The awards continue to center the Western-gaze when it comes to African and "global" music.
It was around 9 pm, Nigerian time when the winners of the 64th annual Grammy music awards for Best Global Music Album and Best Global Music Performance were announced. The competition for both categories was fierce, featuring both established and semi-established artists from across the globe including Femi Kuti, Seun Kuti Angélique Kidjo, Wizkid and Tems who were all nominated in both categories. Queer-Pakistani artist Arooj Aftab went home with Best Global Music Performance while the Beninese legend Angélique Kidjo took home Best Global Music Album, a category which she has won five times now.
When the first category’s winner was announced, it felt unspoken that surely, the next winner would be Wizkid. The afrobeats artist has had an incredible past two years. From topping Billboards charts to selling out the O2 arena in minutes—and doing that three times! His single "Essence" featuring rising talent Tems, was 2021’s unofficial summer hit and got an extended collaboration from Justin Bieber, a move that boosted the song’s rising popularity even further. Without a doubt, Wizkid’s work played a vital role in exploding the afrobeats genre on the global music scene, setting the tone for the sound, giving local talent increased international exposure, and setting the stage for a global ecosystem where afrobeats, like reggae, rock and other genres that once sat on the fringe, was adapted as a global genre.
So when Angélique Kidjo was announced as the winner in the category many had expected Wizkid to win, there was a sense in which Nigerians, Africans and indeed everyone rooting for afrobeats, had been failed. That Wizkid’s talent and impact had gone unrecognized and the judging system flawed and unreasonable. These reactions, while not always pleasant as there have been reports of Wizkid supporters attacking Angélique Kidjo and accusing her of winning the Grammys through dubious means, can be expected from people who have been waiting with suspended breaths to be taken seriously and given the acclaim and respect their Western counterparts enjoy.
Angélique Kidjo accepts the Global Music Album award during the 64th Annual GRAMMY Awards Premiere Ceremony.
(Photo by Denise Truscello/Getty Images for The Recording Academy)
In truth, for many, Wizkid losing the Grammys was less about validating the worth of Wizkid’s work and more about confirming that indeed, afrobeats artists can simply make feel-good music, very much like Western artists do and still win prestigious awards for it. But in spite of how noble and sensible that argument might be, the situation remains a lot trickier. For one, it is important that we take a step back and remind ourselves in whose establishment awards like the Grammys have been set up. It is important that we consider, but not excuse, that these awards are purely subjective and are still Western-focused in who they choose to recognize, what they consider good music, which artists they consider important to the global music conversation and which non-Western work best represents their idea of what "global" music should sound like.
The problem isn’t that Wizkid’s impact wasn’t enough or that his music isn’t layered or well crafted enough. The problem isn’t that Angélique Kidjo doesn’t have a right to make politically-conscious music, rooted in love for the African continent and a firm reminder of global peace and unity. The problem, yet again, is not that music like Angélique’s, that engages with Blackness, pan-Africanism, global unity and to an extent, a soft but scarcely nuanced or thoroughly honest reprimand of white supremacy, tends to win the Grammys when it comes to Africans winning in those categories. The problem isn’t that making pan-African music is a calculated tactic at getting the Grammys’ attention, which I do not believe it is, but many have argued otherwise. The problem isn’t that afrobeats cannot simply exist as a genre and be rewarded for the magic it creates while in that simple existence.
The problem, however, is that these things continue to hover over the heads of the people who want to see afrobeats, amapiano and other music from the continent being celebrated for the joy they bring. The problem is that the awards continue to center the Western gaze while posturing as a global outfit and thus continue to fail at properly categorizing awards, making them less broadband and more culturally specific.
The problem is that we still need Western collaboration to get the investment and global exposure we need for the genres that shouldn’t need that much work or politicking to sell. The problem is that we give too much of a damn about what the Grammys means for Aarobeats and judging by its blatant misunderstanding of cultural nuances (they skipped actual Jamaican artists to award an all-white reggae band from Virginia) and a lack of vision for where global music is going to, we seriously don’t have to