6 Important Highlights for African Music at the 2024 Grammys

Mark your calendars: February 4th

Are the Grammys still music’s biggest night? The answer depends on who you ask. A couple of years ago, there was clamour for better inclusivity at the prestigious awards, from women being better acknowledged to respecting the global impact of urban African music. In its past two to three editions, the Recording Academy has made visible changes to reflect a broader, more liberal outlook, whether that’s renaming categories or simply creating new ones.

For many Africans, the 66th Grammys, scheduled to be held next Sunday, is a better representation of Afropop’s standing within the wider scope of global music. There’s an all-new category, over a dozen artists are nominated beyond the Global categories, and it’s just an indication that our music isn’t just being heard and played in the biggest places, it’s also worthy of the highest honours. Ahead of the ceremonies, here are six important highlights we’ll be paying close attention to during the premiere show and televised event in the Crypto.com arena.

The Grammys introduce ‘Best African Music Performance’ Category

Noms: Asake and Olamide – “Amapiano,” Burna Boy – “City Boys,” Ayra Starr – “Rush,” Tyla – “Water” & Davido ft Musa Keys – “UNAVAILABLE.”

Back in June 2023, the Recording Academy unveiled three new categories for the 2024 ceremony and one category generated a significant amount of buzz—with good reason. The Best African Music Performance category, according to the board, is set to feature a slew of ‘local expressions’ including Amapiano, Fuji, Ghanaian Drill, Alternative music and so on. This introduction is meant to be a not-so-silent nod at the sold out stadium tours, outstanding break-out runs, unbelievable streaming numbers, record breaking tours and remarkable cross-continental collaborations emanating from these parts. At home and beyond, Afropop veterans and newcomers are championing fresh and innovative sounds not only contributing but dominating worldwide music conversations. 

It is for this reason, amongst others, that a category for Best African Music Performance comes off as lazy and ambiguous, lumping a continent with rich and diverse sounds under one nomination slot. This isn’t untrue but that also doesn’t mean the category comes with no benefit whatsoever. This season always springs up conversations regarding the validity of these ceremonies and why the award system is outdated and almost irrelevant, particularly when deserving recipients fail to gain recognition. But it is important to take into account the windows of opportunity these accreditation systems provide, beyond one’s name engraved on a gold gramophone statuette.

The golden legacy of Olamide

Noms: Best African Music Performance – Asake and Olamide for “Amapiano”

For most of the 2010s, Olamide was the most consistent hit-maker in Nigerian music. Where all of the proverbial Big Three had their lulls in that period, Olamide had the streets of Lagos and the entire southwest region on lock, and that dominance reverberated throughout Nigeria and even spilled over to the rest of the continent. At that, there was chatter that primarily rapping Yoruba and being overly tethered to the grit of the streets limited his impact in pushing Nigerian music to a wider, global audience.

Well, the man is now a Grammy-nominated artist, on a song he co-headlines with the biggest artist he’s signed to his YBNL label till date. Asake is a much different artist to the man who helped barrel into the Nigerian pop mainstream, but there’s a deep musical and spiritual kinship that ties his ongoing successes to the feats Olamide achieved at his peak. “Amapiano,” the song they’re both nominated for, is easily one of the best party-ready songs of this decade already, even if you roll your eyes at its title and the kind of appropriation it stands for. Right now, though, what’s most immediate is the additional validation this nomination provides. Olamide’s legacy is already sealed, now it deserves to be even more gilded than before. As the man declares, “Streets shi wa in charge.”

It’s Davido’s time… finally 

Noms: Best African Music Performance – “UNAVAILABLE,” Best Global Music Performance – “FEEL” & Best Global Music Album ‘Timeless.’ 

After over a decade in the music industry, Davido is finally getting his well-deserved recognition at the highest highs, with three big nominations. All conversations surrounding the Big 3 in Nigerian Pop have never left out Davido’s name and with good reason. He has remained a consistent force propelling the ropes of African music well beyond its borders with a series of monster singles, peerless collaborations and stage performances across the world. The moment is all the more special considering his nominations are for an album birth by a grief-induced hiatus. The 6-month absence, tagged by his absence from social media, marked the first time the singer drifted away from the limelight after becoming an unwavering persona in Afropop from his momentous introduction to the scene with “Dami Duro.” In a heartfelt tweet, post the announcement made in the earlier parts of November, Davido says “3 nominations at the Grammys!! Delay is not Denial!!,” perfectly encapsulating the feelings running through his fans across the world, who’d been watching the superstar since his debut.

Burna Boy Told Us

Noms: Best African Music Performance – “City Boys,” Best Melodic Rap Performance – “Sittin’ On Top Of The World,” Best Global Music Album – ‘I Told Them…’ & Best Global Music Performance – “Alone” 

“I know say one day e go better/I go carry Grammy,” Burna Boy sang on the eponymous intro to his fourth studio album, ‘African Giant’. That was nearly five years ago. Burna has won the Grammy he so dearly coveted at the time but he hasn’t let up, broadening the scope of his music even further and being just as productive as the initial 3-album run that brought him to international popularity. At this year’s Grammys, he’s nominated four times, a record-setting feat for Afropop.

In addition to nods in the two Global music categories and the new Best African Music Performance category, he’s nominated for Best Melodic Rap Performance, for “Sittin’ on Top of the World” with British-American rap artist 21 Savage. The latter nod is significant for its consideration in one of the  more mainstream categories, perhaps a fringe indicator that African artists can make music that will simply not be shunted to “Global” and “African” sides at future Grammys. Regardless of the outcome of his nods, Burna’s bar-setting, ambassadorial role will be made even more undeniable by his performance at the awards show itself, an upgrade from his telecast performance back in 2021.

Being on-stage at the Grammys might even be beyond what Burna Boy envisaged for himself when he simply hoped for one gramophone, but his unbendable self-belief, to the point of narcissism, is a huge part of what keeps on elevating his mythos.

‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’ Widens the Playing Field

Noms: Best Song Written For Visual Media – “Lift Me Up,” Best Compilation Soundtrack for Visual Media & Best Score Soundtrack For Visual Media – ‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever – Music From And Inpsired By’.

In creating the music for ‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’, returning director and composer, Ryan Coogler and Ludwig Goransson, visited Lagos to collaborate with Nigerian artists and musicians. On the final  soundtrack, the “music from and inspired by” compilation, eleven African artists are primary contributors, including five South Africans and six Nigerians. (To up the tally, you can add British-Ghanaian rap artist Stormzy and American-Nigerian rapper Tobe Nwigwe.) All of them are up for a Grammy, as the project is nominated in the Best Compilation Soundtrack for Visual Media category.

In addition to this group nod, Tems’ contribution to Rihanna’s “Lift Me Up” snags her another nomination in the Best Song Written for Visual Media category, while Burna Boy’s emotionally resonant “Alone” is up for Best Global Music Performance. For artists like Bloody Civilian, DBN Gogo, Kamo Mphela, and more, who are scoring their first nod, it’s a heart-warming achievement regardless of Sunday night’s outcome. A win, though, would widen the number of African artists who are Grammy winners—which is always welcome.

Make room for the IT Girls, Tyla and Ayra Starr. 

Noms: Best African Music Performance – Tyla for “Water” and Ayra Starr for “Rush.”

After decades of women being sidelined from major Afropop conversations even on home turf, well-deserved recognition can hardly go unnoticed. The consistent efforts of Sho Madjozi, Yemi Alade, Tiwa Savage, Angelique Kidjo, Fatoumata Diawara and others—who are just now enjoying a semblance of a level playing field as global stars—says a lot. Their relentless efforts and peerless stardom have ushered in acts like Ayra Starr and Tyla, who are now afforded shots at a lasting legacy so early on in their career.

As much as the nominations, regardless of a win or lack thereof cement these stars as the youngest female acts from their respective countries to gain global recognition, the best part lies in the message behind the tracks. Women across the globe are not new being policed and playing by the confines of performative respectability politics. So when “Water,” a song that brazenly expresses sexual desires and “Rush,” a melody stacked with cheeky yet assertive proclamations of generational greatness, earns a nomination, it is worth an acknowledgment. More than being recognised for being some of the most consistent hit makers of this generation, we’re more than excited to see women finally playing ball and on their own terms at that.


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Words by Dennis Ade Peter and Nwanneamaka Igwe

[Featured Image Credits/The NATIVE]