19 November 2017

Nigeria: A Celebration of African Music Talents

Organising a music award is by no means a mean feat, irrespective of the capacity. It entails a lot: logistics (feeding, transportation and venue), publicity, selection of eligible entrants and collation of results, budget and other elements. At the nexus of each planning is the financial demand which solely depends on sponsorship, but in extreme cases, may require personal intervention of the organiser to take loans from financial institutions, friends and family members.

However, the beauty and success of any award ceremony is the ability of the organiser to give a clinical execution to his or her idea. Without this, all the beautiful ideas will be another waste of mental energy.

From whatever angle you may view it, planning such an event at a communal level is not for the faint-hearted, let alone taking the scope of the event to a continental scale. For a significant continental event like the All Africa Music Awards (AFRIMA), it obviously requires more than just skeletal strategy of pooling people together from different countries to reward various musicians. Effective planning, strategy and teamwork is highly needed to deliver a monumental event. For starters, Africa is a diverse continent booming with creative talents, and music being a unifying art serves as an important tool in showcasing the beauty of her diversity.

African music is an eclectic mix which is deep-rooted in culture. Each region or ethnic group strives to sell its musical culture which ranges from musical composition to language. These elements have set many foremost African musicians apart from their counterparts. Their capability to project a language that is as melodic as the sounds that accompanies them conveys a compelling intrigue.

For instance, stars like Salif Keita, Youssou N'dour, King Sunny Ade, Oliver Mtukudzi, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, Manu Dibango, Chaka Chaka and Mariam Makeba to name a few gained international recognition by staying true to their roots and introducing sounds that the world fell in love with instantly. They wore their culture with pride. Although times have changed; that indelible rhythm of Africa can never be replaced. Today's generation of musicians are still learning from these stars who laid an unforgettable groundwork. Therefore, a continental award ceremony should be a unifying platform between the old and new where both generations get the appropriate dose of appreciation and showmanship.

To an extent, Mike Dada, a PR practitioner and convener of the AFRIMA had this in view when he set out in 2014 to organise the continental award. Before AFRIMA, KORA Awards was the only award celebrating African music stars on such a large scale. Interestingly, Dada worked closely with the planning committee for the KORA award. To set his idea apart, Dada had to dig deeper into the richest reserves of his creative mind to come up with AFRIMA. From the onset, the odds were highly stacked against him. People thought the idea was only good on paper. How was he going to pull it off. They watched from a distance bemused. However, like a skilled footballer, he scored a hat-trick by clinching a working relationship with the Africa Union, AU. This partnership made all the difference; giving AFRIMA an international image that no other award platform in its category could boast of.

The AU had been looking for a credible platform to roll out and canvass its youth-oriented agenda. The coming of AFRIMA was the opportunity, the organisation needed. And this year, the relationship entered a sustainable cycle with the launch of the AFRIMA Foundation, which truly empahises the theme: 'For Hope, for Celebration.'

Despite the seeming challenges he was confronted with, Dada stunned onlookers by delivering a spectacular show that year. Since then he has not rested on his oars. With each edition, he pushes the envelope. From the African-themed stages and performances to all the razzmatazz, the organisers of AFRIMA are eager to hit the right chord.

For the 2017 edition held recently at the Eko Convention Centre, Eko Hotels and Suites, Victoria Island, Lagos, Dada kept to his original script but with an additional catch: Akon. The organisers caused a great buzz with their announcement that the Senegalese born music superstar will host the event alongside Cameroonian diva-broadcaster, Sophy Aiida. Arguably, Akon delivered on the objectives of his choice, but failed woefully as a presenter. The three-day event kicked off with The Africa Music Business Roundtable (AMBR), a platform that engaged top music business stakeholders, label

owners and music marketers on the theme 'Digital Takeover; Shaping the Future of African Music'. Held at the Grand Ball room of the hotel, the roundtable featured keynote speakers like the Head of culture, African Union Commission, Angela Martins; General Manager, Sony Music, West Africa, Michael Ugwu; Managing Director, Trace Anglophone, West Africa Samo Onyemelukwe; Technology & Media Leader, PwC, West Africa, Femi Osinubi; Chairperson Moshito Festival South Africa, Dr.Sipho Sithole; Artistic Director Timitar Festival Morocco, Brahim El Mazned; MD United Capital Securities Ltd. Nigeria, Jude Chiemeka; Head A&R Okay Music USA, Rikki Stein; Head of Operations, Content Connect Africa, South Africa, Munya Chanetsa; CEO Kennis Music Nigeria, Kenny Ogungbe and Founder/CEO Emblue, Kelvin Orifa.

In her opening speech, Angela Martins commended the relentless work of AFRIMA in promoting African music, culture and creative enterprise in Africa, while appreciating Nigeria who through its host city, Lagos, has successfully hosted Africa's leading creatives and musicians at AFRIMA for three years. She also noted the theme of the roundtable is in line with the African Union Agenda on the promotion of the new Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs).

"Digitization is the order of the day. We are glad that this theme was chosen so that music professionals can debate on it and come up with a clear roadmap on how to keep abreast with these new information and communication tools. African music can make great strides and reach out to new continental and global markets."

After the talk came the AFRIMA Village where music fans had the opportunity to watch their favourite star on stage by just buying the AFRIMA customised t-shirt. Although the event was well attended but many of the stars earlier advertised did not make it to the stage. The show ended up featuring Nigerian artistes majorly. Only one emerging artiste from Malawi put up a lacklustre performance. Artistes from other African countries could not perform because they had not yet arrived Nigeria on the day of the show. Given that flight connections between African countries can be tiresome, the organisers made it look like they only wanted the artistes at the finale.

This was surprising to many watchers of AFRIMA, as the Music Village has been a critical content that the organisers had not been able to execute since the event started in 2014. The importance of the Music Village cannot be over emphasised as it serves the purpose of giving fans who would not make it to the awards proper opportunity to connect with their favourite artistes, particularly nominees at the awards. Many of the names that were bandied around like Femi Kuti and 2 Baba, were not at the show. Apparently, negotiation between the organisers and the artistes could not be sealed. Feelers from the industry indicate that the artistes were very aggrieved that they had signed a contract and blocked off the date against other contracts in favour of AFRIMA only to meet with disappointment.

Even at the level of a pan Nigerian concert, the AFRIMA Music Village failed to present the diversity of the country. Allowing three Fuji music bands -Atawewe, Malaika and Saheed Osupa-with their non-stop method of delivery and large retinue of instrumentalists clearly tilted the performing artistes in favour of one section of the country. In the Nigerian pop category, the only recognisable names with top hitting songs were Oritsefemi, Muma Gee and Sound Sultan. The show started three hours behind schedule with a rash of emerging artistes and even though the organisers tried to rush through the programme, many hopeful artistes were not given a chance when the show closed in the morning of the next day.

The music stars were allowed to perform only one song. Only few of the artistes gave an electrifying performance within the time limit. This was a major constraint at the main awards ceremony. For instance, the audience was evidently pained when Ycee performed only his hit single "Juice'. The implication of this was that the artistes ended up rushing their songs in order to avoid being cued off by the DJ. Perhaps, the organisers noticed the audience' gasps of disappointment because some of the artistes were later given more performing time.

Most of the acts for the night failed to elicit a rousing applause from the audience, particularly non-Nigerian artistes. However, there were few exceptions that warmed the hearts of the audience. They include the energetic musicians and dancers from Togo, Toofan, Ghanaian sassy diva, Becca, and the masterly display on the guitar by one of the recipients of the AFRIMA legendary awards, Oliver Mutikudzi (Zimbabwe). The other recipient was Salif Keita (Mali). Keita declined to perform when approached with a guitar. Clearly, it was not on the script and he could not be persuaded.

Placing Tiwa Savage to close the event could have been another trump card if the singer who came on stage barefooted had more time. In less than five minutes, she hurriedly performed three songs. Though she wanted to excite her audience more but the DJ was strict with his timing that he even cut her microphone off when she dragged on a particular song.

Seyi Shay suffered a stage mishap when she stumbled and fell in the midst of her act but was quick on her feet and continued her performance. She handled the fall well, which brought back memories of a similar incident involving Chief Tony Okoroji at a PMAN awards event at the National Theatre in the 1980s.

Also, the two representatives of the federal government, Minister of Information and Culture Lai Mohammed and Special Adviser Political Matters to the President Senator Babafemi Ojudu, were both booed by the audience when they came to present awards - a clear indication that Nigerians are unhappy with the present administration.

In order to control the human traffic, this year's show was not open to everybody; hence the hall was not overflowing like previous editions. As many who came to see Akon, they were not disappointed but the synergy between him and his co-presenter were not like a house on fire. Many times Akon did not appear to know what to do. He lacked the spontaneity of an excellent presenter. There were occasions when their jokes were lost on the crowd.

Other big winners of the night included 2baba (Nigeria) Tiwa Savage (Nigeria), Simi (Nigeria), Wande Coal (Nigeria), Ycee (Nigeria), Montess (Cameroon), Locko (Cameroon), Nandy (Tanzania), Eddy Kenzo (Uganda), Ibitssam Tiskat (Morocco) among others. The award for Best Video which Orezi so gleefully celebrated should rightly go to the director of the video whose artistic and technical skills created visuals that put a cine-life to the song.

Another major blunder which officials of Lagos State Government openly frowned at was the flawed representation of the 'The Three Lagos Elders'. Only organisers can explain why they increased the number of Lagos elders to four.

Like in previous editions, Dada and his crew always infused different elements from the different cultures of the continent. The major element on stage was the gigantic drums placed on each side of the stage. Other features include fireworks and two big screens used for advertorials and extra view.

As much as Dada has tried to sell his unique idea to a very complicated audience, the award is yet to acquire the grand status it desperately desires. The reasons for this are not far-fetched. First, the location of the award in Nigeria is wrong. Arguably, Nigeria is perceived as the creative hub of Africa with Lagos as its headquarters. This simple notion is perhaps what is misleading the organisers that Lagos is the perfect host city but the truth is that Lagos does not have the right audience for an award of such eminence. This is evidently seen in each of the edition where performers and winners of the award from other countries receive lukewarm cheer from the crowd who often wear a vacuous expression when the artistes from other countries come on stage or have their names rolled out on screens. But the reverse is the case when a Nigerian artiste wins or performs. For example, at the arrival of Wizkid who clinched three awards - Best Male artiste in West Africa, the Song of the Year and Artiste of the Year - a large part of the audience caused a raucous jubilation that bouncers had difficulty keeping the excited fans at bay. Coincidentally, Tanzanian artiste Nandy was performing on stage.

The insolent manner the audience ignored the beautiful songstress was very heartbreaking. And it was very rude of Wizkid not to have delayed his entry; moreso that the awards was supposedly televised live.

Despite the distraction, the singer maintained her stance and at the end, was rewarded with a great ovation. If the applause was an act of remorse or not, one may never know. Nevertheless, since AFRIMA has two more years to host the event, they may consider promoting the nominees from other regions by engaging radio stations and TV channels to play their music more, particularly on TRACE Naija which lent the weight of its network as AFRIMA partner this year. The other option is to organise a pre-award show where the fans will have the opportunity to familiarise themselves with the artistes. This is one of the purposes that the AFRIMA Music Village was supposed to serve, but it was not quite realised. If any of these options fail, then they should hire cheerleaders to cheer the artistes on to avoid the cold reception of the audience.

Again, the organisers of AFRIMA are yet to select performing artistes that will deliver the grandeur that is deserving of the show. Performing artistes at awards should be those who are known to deliver an elaborate and theatrical performanceat the point of entry and can sustain a highly sophisticated show to the end. The organising committee of AFRIMA may have to revisit the boardroom and re-examine the selection process of performers at the award. They will do more justice to the awards if they bring in some of these African legends to perform and not just reward them with legendary awards.

In doing this, they will be creating history as well as merging the old and young generations.

Nonetheless, AFRIMA has done well in casting the limelight on countries that are hardly recognised musically on s huge platform like this. For instance, Shyn from Madagascar was visibly overwhelmed when he was announced the winner of the Revelation of the Year award.

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