Burna Boy’s UCL Final, Yemi Alade Season & Grammys’ New African Music Category
Last weekend during the Champions League final in Istanbul, one of the highlights was Burna Boy’s performance during the opening ceremony. It could be the biggest highlight because even though Manchester City won, their demon striker Erling Haaland didn’t score on the night, but Burna was every inch of the superstar he is. Even after the game, it was a hit when he did a seven-minute interview on C.B.S. with Thiery Henry, Micah Richards, Jamie Carragher and Peter Schmeichel. Sure, he was excited to be with these football legends that he and millions of other Nigerians grew up watching on television, the excitement was both ways, and Henry broke into pidgin English and Richards crooned out, “Shayooooo oooh!” It was an amazing night for Afrobeats’ representation that Burna was on stage in front of over 70,000 fans, one week after he sold out West Ham’s London Stadium.
It was similar at the Qatar World Cup last December when Davido was among the performers at the opening ceremony. Understandably, it was relatively low-key because the man was in mourning then, and that night at Doha was the first time he was being seen publicly since his son’s tragic passing. Still, the world saw what Afrobeats was on the biggest stage in football: 80,000 fans at the stadium and 1.5 billion television viewers.
Burna Boy, Tems and Rema made history in February when they provided the halftime entertainment at the N.B.A. All-Star Game. It had never happened before them, and it was proof of basketball’s popularity on the African continent and, more importantly, the Afrobeats’ takeover of the world. Football is a different juggernaut in terms of reach and global acceptance. While touting his league’s acclaim when the finals started a fortnight ago, the N.B.A. Commissioner Adam Silver mentioned that it was the second biggest sport in the world after football. The fan base is incredibly passionate and loyal, and fans stay with their teams for decades, even when they don’t win the ultimate trophies. (I should know; I’m an Arsenal fan).
You could draw a parallel between football fandom and music – in this case, Afrobeats. The marriage of these two high-stakes, high-impact and highly emotive phenomena is something the world has never experienced and one that you can bet will happen shortly. Music is partly responsible for the success of American sports. The 1983 N.B.A. All-Star game remains a classic because television moment, not just because of the match itself, but the rendition of the U.S. National Anthem that Marvin Gaye did. One of the most iconic live performances at a sports event is Whitney Houston singing the anthem eight years later at the Superbowl.
Regarding the Superbowl, C.B.S. presenter Kate Abdo mentioned it when Burna joined the panel at the Champions League final. At this point, one can safely assume that it’s a matter of when, not if, a Nigerian Afrobeats artiste will perform at the Superbowl. It doesn’t get better than that for sporting events.
This week, the Grammy Awards announced that it was including a Best African Music Performance category starting in 2024. It shouldn’t have caught any of us unaware because of how the last five years of the genre have brought a fresh perspective to the Grammy Academy itself. African music has been on the rise, and it’s impossible for the Grammys not to have paid attention. Besides, the C.E.O. Harvey Manson Jr. had hinted back in September that they were considering an Afrobeats category due to its recent dominance in African popular music. However, the Best African Music Performance will include Afrobeats, Afropop, Afrofusion, Alte, Amapiano and even Fuji music. Suppose this isn’t a validation of the importance of African music. In that case, it’s certainly an acknowledgement of the several generations of work that has gone into creating, curating and distributing African music.
As we once said in this column, whilst the Grammys isn’t the measure of one’s musical talent or career, it is still the highest reward platform for musicians. It’s like the Champions League: players who don’t win it are not necessarily underachievers (Ronaldo (the original Ronaldo) didn’t win the trophy, and he’s still regarded as one of the top five players ever to play the game. However, winning is no minor achievement, and it’s rewarding to see that African music is on the agenda in the most critical rooms where the theme is being discussed.
Our goal at the #RecordingAcademy is to recognize and honor the very best in music from across the globe.
Today, we’re proud to announce a new category for the 66th GRAMMY Awards – Best African Music Performance.
— Recording Academy / GRAMMYs (@RecordingAcad) June 13, 2023
Credit must go to people like Femi Kuti, the sole nominee from Nigeria, for a long time. But even then, it was clear that lumping Afrobeat in the Global Music category is insufficient, especially in an academy predominantly made up of white middle age men. This is why I want to identify Afrobeats as the single principal factor of why the Grammys expanded its academy to include artists and music execs who can bring invaluable insight into the music scene on the continent. More importantly, the music itself. The force of Afrobeats is undeniable and irrepressible. Where it was only the Kuti family flying the flag for Afrobeat, Afrobeats has been the movement of a generation that is legion! From year to year, the music has continued to captivate millions worldwide and shed helpful light on the culture. I am not sure who the first winner of this category will be next February, but whoever it is, they’ll have Afrobeats to thank for getting them there.
You know, the way towards the end of the year, everybody appears to agree that we’re entering Mariah Carey season? I’m starting to believe the summer is Yemi Alade season. With eight projects (five albums and three E.P.s) since she broke through just about ten years ago, her work ethic is indisputable. So is her legendary status, although it seems like that goes under-reported. I don’t know why that is, but it shouldn’t be. As far back as 2016, she’s been selling out 50,000-capacity stadiums across Africa. Not many musicians can say that of their overall career, but she has done it repeatedly.
View this post on Instagram
I also think that Yemi is not bothered about her feats and whether they’re reported. At the beginning of her career, when I interviewed her in 2014, she told me that she wanted to represent African greatness, which she has primarily accomplished. What’s more, as Angelique Kidjo (63 years old this year) gets more advanced, it looks to me that she’s handing over the “Mama Africa” baton to Yemi. If that’s the case, it shows why Yemi isn’t bothered about being under-reported back home. Her African Baddie tour has begun, and it’s in over twenty cities in Europe and America. That, my friend, is legendary stuff. I cannot wait for an entire documentary on her or when I’m commissioned to write her biography. So Yemi, call me!
Lastly, stay updated with all you need about African music at S.O.A. right here.
The Jide Taiwo is a writer and media executive. He’s based in Lagos, Nigeria and tweets via @thejidetaiwo.