Five Takeaways From The 16th Headies Awards
key points to ruminate on
key points to ruminate on
Yesterday, the 16th iteration of the Headies Awards took place in Atlanta, Georgia for the second consecutive year. The ceremony, in its typical fashion, gathered some of the best heads in the music business, for a renowned celebration of remarkable achievements and milestones of Nigeria’s burgeoning music industry.
Since its inception in the early 2000’s, the award founded by Ayo Animashaun, has played a pivotal role in spotlighting outstanding talents and innovation across the scene. Within its 16-year history, the Headies has awarded the best and brightest in the game, from Afropop frontrunners such as Wizkid, Tiwa Savage, Davido, Burna Boy, 2Face and more, and the new generation of stars including Rema, Victony, Ayra Starr, and more, who are pushing the boundaries of the genre on the global stage. While their recognitions and wins as artists and producers are important to the music ecosystem, the persistent lack of organisation and infrastructure of Nigeria’s premiere award show has hardly developed since its formation, despite its recent move to the States.
This year, these structural issues were brought squarely to the fore in the recently concluded 16th Headies Award which was held at the Cobb Centre in Atlanta. On the star-studded night, efforts to push the envelope with the production and organisation of the award show were not successful, leading to production issues during the award announcements, sound problems on the stage and unannounced categories which were later published online and awarded backstage.
It’s an admirable step to ensure every facet of Nigerian pop music is properly represented but also a glaring recognition that our award system has a long way to go. After taking a look at the full list of nominees, below are our takeaways, including the good, the not-so-good and the befuddling snubs.
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The Headies hasn’t always been the most gender diverse awards show. In recent times, their lack of purposeful representation has been brought to the forefront, and this year’s event was no different. For an industry that is witnessing the influx of so many diverse and talented women voices, it’s a travesty that we are seldom seeing these women take centre stage at such events.
Other than the female categories, which was won by Ayra Starr and WAJE, there were few other categories which had women nominees, talk more of winning them. This peels into the larger conversation that women haven’t always gotten their flowers, especially in Nigeria which, even with its massive number of male acts, does have women artists—from soulful savants like Lindsey Abudei, YINKA, and Bella Alubo, to the many rappers (as listed somewhere below)—who are doing great things with their sound. For an awards show to properly contextualise an industry, it must vehemently refuse the comforting temptation of a single story. Headies haven’t done that this year, and it’s a stab in the flesh of their intentions.
We should do better and recognise that women play a role in this music we so love; more than fillers, they should be celebrated, in the major categories, winning the major awards, and not as a favour, but because the music is that good.
I will never be grateful for winning a category that wasn’t even deemed fit to be announced on stage ! Best female artist na beans ? We work hard, every single one of us ! I’ve seen Tiwa record 4 hit songs in the same night , Tems breaths and lives for music , we didn’t deserve…
— Celestial being (@ayrastarr) September 4, 2023
Nigerian pop music isn’t just at its most prosperous, it’s also littered with more bonafide stars than ever. Part of that is the boom in the emergence of ultra-talented, charismatic artists since the late 2010s, an influx of attention-holders as part of a younger vanguard. This year’s Headies is an explicit confirmation of the plain fact that the game is being elevated by a glut of artists that weren’t minted stars about a decade ago.
Apart from Burna Boy (who’s clearly not a new cat), Wande Coal, Tiwa Savage, and Waje, all of this year’s awardees broke out fairly recently, an indicator that we’re living through an expansive time in Nigerian music and the future might be even more brighter than we can even imagine. Rema won Best Male Artist and African Artist of the Year, four years after he became the hot new kid on the block; Victony picked up to two Headie plaques, including one for Recording of the Year, a momentous aftermath two years after a life-threatening accident; Ayra Starr won Best Female Artist, a stunning achievement in year 3 of her career; while Asake deservedly coasted to the biggest wins of the night—Next Rated and Album of the Year.
That these wins are coming at a time when older superstars like Wizkid, Davido, Olamide, Kizz Daniel and more, are still prominent, at home and globally, feels a lot more wholesome than a straight override by the younger generation. It bodes well for the competitive spirit of awards like the Headies and, more importantly, the variety listeners will always be treated to.
On “Danfo to the Headies,” a single off his most recent album, ‘West African Goat’, rap artist Paybac Iboro sang about entering commercial buses to the venue of the 2020 Headies. In typical Paybac fashion, it was a way to discuss his personal travails, but as a nominee of the award show, it was symbolic that he could attend the award show without needing the glossy ride many of his more commercially successful colleagues can afford. For its last two editions, no one can board a danfo to the Headies, a logistical impossibility due to the awards now taking place in the U.S.
First of all, hosting a Nigerian award show outside the country (and the continent even) isn’t great for the optics. Secondly, it’s a cultural travesty that undermines the importance of Nigerian music to its core audience. Thirdly, the move to America hasn’t exactly improved the production quality—which is worrisome because that was the main reason for the move initially. Now, in addition to many independent artists who wouldn’t be able to attend the show, if they were nominated, Nigerians and Africans have to stay up at early morning hours to catch the proceedings of the award show.
Also, after Anthony Anderson’s appearance of last year, it’s unexplainable that Terrence J, who doesn’t have any explicit ties to Nigerian music, was tapped to host this year’s event. It’s not that he did a bad job hosting, but it just plays into the Westernising of an award show that should be innately African.
The relevance of producers in the music making process cannot be overstated. Many times, these artist-producer dynamics lay the foundation for seamless expression on both parts while offering a more or less consistent environment for artists to thrive and deliver back to back hits. Examples of these iconic duos across music history lay in abundance and a category like this at our most prominent award show should recognise that. However, a glance at the nominees and the eventual winner, Rexxie for “Abracadabra (Remix),” shows that the criteria is hinged on a producer’s work on a single as opposed to multiple singles or a body of work.
Now, Rexxie is undoubtedly an extraordinary producer and his contributions to slinging the ropes of Street-Pop to mainstream audiences will always be priceless. Think London who was already nominated alongside Andre Vibez for “Calm Down.” Anyone familiar with Rema’s world domination at the moment is well away from the pairing’s faultless creative relationship beyond the hit single. Other than producing other hit singles across ‘Rave and Roses’ like “Charm,” London also scores writing credits on a number “Soundgasm” coupled with him being the most reliable ear for building Rema’s distinct sound. Magicstick who also appeared in that category missed out on the win, especially considering the fact that he spearheaded one of the biggest breakthrough acts of 2023, Asake. That being said, it is more beneficial in the long run to have the entrants for this category to celebrate long term impact beyond a 3-minute plus contribution.
Every couple of months when Nigerian rap conversations swing into mainstream discourse, it often tilts towards the ideal that the genre is ailing. For those in the know, Nigerian rap has always been flush with talent and great output, it’s the audience that needed to catch-up. Well, the renaissance might fully be on the way. With his 2022 album, ‘Young Preacher’, Chocolate City rap artist Blaqbonez won the Headie for Best Rap Album. It’s the culmination of years of refinement to his skill-set, savvy self-marketing and a bullishness to prove that he is the “Best Rapper in Africa.”
For years, Payper Corleone has been forging his cred in the underground, his slick wordplay and mafioso-affiliated gait making him a distinct figure in Nigerian rap. His win in the Lyricist on the Roll category highlights the talent pool that lies just beyond the mainstream. NATIVE Records flagbearer ODUMODUBLVCK won two awards, including Rookie of the year, in the midst of a breakout run that has seen him score veritable hits with “Picanto,” “Declan Rice” and “Firegun.” The middle song, a cultural signifier of the synergy between Nigerian pop culture and global football, won Best Rap Song.
ODUMODUBLVCK has always been adamant that his burst into the mainstream is a gateway to more of his rap colleagues taking over Nigerian music. While that assertion mainly applies to his crew of friends and collaborators, it could be applied widely, especially when you consider that all three winners in the rap categories are wildly different artists, representing varying sects of the scene. And that’s not even including the many women – SGaWD, Aunty Rayzor, Ytboutthaction, Brazy, and more – who are easily some of the most inventive and exciting voices and faces around. The present and future of Nigerian rap is fertile.
[Featured Image Credits/The NATIVE]
Words by Dennis Ade Peter, Nwanneamaka Igwe & Emmanuel Esomnofu