LOUD WHISPERS: The 2024 Grammys – We Won!

Over the past week, there were two events that got people talking on and offline. The first was what happened at the 2024 Grammy Awards Ceremony in Los Angeles on February 4th. The second was the Green Eagles qualifying for the AFCON finals in a match that was so intense, I am sure there are some who will not have ‘the liver’ to watch the finals, considering the fact that up to five people died watching the semi-finals.  I would like to talk about the 2024 Grammys. The Grammy Awards recognise achievements in various categories of musical talent. It is an American show originally designed to reward American talent. Over the years it grew to accommodate musical expression from other parts of the world by adding various categories that would enable non-Americans to compete, but it never made any pretentions to being anything other than an American production. For the 66th Annual Grammy Awards which took place on February 4th, the Grammys added ‘Best African Music Performance’ as one of the new categories. This was considered to be a huge deal, which came with the recognition that Afrobeats is a uniquely African musical experience that is being gifted to the world.

The 2024 nominees for this new category included famous names such as Asake and Olamide, Davido, Burna Boy, Tyla and Ayra Starr. With the exception of the South-African Tyla, it was a line-up dominated by Nigerians and rightfully so. Even though there was the possibility that they might cancel one another out, conventional wisdom dictated that at least one of them would win, considering their impact on the global music scene in recent times. And the Grammy went to………………Tyla of South Africa. Understandably, there was shock, anger and resentment. Tyla’s song ‘Water’ is a lovely piece of music, but placed alongside the other nominees? Many people did not think so. Even though Tyla walked away with the Grammy, I firmly believe the Nigerian nominees where the winners that night.

My advice for all our superstars and their fans is that they should reflect on the words of the Canadian Rapper ‘Drake’ when he gave his own acceptance speech at the Grammys on February 4th. Drake said something along the lines of ‘These awards are subjective.  You have already won if you have people who are singing your songs word for word, if you are a hero in your hometown, if there are people who have regular jobs and they are coming out in the rain and the snow, spending their hard-earned money to buy tickets to come to your shows, you don’t need this you have already won’. Of course, it is great to win such prestigious awards as the Grammy for music or Oscars for acting. This kind of recognition opens doors and pushes careers into the stratosphere. However, many of our Nigerian superstars have defined a stratosphere for themselves already. Burna Boy, Davido, Wiz Kid and Asake for example can sell out the massive O2 Arena in London.

It is amazing how our stars perform around the world and people chant their lyrics back to them. In November last year I was at a program in Malaysia, and one of the events that had been organised was a boat trip. The DJ had been playing pop, Indian, Latino and calypso music, to entertain the diverse participants. At one point, some of us from Africa demanded for African music. Lo and behold, Davido’s ‘Unavailable’ blasted out. You should have seen the reaction of people on the boat. Those who had been dancing half heartedly to the other music got right into it and it was so good that people kept asking for repeats, so we suggested other Afrobeats songs to the DJ and it was no surprise that others knew some of the lyrics. We even taught people how to do Kizz Daniel’s ‘Buga’. On the seas in the middle of nowhere! We created such a ruckus that one of the other cruise boats pulled up alongside us and their own passengers were dancing to the music too, obviously wishing they were on our boat. I had tears in my eyes at some point. That is taking Africa to the world. It might sound trivial to some, but it is one of the many things that we have to share with the world, instead of waiting for the world to come and exploit us.

First, we need to change our mindsets. Global recognition in this industry is important, but our stars have created enough momentum to continue to be a force to be reckoned with. They should not be deterred or disappointed. They should not be judged on what they win or lose but what they make of their God-given talents. They should be focused, disciplined and stay committed to their craft. Second, the lust for unhealthy competition needs to be kept to the barest minimum. The sky is wide enough for birds to fly without colliding into each other. I strongly recommend the new Netflix documentary, ‘We are the world – The greatest night of pop’. It is the behind-the-scenes story about how over fifty artistes got together in 1985 to record a song that raised millions of dollars for famine in Ethiopia. There was a part of it that narrated how the producers Lionel Richie and Quincy Jones tried to get Prince to join the line up of famous artistes. Prince at the time was in serious competition with Michael Jackson. Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie wrote the song that the other artistes were to sing. Prince wanted to sing and record his own part in a room all by himself and not with the others. They said no, so Prince refused to show up for the recording. It was his loss (may his soul rest in peace) because the process and end result showed that it was not about any one person, it was about collaboration, solidarity and love. Quincy Jones had even taken the trouble to put up a notice at the entrance of the studio, ‘Check your egos at the door’.

Third, again following Drake’s advice, let our global superstars turn their attention to intentional philanthropy and community development back home. Not noisy giveaways on social media. They are all probably doing things, but I urge them to be more strategic and focused with their philanthropic engagements. They can build (or renovate) schools, set up music and dance academies, support initiatives to keep young people off the streets and away from a life of crime and drugs.  They can demonstrate leadership and conduct themselves as role models because of the vast numbers of young people who would rather listen to them than their parents. There is no limit to how they can deploy their immense social capital. It would also be great if they could stop flaunting their new acquisitions to show their fans how wealthy they are. In a country where people are struggling to survive, showing off a US500,000 wristwatch or U$600,000 car is quite insensitive. True wealth is not just about acquisitions but service to humanity.

To all our Grammy nominees, congratulations once again. None of you is a loser. Not by any metrics that truly matter. We are so proud of you all.

Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi is a Gender Specialist, Policy Advocate and Writer. She is the Founder of Abovewhispers.com, an online community for women. She can be reached at BAF@abovewhispers.com

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