In 2019, Oscars, the Academy Awards, disqualified “Lionheart,” Nigeria’s first entry into the international film category because it was predominantly English dialogue. Although Nigeria’s official language is English, the Academy wanted the movie to be produced in Nigeria’s local languages. As expected, Nigerians took to social media to express their displeasure and grievances. Intellectuals even wrote think pieces about it. The argument tilted towards the irrelevance of these international awards and how we’d keep getting snubbed if we continued longing to win them.
The following year, 2020, Burna Boy was nominated for Best Global Album at the Grammys for his album, “African Giant”. From the nomination until the ceremony, Nigerians rooted for the album to win to celebrate the artist and Nigerian excellence. At the time, although Nigerian music already had an international breakthrough, it wasn’t as massive as it currently is, and everyone wanted the nomination and the potential win to be a milestone for Afrobeats music, globally. Winning the award would have, at the time, been seen as a validation of Afrobeats’ value and significance.
But Burna Boy didn’t win. So a repetition of what happened in the previous year with the Oscars occurred. Arguments started flying around about how the awards did not validate our talent or excellence and how we needed to focus on building our award shows.
In 2021, Burna Boy was nominated for the same category for his album, “Twice As Tall” and, again, Nigerians rooted for him to win. He won, and the conversation switched from the previous years where people talked about ditching international awards to people talking about “Afrobeats to the world” and how Burna Boy has made the continent proud.
This year, about seven Nigerian artists were nominated for the Grammy awards in various categories, including a newly minted category, Best African Music Performance. Unfortunately, no Nigerian artist won an award. The cycle of discussions and arguments that suffused the internet in 2019 and 2020 started again – “Grammy is not a validation;” “Grammy is not our award;” “Let’s focus on our own award.”
It disturbs me whenever this happens. Indeed, it is good to celebrate our creatives when they excel or achieve a milestone, because a lot of work and resources go into the production of a body of work. And, let’s be frank, being nominated for global awards isn’t a small feat. However, a recurrence of loss at international stages does not have to be the breaker of important conversations for us. It doesn’t have to be a loss over a Grammy or Oscar award for us to realise that international awards are not creative validation for us Africans. We should not have to wait to lose at international award shows or events for us to realise that it is important for us to restructure or finesse our systems, and appreciate our awards. A Grammy is great, an Oscar is a portfolio bumper but they must never dictate, validate or invalidate the value of our artists, or the essence of our industry. Losing these awards should not be the conversation starter for important issues that should have been had long before them.
Instead, our focus should be on nurturing our local industries, strengthening our infrastructure, and fostering a supportive environment for creativity to flourish. Yes, we want to take Afrobeats to the world, but that should also be on our terms; international recognition should not be a yardstick for how we measure the success or worth of our music and artists. We must recognise that true validation comes from within our communities – from the people who understand our culture, our struggles, and our triumphs intimately. Our artists should be celebrated not just for their accolades on foreign soil, but for the impact they have on our society, the narratives they shape, and the inspiration they provide to the next generation.
Art goes beyond borders and recognition; it is about the bond established between the creator and the audience. Regardless of whether a Nigerian artist wins a Grammy or an Oscar, their contributions to our cultural heritage are immeasurable. Let us shift our attention from seeking external validation to creating an environment where creativity flourishes naturally and artists are supported. Let us celebrate our successes, learn from our failures, and continue to build a legacy that surpasses any foreign award ceremony’s limits. Headies and AMVCA dey there; hol’ am tight.