Burna Boy: African giant didn’t get a Grammy, and that’s alright

We need to normalize loss. We can seek to console our champion for not coming out victorious in this fight. But we also have to be able to look ourselves in the face and say “yes, we lost, that sucks, and it’s alright.”
Burna Boy: African giant didn’t get a Grammy, and that’s alright

We need to normalise losing. It sucks, but it is the reality of life. When you lose, things go out of focus. You feel the crushing pain in your gut, and the fog of disappointment that hangs over you will draw you into spaces of mental despair. It’s worse when you had a clear shot at the prize, and you’ve done enough to deserve it. Not getting it is a punch, a kick in the balls, a shattering of your deepest hopes, and a reminder of life’s fickle nature. Nothing is sure, and tomorrow can begin without you in it. 

Nigerians lost twice yesterday. We mourned with the world as news of Kobe Bryant’s death hit the internet. The basketball legend and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, both passed away in a helicopter crash on Sunday morning, throwing the world into sadness. Bryant was a real-life superhero; the kind we looked up to as kids, the kind we hope to become with the advancement of age and the actualisation of our lives. The kind that made us want to raise our game, and pursue excellence as the only path to success. Kobe was larger than life, and to be cut short at 41 doesn’t only feel like a loss. It’s a robbery. Life took what it shouldn’t have. We didn’t give Kobe up. We got jumped. 

Rest in peace, Kobe, Gianna and the seven others who also lost their lives. No family deserves to go through this pain. Death is final, without do-overs and a second chance at existence. Its arrival is absolute. One minute you’re here, the next takes you out. Nothing is assured. We were never set up to last forever.

Nigerians are mourning again for different reasons entirely. Burna Boy’s African Giant did not win the anticipated Grammy Awards. At the Staples Center in Los Angeles, California on January 26, Burna Boy carried the hopes of Nigeria and all who wished the country’s music well. A pop album—the most successful pop album since the commencement of the ‘Afrobeats to the world’ movement—had a fair chance at winning music’s most prestigious trophy. It gets grander when you realize that this was a continentally-accepted and supported project. African Giant wasn’t a simple musical work. It carried extra life. It repped the best of our music, from the heart of our creative hub in Lagos. It had the right major-label funding and sufficient structural support from Atlantic Records. The marketing campaign crossed continents, and the numbers carried the story of increased acceptance. 

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Nigeria hoped. Nigeria dreamed. And let’s be frank with each other, Nigeria lost. 

Something died in my chest when the announcement was made to give the Grammys’ Best World Album to Angelique Kidjo’s Celia. Why? What is this curveball? This U-turn? This misalignment of the universe to hand Nigeria a loss? Who rewrote this script to move us from the center of the story, to the brunt of its climax? Was it even our story to begin with? This isn’t the ending our movie needed. This was the wack director’s cut. We don’t want it. 

But the signs showed early. Kidjo, the Benininoise 5-time Grammy winner had made music for the Grammy’s just as she had done in previous outings. Her latest winning entry is a beautiful salsa album dedicated to Cuban singer Celia Cruz. Released on April 19, 2019, It is produced by David Donatien and featured Tony Allen, Meshell Ndegeocello and the Gangbe Brass Band. 

READ: Angelique Kidjo wins World Music Award at the 2020 Grammys

The Guardian has called the album “magnificent” and The Financial Times gave it 5 stars. The album includes songs spanning all of Celia’s Cruz career reinvented with an Afrobeat feel. Of the song ‘Quimbara’, New York Times critic Jon Pareles says: “Backed by Michelle Ndegeocello on bass, the Afrobeat pioneer Tony Allen on drums, Dominic James on guitars and the Gangbe Brass Band, Kidjo reconnects the salsa original to West Africa, layering the song with a tumbling six-beat rhythm, a brass-band undertow and a tangle of scurrying guitar lines while she belts with enough grit to rival Cruz herself.”

The Grammy employs a peer-to-peer voting system, comprised of technical music people. It’s political correctness for predominantly White people, who are the people who vote at the Grammy’s. Celia was engineered for them, with them in mind. That’s the type of album the Grammy celebrates. Not only because it was beautiful music, but it had all the traditional elements that the Grammy loves to celebrate. Is it a system that we’re comfortable with? No. But that’s immaterial. The award is a local show organized by locals for their local music. If they invite us into their spaces, do you think they wouldn’t be given to their bias and understanding of what ‘African’ music should sound like? 

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Burna Boy made crossover music, but Kidjo also made foreign crossover music. One embraced pop and asked us ‘wetin man go do.’ The other hugged salsa while screaming ‘Yemoja’ in ‘Baila Yamaya’. The Grammy made their choice. Was it a bad choice? No. But it does evoke that feeling because I’m Nigerian, and I deeply desired Burna Boy to bring the success home. But Kidjo’s album slaps too. She’s not my winner, but she is the winner. Congratulations to her.

The African Giant album did not win the Grammy, but that doesn’t define its legacy and the enormous work that it has done. Burna Boy showed us that it is possible. With each release, each marketing move, each performance in foreign spaces, he assured us all that this height can be attained by a pop artist. That hasn’t changed, neither will there be an attempt to rewrite fact. For those looking for a string of positivity to hang on to, that’s it. Grab it with both hands and console yourself. Burna Boy is a winner at life. Your winner, our winner.

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I’ve never been one to romanticize loss. It’s a reality of our shared existence as humans. People lose, people win. Sometimes the lines fall in your favour. Other times it doesn’t, and that’s alright. Loss is woven in the inevitability of our final departure of life. A loss is a loss, and no matter how much pep talks we give ourselves, and the consolation we conjure to make acceptance easier, it doesn’t change what has happened. Burna Boy has not won a Grammy. 

READ: Afro-Squad: The Africans nominated for 2020 Grammys

We need to normalize loss. We can seek to console our champion for not coming out victorious in this fight. But we also have to be able to look ourselves in the face and say “yes, we lost, that sucks, and it’s alright.” There’s a sense of feeling that this isn’t the end of this story. This is simply that part of the novel that the hero suffers a blip in form or performance. The resolution and climax are delayed, but we will hold out hope that it just around the corner, in the near future. ‘Afrobeats to the world’ isn’t done. We still have time to mount another campaign. But for now, we don’t have a Grammy yet, and that’s alright. 

The views expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not reflect News Central’s editorial stance.

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