Five takeaways from the 15th Headies Awards

The good, the controversial and the ugly

In the early hours of Monday morning, the Headies made an awaited return for a 15th edition. As the premier awards event in Nigerian music, the announcement of a new instalment of the Headies was greeted by a mix of intrigue and cynicism. Intrigue for what the nominees list would look like and growing cynicism every year at the production quality of the ceremony. This year’s wasn’t any different, especially on the latter front.

A few months ago, when the Headies announced the temporary relocation of its main event to the U.S, concerns immediately started flying around. Why would our music and culture, although now the source of global acclaim, see one of its more grounded events uprooted from its immediate environment? Headies founder and revered Nigerian music and media executive, Ayo Animashaun explained that the move to Atlanta’s Cobb Energy Theatre was mainly for production reasons, to help deliver the finest awards ceremony experience to a Nigerian and African audience disillusioned by the consistently subpar nights we’ve been privy to over the last few years.

On many accounts, many would say that the Headies didn’t deliver a great ceremony. There were barely any positive highlights; a lot of Nigerian music’s biggest stars were visibly absent, and the viewing experience remained aesthetically unappealing. Perhaps, regardless of the presentation, the most immediate part of the whole thing to appraise is the music, which is the focal point of everything after all. In the last few years, the Headies has expanded its purview beyond the trappings of its mainstream-centred view. It’s not enough to save the run of underwhelming ceremonies, but that widened view is the most refreshing part of the awards show these days.


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Winners have emerged from the diverse nominees list. There were the obvious choices like Wizkid winning Album and Song of the year for ‘Made In Lagos’ and “Essence”, respectively; there were innocuous but slightly head-scratching decisions like Burna Boy winning Best Male Act and Best African Act despite being visibly snubbed across other categories; and there were, as expected, controversial wins like Olamide winning Best Rap Album for the pop-oriented ‘Carpe Diem’ and BNXN (fka Buju) winning the highly coveted Next Rated award.

Over the next few days, opinions about who should and shouldn’t have won what will fly across social media timelines. For us at The NATIVE, here are our notable takeaways from the award wins at the Headies.

The Leader(s) of the New School

The Next Rated category is easily one of the most anticipated highlights at The Headies. Since the category was created in 2006, artists such as Wande Coal, Wizkid, Davido, Mayorkun, Rema and more have won the awards. The award has been dedicated to awarding the most promising fast rising act in the year under review, with a new car added to the winner’s incentive alongside the Headie plaque.

Earlier in the year when The Headies first made its announcement, they announced that the winner of the 2022 Next Rated category will be walking away with a brand new 2022 Bentley. This year’s nominees’ list was arguably the most competitive in the category’s history, as every artist in the category had a very strong year in the year under review. The artists in the category included Ayra Starr, Ruger, BNXN fka Buju, Zinoleesky and Lojay.

After a lot of debate and speculation, BNXN walked away with the award for the Next Rated artist of the year and that was a well-deserved win considering the year in review. This particular category was certainly a very difficult pick and I strongly believe that everyone nominated in this category should have been given a special recognition award. Although there can only be one winner, this goes to show that Nigerian Afropop has improved immensely. For the first time since 2013 when Sean Tizzle, Burna Boy, Dammy Krane, Seyi Shay and Phyno were all in competition against each other for The Next Rated award, this has been the most competitive year so far.

Wonu Osikoya


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Street-hop is not limited to Nigeria’s South-west

The streets form a crucial piece of Nigerian music. For the most part, they make up popular culture, inventing the slang and lingo behind the most communal songs we’ve ever heard. Yesterday, with the choice of Best Street Hop single going to Goya Menor and Nektunez’s “Ameno”, we saw a welcome change from the overt centralisation of Lagos in times past.

While the south western state and immediate region occupies a monolithic space in Nigerian culture, by no means should that be definitive. In recent years we have seen Southern artists from hubs like Port Harcourt and Benin City break into the mainstream, and bring their own culture with them. “Ameno” is very Benin in identity, codifying a number of local expressions and beautifully using the casket-bearing tone widely popular in nightclubs. A record like that no doubt peels into an entire demography of young people, and is rooted in a moment in time. While Rexxie and Mohbad’s “KPK” is a great shout, there’s a lot more going on for “Ameno”, especially considering its global acclaim (once the most Shazamed song in the world) and how that cemented a viable pathway for Nigerian Street Hop to blend with international conventions.

Emmanuel Esomnofu

What really is Alternative music?

In the past, alternative was a dog whistle for what many Nigerians deem “good” music—you know, the type that doesn’t sound…let me say, typical. Being a highly nebulous category, it’s difficult to explain what makes a song or an album classify as alternative, and if The Cavemen.’s winning last year’s Best alternative Album for the neo-highlife cult classic ‘Roots’ proved confusing, I don’t know how to explain Highlife-pop stalwart Flavour winning Best Alternative Song for his hit single, “Doings”.

Similar to the rest of the world, it’s obvious that the organisers of the Headies are increasingly viewing Nigerian music through the Afrobeats prism, othering almost everything that doesn’t neatly fit within the narrative of an imported nominal description. This year’s alternative song nominee list lumps together an Afrobeat cut, a slow boiling Afro-soul cut, and three highlife-indented songs. As much as proximity to what dominates the mainstream is the criteria here, there’s a clear dissonance, especially when you factor in that these genres are foundational to Nigerian pop.

Of the nominees, Flavour’s “Doings” is the closest thing to pop. In fact, it’s a Nigerian pop song with a distinctly Eastern appeal, and that it doesn’t fit perfectly within the Lagos to London Afrobeats sonic template shouldn’t make it less so. Its win here feels watered down within a prejudicial framework; maybe it could have made a better choice in something like a Best Folk Song category. There’s an increasing difficulty in classifying music, and times like this reiterate the question of what alternative music is?

Dennis Ade Peter


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Olamide is a Nigerian rap great but ‘Carpe Diem’ isn’t the Best Rap Album

Olamide just snagged his third Best Rap Album win at the Headies, putting him on par with fellow Nigerian rap great M.I Abaga as the rap artist with the most wins in the category. Olamide’s first was at the 2013 Headies for his second studio album ‘YBNL’ and the second was at the 2014 Headies for his third studio album ‘Baddest Guy Ever Liveth.’ While the winning project, ‘Carpe Diem’, is a fantastic album that reinvigorated Olamide’s discography, it is a project that finds the artist, for the most part, plying the pop route.

Olamide’s wins in the previous years were merited, in my opinion. On those albums, he rapped to his heart’s desire, even on playful, party cuts. On ‘Carpe Diem,’ rap isn’t at the centre but stands on the side. Other nominees such as A-Q’s ‘GOLDEN’, LADIPOE’s ‘Providence’ and Show Dem Camp’s ‘Clone Wars Vol. 5 – The Algorhythm’ fit the bill most perfectly; I’m not saying that traditional Rap is the only acceptable Rap style, what I mean instead is that a Rap album category should comprise of albums that feature the genre’s title in copious measure. It’s telling that the younger generation of Nigerian rap is largely ignored in this year’s category, and Idowest is the only other indigenous rap proponent asides Olamide.

In the larger conversation about rap music not progressing in Nigeria, the Headies organisers shoot themselves in the foot as it again reinforces the perception that the artists pushing the genre in the country are rare. Categories for rap music should be left for artists and projects that are, on multiple listens, undoubtedly devotees of the genre.

Uzoma Ihejirika


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What types of legends are we even uplifting?

This year, the Headies introduced a new sub-category: the Lifetime Achievement Award (Talent), splitting up its former Special Recognition awards into two sub-categories that allows for recognition for both talent and an individual’s outstanding impact on the entertainment industry. In the past, this award has been bestowed on music executives and artists who have made a name for themselves in the Nigerian music industry and made valuable contributions to the sound and scene over a considerable time period.

Previous winners have included Paulo Okoye, longtime music exec and CEO of One Africa Music Fest, Afrobeat Maestro Femi Kuti and Kaffy, revered dancer and former Guiness World record holder. However, this year, the award went to D’banj who snagged the title of Lifetime Achievement Award (Talent) to mixed reviews from Nigerian audiences who were watching the ceremony both locally and internationally. D’banj is obviously talented—there’s no denying this fact, the Nigerian singer has endlessly proved his mettle by solidifying his place in Afropop’s canon through decades of radio-ready hits and party-starting jams. His music is reliably in rotation at functions and has served as the soundtrack for many Africans on the continent.

However, his contributions to Nigerian music has been marred by his recent allegations of sexual assault and coercion. In June 2020, a young woman named Seyitan Babatayo detailed her ordeal at the hands of musician, D’banj in a now-viral thread on social media. In her thread, Seyitan alleged that D’banj had sexually assaulted her after he gained entry into her hotel room through the hotel staff. While the outcome of the case was never publicised, Seyitan did involve the legal expertise of Stand To End Rape (STER), a non-profit organisation dedicated to helping women and children survivors in Nigeria, and sought redress to the harm caused to her. To then bestow an alleged assaulter with an award as prestigious as the Lifetime Achievement Award, is deeply disturbing and does little to assuage viewers doubts about the Headies being out of touch.

In saner climes, news of sexual assault or alleged misconduct would be enough to disqualify an artist or exec from receiving or being nominated for any awards but in Nigeria, bad behaviour is always rewarded. It almost seems like D’banj is being welcomed with open arms in the Nigerian music industry when there are very serious allegations levied against him, reinforcing the notion that abusers are pardoned and reintegrated into society more than the survivors they have left to bear the brunt of their harm. Awarding abusers like D’banj with awards such as the Lifetime Achievement Award sends the wrong message to survivors, viewers and even other abusers, as we see more power being placed in the hands of those who wish to abuse it.

For me, this award should have gone to someone like Sound Sultan, Nigerian music’s everyman who recently passed away and should have been posthumously recognised by his peers and colleagues. Even worse, The Headies didn’t deem it fit to even pay tribute to Sound Sultan, a bonafide Nigerian music legend. There’s always been a fear that Nigerian music going global would help in the rewriting and, possibly, erasure of the history attached to. At a time when the Headies have decided to fully join in the exporting craze, the special acknowledgement of a suspected assaulter and the overlooking of a fallen hero doesn’t inspire much confidence they will do right by Nigerian music if the American affair keeps going on.

Tami Makinde