Nigerian Music: Obsession For Foreign Awards Vs. The African Dream

Over the years, we have seen top Artistes in the Nigerian music scene push narratives that tend to go beyond music. In the last few years, they have saturated the media space with different rhetoric. For instance under the tag, #AfrobeaToTheWorld, the likes of Davido, Wizkid, and Burna Boy have always maintained that they are on a course to making afrobeats a dominant brand of music in the world. The dream is to contend with hip-hop and other powerful genres that have dominated the world for years.

But their morbid passion and propensity for The Grammys and other foreign prizes, as well as the recent negligence and disdain for local ones like The Headies, ironically, are clear actions killing the goals they claim to project.

It is important to see that the legendary Fela Anikulapo Kuti, the father of afrobeat, whom many of these artistes look up to as an idol, has always been a stickler and promoter of what are inherently African. Fela was popular for his critique of bad governance in Nigeria and by extension Africa. At the same time, he was known for his critique of the exhortation and obsession for foreign ideas by African nationals. His song, “Yellow Fever” is a perfect emblem of his insistence on giving priority to values, modes, and everything African.

Unfortunately, it appears Nigerian superstars have caught the “yellow fever” Fela was singing about. The Grammys of “the white world” has now become the pinnacle for most of our self-acclaimed afrobeat stars. Having conquered many home-based awards, they now look forward to international ones, neglecting and relegating the former to the background. But to a keen observer, this strong obsession with the Grammys and other foreign awards is killing the creativity of our artistes and causing unhealthy rivalry among them, which calibrates Fela’s position on the divide and rule agenda of the white colonialist: what he calls “kolomentality” (colonial mentality).


Unlike Burna Boy, Wizkid and Davido are products of the Headies Awards given that they are one-time winners of the coveted Headies category, Next Rated. Burna Boy lost the category to Sean Teazle as an upcoming artiste. He however rose over the years to become a sensation. The Porth-Harcourt born musician went to release “Twice Tall as Tall” in 2020 particularly aimed at a second Grammy nomination as it was co-produced by top American rapper, Kanye West, and featured respected artistes within and outside Africa. “Twice Tall as Tall” achieved its underlying design as it was nominated in the category for World Global Album at the Grammys. When it was announced, the news immediately spread like wildfire. It was championed by Burna Boy himself who posted a video of himself and his family celebrating the success.

Fast forward to a month later, Burna Boy and some of his colleagues in the music scene were nominated for the Headies Awards. None of them even posted, promoted, or commented on the nominations. That of Burna Boy might be somewhat understandable because he once missed out on the awards. But even the self-proclaimed Odogwu will not deny the fact that the failure forced the hand of his music genius which has seen him get to where he is today.

One understands that as you soar in your music career, you look forward to conquering more prestigious awards. Home-based awards, especially in Africa however, should not be relegated to the background, especially by those who used it as ladder to the top. They should not be debased even for revenge purposes. If that is Burna’s reason, he should call himself to order (in the words of Fela, the king himself). If it’s about pride and ego, it is particularly expedient to serve a few reminders.

For the likes of Wizkid, Davido, and a host of others, the Headies was their first endorsement. The simple win of the Next Rated category was a boost to their career and stacked up their value as artistes. This indicates that they owe the Headies a lot. What people should be asking then is how much have these artistes given back to local award platforms like the Headies in spite of the many gains they have experienced over the years? All we have seen so far is nothing but a show of ego which resonates in their lateness, absence, and negligence for local award events.

The disregard for the local Awards goes beyond the artistes themselves as it has now rubbed on their fans and other music lovers. The bulk of views expressed by these fans is that they have lost faith in the sincerity of the local awards. For this group, it is largely because their favourites for the coveted Next Rated category have lost to some artistes they feel are undeserving. It is however important to see that this conversation started when the Headies award organizers nominated Tekno in the same category with Mr Eazi and a host of others. Tekno felt he was too big for the category. Perhaps it would have made more sense not to include Tekno in the category, but the organizers probably looked at the success of Tekno at the time, especially with the buzz “Pana”, his hit classic made, and wanting to acknowledge this named him in the Next Rated category. It might look to many as a wrong decision, but it wasn’t altogether bad. But Tekno for show of pride rescinded the prize which saw Mr Eazi grab the award.

After this, we saw the drama that unfolded when Lil Kesh lost to Reekado Banks when many felt the former should have won. Many accused Headies of favouritism and corruption. There were also suggestions that Don Jazzy was paying the award organizers for his signees to win the Next Rated Category. The fact that Rema beat the likes of Fireboy, Joeboy and Zlatan to win the category for 2019 was the height of it all. While such insinuations are not new in awards, it is totally uncharitable to peddle them with no evidence or proof, and to a point it disparages and undermines the very essence of the award itself. For many who think this way, should the organizers then give awards outside the confidence of the voting system?

An online analyst gives his views: “Lil Kesh at the time couldn’t have won given the nature of his fan base, especially that of his boss, Olamide. How many people on the “streets” use phones or will have the time to go and vote for their artistes who is representing the hood? In the case of Rema, he has more fanbase than any of the artistes in the category for last year. Don Jazzy too has been in the game for a long time so it would be hard to contend with the connections and contacts he has built over the years, which makes it easy for him to rack up votes for his signees.”

Artistes in the country should note that the series of negligence shown by many as regards the Headies Awards, a platform constantly striving to stand out in Nigeria, is a precursor to the harsh consequences that will affect the future of afrobeats, and by extension Africa. If the likes of Burna Boy, Wizkid and Davido feel the Headies is not up to standard, what stops them from making material and morale contributions to see that it becomes an award of repute? Why can’t we make the Headies like the Grammys? What stops Beyonce, Cardi B, Jay Z from coming to Africa to receive awards from the Headies? By the time we destroy our local award platforms, what purpose does it then serve, especially for upcoming artistes who look up to the award to position themselves?

It would smack of insensitivity and ingratefulness for Nigerians stars to revel in this negligence. The least they can do is grace the occasion with their appearance and inspire other upcoming artistes as it is a bad precedence for other artistes. Burna Boy, Davido, Wizkid should celebrate the Headies and other local awards like the Grammys.

Everybody knows Nigerian artistes are outstanding. They do not need any foreign pat on the back to resonate their greatness. They have achieved a lot. Wizkid did not need the Grammy Award when he made the album of the century (Superstar). Davido did not need a Grammy when he made consecutive hits, back to back (If, Fall, Fia, Ada, etc.). Burna Boy did not need a Grammy award when he served us big jams, so who says we need the Grammys?

No doubt, for an industry like entertainment, the place of awards cannot be overemphasized. It goes beyond a recognition or acknowledgement of the artistes’ contributions and achievements. It goes on to resonate on our net value. As an achiever, your rating piles up. As you win awards, you look forward to conquering more prestigious awards. Awards are good for showbiz. It leaves a lasting impression on your place in the industry. Many years down the line, winners would be remembered for not only their creativity, but as a bagger of notable awards which illuminates and set the path for greatness and lasting legacies. But while Nigerian artistes constantly strive for international awards, they should never forget the road that lead will eventually lead them home.

Nelson Okoh

Categories: Features

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