Grammy Awards finally give Africa its own category but in an American way

The nominees are worthy but the voters not as much.

Timothy Norris/GettyImages
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At the 2024 Grammy Awards, Africa has its own category. In fact, Africa becomes the first continent to have its own category. That is a good thing. The problem is that the Grammy Awards took a very long time to come around to understanding that different parts of the world play different kinds of quality music other than what we hear in the United States.

This is why the award for Best African Music Performance gets complicated. The Grammys added a category in 1992 called Best World Music Album and renamed that award Best Global Music Album. While music can come in all manner of forms, only having a certain group of people voting for all the awards - mainly Americans with white males making up the majority - means that most of the nominees are going to be a reflection of how the voters see themselves.

All of the artists in the Best African Music Performance are worthy of winning multiple awards. If you have not checked anything out but Burna Boy and Tyla's "Water," you should. Every single artist is worthy of your listening.

The idea for Best African Music Performance is great but the execution is not

The issue is with the Recording Academy. The category is called Best African Music Performance but all the nominees perform in a style that we would hear in the United States, meaning hip-hop or pop. Afrobeats has rightfully become more popular globally as there is a lot of music that might not otherwise be heard. But that isn't the only kind of music being produced by the entire continent of Africa.

Maybe the Recording Academy should have broken the award into two or three. Best African Rap and R&B Performance and Best African Pop Album. A third might be Best African Folk Album or something like that. The problem with the current award and the voting for the same is that while good artists are being nominated, the Recording Academy is accidentally (I hope) truly putting the Best African Music Performance into a category that Americans already know: Hip-hop and pop.

This means there are likely many other artists will likely continue to be left out. One of the most nominated African artists (of the few that were) in the 1960s was the stellar Miriam Makeba. She won in 1966 for her album An Evening With Belafonte/Makeba but the win was in the folk category. The way voters are approaching the Best African Music Performance category now would have no room for someone like Makeba and therein lies the real problem.

While the Recording Academy should want to honor African artists they are only doing so now in styles of music the Academy feels they know. The nominations are more about the voters than the great music of Africa. Let's hope that changes in the future.

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