Europe, Latin America, Africa and Asia, despite the proliferation of national and regional music awards across the world.

Like the Swedish Nobel Foundation that gives awards for excellence in various scientific fields, the American Grammys have positioned themselves as a universal body, honouring musicians from different regions of the world. Fourteen musicians from Africa have won Grammys, with Ladysmith Black Mambazo of South Africa and Angélique Kidjo from Benin topping the list with five and four awards respectively.

The pull of the US market, which tops the world with 38% of global music sales in 2022, accounts for the Grammys’ dominant position as an award granting body in the music industry. However, the Grammys are still a long way from becoming a truly global institution. They will have to shed their global and regional music categories for categories based solely on music genres in other parts of the world to achieve their goal.

The hollowness of the Global Music category was seriously exposed in the Grammy Awards of 2022. Despite widespread expectations that the Nigerian superstar, Burna Boy, would win the best Global Music Album for his highly popular and well-crafted album, Love Damini, he lost out to a Japanese artist, Masa Takuma. Takuma’s Japanese instrumental music was excellent, but so was Burna Boy’s Love Damini. It is a great disrespect to African and Japanese music to lump together Afrobeats and instrumental Japanese music under World Music.

This kind of brazen anomaly encouraged promoters of African music at the global stage to advocate for a Grammy category that specifically addresses African music. The Nigerian creative industry entrepreneurs, Obi Asika and Adesegun Adeosun (aka Smade), founders of Afro Nation, led the way by getting the American Billboard 100 chart to launch a new billboard chart dedicated solely to Afrobeats in March 2022 , two years after it removed the reggae and dancehall billboard charts.

In making the announcement on 14 June, the Grammys tried to deflect criticism of the regional label (Best African Music Performance) by listing a number of African music genres that could be considered in the new category, including “Afrobeat, Afro-fusion, Afro Pop, Afrobeats, Alte, Amapiano, Bongo Flava, Genge, Kizomba, Chimurenga, High Life, Fuji, Kwassa, Ndombolo, Mapouka, Ghanaian Drill, Afro-House, South African Hip-Hop, and Ethio Jazz genres.”

The Grammys allocated only two out of their 91 categories in 2022 to non-Western music (or Global Music). These are Best Global Music Performance and Best Global Music Album. The new African category, Best African Music Performance, brings the total number to three. However, there is no corresponding Best African Music Album. This suggests that African musicians with good albums that seek recognition will still have to compete with musicians from Asia under the category of Best Global Music Album.

Listing these various genres in the Grammy announcement does not, however, solve the problem. Musicians specialising in any of these genres will still be competing for one slot. The category still homogenises Africa’s complex musical heritage.

Compare this decision with that of 1985 to create a Grammy category for Best Reggae Album. The reggae category was treated as unique; it was not lumped with calypso, soca or chutney — music genres that are popular in Trinidad and the Caribbean generally. And the Grammys have five categories for Latin — chiefly Latin American — music: Best Latin Pop Album, Best Musica Urbana Album, Best Latin Rock or Alternative Album, Best Regional Mexican Music Album (including Tejano) and Best Tropical Latin Album.

The Grammys allocated only two out of their 91 categories in 2022 to non-Western music (or Global Music). These are Best Global Music Performance and Best Global Music Album. The new African category, Best African Music Performance, brings the total number to three. However, there is no corresponding Best African Music Album. This suggests that African musicians with good albums that seek recognition will still have to compete with musicians from Asia under the category of Best Global Music Album.