BET Was Heavy on African Content This Year, But Still Didn’t Televise Best International Act Award

Although BET Gave Akon an award for his humanitarian work, it still doesn’t make up for not televising the Best International Act category.

Amid criticism from many international artists, BET once again relegated the presentation of the Best International Act category to web-only. However, the network attempted to make up for this with a slew of pre-award show events and an exhibition celebrating African music's legacy and this year's hottest artists.

Introduced during the 2010 BET Awards at The Shrine Auditorium, the network decided to highlight the best in global-based urban music through its Best International Act category. Since then, winners of the category have ranged from UK grime act Dizzee Rascal to Nigeria’s 2face Idibia and even recent Drake collaborator—Wizkid.

Similar to the pre-award ceremonies for The Grammys highlighting everything from Best Improvised Jazz Solo Album to Best Gospel Album, the Best International Act category took a backseat to Video of the Year and Best New Artist. However, many stars were angry as the award never received airtime. Some protested by hitting social media and declining outright to not attend the event.

This year, BET attempted to make up for the lack of coverage in clever ways including getting The Grammy Museum at the Downtown Los Angeles located L.A. Live involved. The end result is the Sounds of Africa exhibit which premiered Friday night. Set to run through fall 2016, everything from handwritten lyrics, instruments and costumes are featured. Representing various aspects of African music, Ice Prince, Laolu Senbanjo, Sir Victor Uwaifo and even Grammy winner Angelique Kidjo, among others, sit on the third floor across from the museum's Michael Jackson exhibit.

Speaking with those in attendance, Grammy Museum Curator Nwaka Onwusa says talks regarding plans for “Sounds of Africa” began around a year ago. “The conversation changed last year when me and Ava Hall [BET International Programming and Brand Advancement Vice President] had a conversation about the previous exhibit they did on winners of the Lifetime Achievement Award,” she says. “I thought, let’s try to have an international spin on it.”

Photo by Oluwaseye Olusa.

Since The Grammy Museum at L.A. Live’s opening in 2008, Sounds of Africa is the first exhibit that celebrates African musicians, according to Onwusa. Hall seemed to ignore the controversy regarding the Best International Act category by calling the moment a “labor of love.”

“We’ve been highlighting International Artists during the BET Awards for the last six years and each year, we try to do it bigger and better,” Hall says. “This really takes it to the top for us partnering with the Grammy Museum.”

Michael Armstrong, general manager for International Brand Development at Viacom, called the exhibit an amazing way to celebrate African artistry. “We’re happy to celebrate African musicianship in a place like the Grammy Museum,” Armstrong says before a fashion show segment by David Tlale.

AKA, Cassper Nyovest, Diamond Platnumz, MzVee, Côte d’Ivoire’s Serge Beynaud, Wizkid and Yemi Alade were all nominated for the award, though Black Coffee took home the honors during the ceremony that took place Saturday night at The Microsoft Center—wedged between the larger Staples Center and smaller Novo Theatre. The event was hosted by model and actress Eva Pigford and “Classic Man” himself—Jidenna.

Photo by Oluwaseye Olusa.

BET International also elevated past the music and looked deeper into artists who are truly looking to make a global impact through its Global Good Award. The first recipient of the accolade giving notice to artists’ humanitarian efforts was non other than Akon.  

Konvict Muzik’s general made strides alongside Samba Bathily Thione Niang with the Akon Lighting Africa project. Started in 2014, 14 nations including Sierra Leone, Guinea and Akon’s home country of Senegal, received solar energy and jobs to around 5,000 people.

“Being raised in Africa, my dream was always to go back and allow those outlets to be distributed,” Akon explains to the audience. “I wanted those dreams to materialize into reality. The main focus that stopped us from developing was electricity.”

Besides hoping to make a change within Africa, he wanted to leave this earth with a long lasting influence.

“When that day comes when you’re asked what you did on this earth, you want something valid to say,” Akon says, before encouraging those in attendance to invest more in Africa. “You don’t want to be in a position where you gotta think about what you owned or thought you did for someone. No, it has to be about what you did that impacted millions. You’ll be surprised what most of you can impact with a simple thought.”     

Speaking exclusively with Okayafrica, he hoped bringing green electricity would be the start in building more infrastructure.

“A full eco system,” Akon says. “With electricity, you have a better agriculture system and education system. That can lead to high rises and cars running back and forth. The economy can’t move without electricity and now we can advance a lot quicker.”

In Akon’s world, he’s grateful for the award presented by BET International, but more proud of the long lasting effect. “The award symbolizes things change and what we can do once we put our minds to it.”

Photo by KOLA SULAIMON/AFP via Getty Image

#EndSARS: 1 Year Later And It's Business As Usual For The Nigerian Government

Thousands filled the streets of Nigeria to remember those slain in The #LekkiTollGateMassacre...while the government insists it didn't happen.

This week marks 1 year since Nigerians began protests against police brutality and demanded an end to the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). The #EndSARS protests took the world by storm as we witnessed Nigerian forces abuse, harass and murder those fighting for a free nation. Reports of illegal detention, profiling, extortion, and extrajudicial killings followed the special task force's existence, forcing the government to demolish the unit on October 11th, 2020. However, protestors remained angered and desperate to be heard. It wasn't until October 20th, when soldiers opened fire on demonstrators at Lekki tollgate in the country's capital, Lagos, that the protests came to a fatal end. More than 56 deaths from across the country were reported, while hundreds more were traumatized as the Nigerian government continued to rule by force. The incident sparked global outrage as the Nigerian army refused to acknowledge or admit to firing shots at unarmed protesters in the dead of night.

It's a year later, and nothing has changed.

Young Nigerians claim to still face unnecessary and violent interactions with the police and none of the demands towards systemic changes have been met. Fisayo Soyombo the founder of the Foundation for Investigative Journalism, told Al Jazeera, "Yes, there has not been any reform. Police brutality exists till today," while maintaining that his organization has reported "scores" of cases of police brutality over this past year.

During October 2020's protests, Nigerian authorities turned a blind eye and insisted that the youth-led movement was anti-government and intended to overthrow the administration of current President Muhammadu Buhari. During a press conference on Wednesday, in an attempt to discredit the protests, Minister of Information and Culture Lai Mohammed hailed the Nigerian army and police forces for the role they played in the #EndSARS protests, going as far as to say that the Lekki Toll Massacre was a "phantom massacre with no bodies." These brazen claims came while protesters continued to gather in several major cities across the country. The minister even went on to shame CNN, Nigerian favorite DJ Switch as well as Amnesty International, for reporting deaths at Lekki. Mohammed pushed even further by saying, "The six soldiers and 37 policemen who died during the EndSARS protests are human beings with families, even though the human rights organizations and CNN simply ignored their deaths, choosing instead to trumpet a phantom massacre."

With the reports of abuse still coming out of the West African nation, an end to the struggle is not in sight. During Wednesday's protest, a journalist for the Daily Post was detained by Nigerian forces while covering the demonstrations.

According to the BBC, additional police units have been set up in the place of SARS, though some resurfacing SARS officers and allies claim to still be around.

Young Nigerians relied heavily on social media during the protests and returned this year to voice their opinions around the first anniversary of an experience that few will be lucky enough to forget.

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