On African Artists and ‪#BET‬ Awards

On ‪#‎BET‬ Awards Treatment of Their African/International Winners

Here is an article that I will like to share written by Sam Mobit (DJ Chick). It makes sense and I hope it serves as food for thought.

“The BET awards were established in 2001 by the Black Entertainment Television (BET) to celebrate African Americans and other minorities in music, acting, sports, as well as other fields of entertainment. The awards are presented annually and are broadcast live. The BET awards has several components: preliminary awards, the main ceremony, and the post award show. The preliminary portion of the show is not televised and does not take place on the main stage such as the awards given during the main ceremony. Among the preliminary awards is the “Best International Act” award. This award is given to the international artist who has demonstrated outstanding achievements through their music. Although this element of the BET awards is fairly new, it does not receive any coverage or publicity to confirm its existence. I can assure you that a majority of the viewers (American or non-American) are unaware of the international Segment. As a result, I ask myself why do these African artists keep coming back to get disrespected year after year? These artists must travel from their respective countries in Africa and come out of pocket for their accommodations in order to receive an award from a public who doesn’t even know they exist or care about their music. It seems as though the artists in this ” Best International Act” segment are just pawns to fulfill a diversity clause or serve as BET’s attempt at buffering their empire through the use of weak international promotion.

I think it is great that BET is recognizing these African artists and their work, but my main issue is the way that they are treated. It is as if the African artists are treated as second class. They do not receive their awards on prime time television like the American artists, and their segment of the award show is either pre-recorded or held in a separate backroom location. How rude is it to invite someone to an event but only allow them to be present for the preliminary events but not the main ceremony. Artists like Davido, Ice Prince, Fally Ipupa, Sarkodie, Diamond Platnumz, Toofan, Mafikizolo,and others have either won or have been nominated for this “Best International Act” award. Winners, such as Davido (2014) were handed their award at a pre-event taping way before the main ceremony took place.

BET also doesn’t allow these artists to perform during the main ceremony or provide them with a platform to introduce their music and culture to the American public. Contrastingly, there are moments in the main ceremony where new or unknown American artists are granted the opportunity to perform and introduce themselves. These small segments take place throughout the show, either in between performances or leading into commercials. Why cant these African artists be granted the same spotlight? If they are recognized enough to receive an award, then they should also be given the opportunity to share their work like the American artists. Furthermore, these new American artists are on the “come-up” in the U.S, whereas the nominated African artists are already established and have fans all over the world.

It is sad that Africans are receiving this kind of treatment from African Americans. Ironically, when African American artists come to perform in Africa they are well received and treated as kings and queens. This same treatment should be reciprocated to the African artists when they come to perform or attend an event in the U.S. Some of the blame should be put on the African artists themselves because they allow themselves to be treated like this. These artists take pictures at the BET events and post them on Facebook and other social media networks as if their presence was valuable. The posting of these pictures is just a way of deceiving themselves into believing their attendance held some importance, when in reality they are unnoticed by the American public. I am trying to understand why an artist would continue to attend an event in which they are seen as insignificant. I wonder if it has anything to do with the “African inferiority complex”. This complex leads Africans to believe that because something is from or provided by the U.S/Western world that it is superior. Again the irony in the situation is that the superior value these Africans provide Americans/Westerners with is not reciprocated. The BET “Best International Act” award has no significance in the African artists music careers nor does it provide them with a true platform to share their music in the US. It angers me that these artists continue to come back as if the BET approval is needed in order to legitimize their success.

I do not believe that African artists need to seek recognition or fame within a demographic that doesn’t understand, or is ignorant to their music and culture. These artists’ main focus should be on remaining true to their art and composing great music that can stand the test of time. There have been a plethora of accomplished African pioneers in the music industry that have been internationally successful without BET (or the equivalent of BET in their era). Some of these artists include: Fela Kuti, Youssou N’dour, Manu Dibango, Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masakella, Salif Keita, Angelique Kidjo, Oliver Nthukunzi, Cesaria Evora, Alpha, Blondy, Lucky Dube, Brenda Fassie, King Sunny Ade, Sonny Okosun, Madjeck Fashek, 2Face, Franco, Tabu Ley, Mbila Bel, Papa Wemba, Koffi Olomide, Omar Pene, Baba Maal, Oumou Sangare, Mohamed Mahmoud, Aster Aweke, Teddy Afro, Eboa Lottin, Sam Fan Thomas, Richard Bona, Henry Dikongue, Petit Pays, Meiway, Gadji Celi, Ofori Amponsah, Kojo Antwi, Nana Acheampong, Daddy Lumba, and many more.

Fela Kuti is one of the most accomplished African artists of all time. He was a Nigerian multi-instrumentalist, musician, composer, and pioneer of the Afrobeat music genre. Fela is the only African artist, and one of the few artists in the world, for which a Broadway musical was created to pay homage to his influence on pop culture. His Broadway show went on a worldwide tour and was sold out in every single city. Fela sang exclusively in pidgin or broken English. Although Fela traveled around the world, his permanent address was his shrine in Lagos, Nigeria. Fela did not seek approval or recognition from an organization to legitimize his work. Another example of an accomplished African artist is Youssou N’dour. Youssou N’dour is a Senegalese singer, percussionist, songwriter, businessman, and politician. He is one Africa’s most successful and arguably richest artists. He still lives in his homeland and sings in his mother tongue, Wolof, as well as English and French. N’dour helped develop a style of popular Senegalese music known as Mbalax. He is also the subject of award-winning films which were released around the world. Youssou N’dour is one of the few African artists that has sold out international shows year after year. Fela and N’dour never had to assimilate to the Western world or seek approval in order to be loved worldwide. These two artists are perfect examples of achieving success on a grand scale through hard work, remaining true to themselves, and remaining true to their art. Once again Fela and N’dour did not seek help from the likes of BET in order to become accomplished on and off the African continent.

I am curious and also angered by whoever is managing these African artists that come to the BET awards. How could one allow their artist to be treated as second class or not fit for American prime-time television? These artists need someone right here in the U.S that understands the music business in order to guide and protect these artists, as well as preserve the African pride. I believe that African artists should boycott the BET awards until they are treated with the respect they deserve.”

Dj Chick (Twitter Handle @DJChicandFrendz )

www.djchickandfriends.com

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Love, Peace and Beautiful Afro Music,

Tosinger

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2 thoughts on “On African Artists and ‪#BET‬ Awards”

  1. Thanks for sharing Tosinger.
    I need to be brief with my words in order to preserve the incisiveness of the message and not get lost in a myriad of other justifiable tributaries that run into the same river.
    I have some insight into ‘BET Awards’ International Act’ as I launched BET in the UK in 2007 and part of our aspirations at launch was to ‘localise’ BET outside North America to represent a ‘wider’ African Diaspora both regional in content and programming. In short; to make relevant for a growing UK Black population honed and anchored mostly by African-Caribbean and West African communities and a notable growing new demographic of peoples from mixed parentage. That’s important, will revisit at another time. The annual BET Awards, as was my brief, to increase the noise around the biggest televisual event for African-Americans and soon our own audit in London showed a great consumption appetite among wider and mainstream viewers not just its intuitive hinterland of Black viewers. Given the above raison d’etre there was an exponential and scalable requirement to regionalise as best portions of UK output; for example, local Black London accents when anchoring or highlighting programming and my favourite; “it’s my thing”; fifteen seconds to shine on someone you know who talks at camera about the stuff they do that make a real difference, finishing off with the signature, BET…it’s my thing. The concept was great but suffered from lack of production budget to exorcise a vision beyond a promotional fad. Similarly, the idea of widening the BET Awards to incorporate “International Act” is good and noteworthy but fatally short on meaningful delivery. According to Sam Mobit’s critique which I agree with to a point is the aspiration for “Best International Act both for African and British Winners” is a ‘tradesman’s entrance’ as opposed to a few seconds on stage on live US TV; this has always and will continue to be vexed and awkward and joins a long line of African content that has the extra challenge to juxtapose and reshape for African- American TV whilst retain its cultural and editorial identity. The same outrage on social media last year about the lack of respect for Nigerian artists at the BET Awards is matched by a similar outpouring this year. So the conclusion might be a realism that, at best, the ‘Best International Act’ is a promotional tool to win more eyeballs when the show is relayed a couple days later in Europe and Africa. The concept and storytelling for ‘Best International Act’ does not sit at the heart or anywhere near where it should be by BET Executives’ planning months or years ahead of the annual BET Awards in June. So, the question now becomes what is the Nigerian or Black British music industry doing about this, as time is short? If you were to ask the executives at BET why are international acts” given such a derisory profile during the Live telecasted BET Awards, they would probably argue and in some cases be correct by advising they are in the television ratings business and that business does well with Lil Wayne, Jay Z, Beyoncé, Drake and the other small but very tired pool of US entertainers’ and, they might be further correct in telling of the importance of “holding” the valuable US TV audience whilst risky in broadcasting in real time an upstart from Lagos or Manchester with a new take on African American music. But that answer doesn’t cover it and, moreover, does not fully deal with the matter in a satisfactory way. I still occasionally receive emails and posts from people asking “what’s going on at BET?”. The answer is I don’t know or care as my life both in spiritually and actuality doesn’t do much looking back. If I did care enough, I would pose the question to Nigerians, British Black music and any other that they have missed the real point (again and again) the real point walks hand in hand with the truism that ‘necessity is the mother of invention’ and by moving beyond vexation or downright anger you would see that the script needs to change, and would propose that the resources open and available to some Nigerian’s, a media company might arrange its own version of the BET Awards in Lagos or Nairobi with identical production sentiments’ as a 3 hour music celebration with the width and depth of African music then sell that back to the Americans’ as peak viewing and, whilst I accept the allure of some African and British artists to access the worlds’ largest consumer and music in the West my journey and life experience has forced me to take another look , and when we see scores of Africans’ on a daily basis charging to the Spanish borders from Morocco on a distortion that “a better life awaits them anywhere, frankly, apart from Africa” there is something in the dichotomy of this matter which screams at me and hopefully to you too; do thyself and soon enough the West will come (again) and ask permission to “borrow” and drink from our deepest reservoir which is music and ownership of its continual innovation of…but this time on Africa’s terms’.

    1. Thanks for your very insightful response Mr Yearwood. The solution is very well embedded in your last train of thought. I can only hope that this can be taken on by the people of our beloved continent.

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