May 19, 2024

If there was a defining moment at this year’s Kora awards it was when Coumba Gowlo raised her kora award above her shoulders and sang in her textured, high pitched, soaring and elegant voice – ‘Senegal, Senegal – oh Senegal.” A moving moment for nationalism, Pan-Africanism and beauty – and that surely is what the kora All African music awards ought to be about?

If there was a fabulous moment it was when South Africa’s fragile celebrity Brenda Fassie ran up onto stage dressed in pigtails and a grey and particularly revealing schoolgirls dress, grabbed her award, did the splits, blew a kiss to the favoured guests Nelson Mandela and Graca Machel, and sang the words – ‘I stay like this’. And that’s what Brenda is all about – that crazy streak, that incredible flare, attitude and individuality. And that’s what the Kora All African music awards really ought to be about – exposing our celebrities and their dynamite.

If there was a vulgar moment it was when South African R&B newcomer Ernie Smith was crowned ‘Most promising male artist on the continent.’ I have no doubt that Ernie Smith will sell and sell well all over the world – but that’s because he’s playing derivative and commercial R&B. He sounds more American than the ball clutching duo KC and Jojo – and he probably wants to as well. All over this continent we see beautiful bands and performers that just exude music, pride and integrity. All over this continent we hear the vivid strains of expressive and original music. And surely that is what the Kora awards ought to be about?

And if that wasn’t enough American R&B singer – Bebe Weiner – left with a kora too. Where in Africa is this guy from? ‘Detroit Michigan’, he answered. Oh the African Diaspora! Sure music may have originated from Africa and affected all the strains and strands in the rest of the world, but surely this big ego platinum pop is again diluting the musicality on this continent?

I hope I am not sounding too precious. I recognise Africa needs to establish itself in a global context, Africa needs to enjoy and benefit from international influences and I recognise the desire in sucking up to the dollar as much as possible – but I think we need to be doing it on our own terms. And our own terms are not by promoting the wannabee cock-pop, or even the cock-pop itself. Our own terms is our own voice – that soft and subtle sound that you wont catch on prime time television.

While I am here I might as well labour the point. American R&B is one thing at an All African music award ceremony, but sportsman is another altogether. Yannick Noah may be a little better looking then the South African rugby boys – but he doesn’t sing any better and Senegal’s racing car driver Demba Dia is merely an imitation of the Ferari’s he would like to drive. And there were other crazy decisions. Can you see any comparison between Werrason and Miriam Makeba? Of course not – there are none except the Kora has them up against each other for best arrangement? You could never compare the musicality in Pata Pata to the mindless bum-groove Congolese zouk. But, you could compare Pata Pata to some of the original music on this continent. And you could compare Pata Pata to the incredible musicality of Rokia Traore. These are our musicians.

“I don’t think we have made any incredible progress from the last edition. I think there will be incredible changes next year. You will see much more of the continent, much more categories. This year is largely about pop music and that is not what Africa is all about,” said chairman of the judging committee Wally Badarou.

The Kora is bouncing rather uncertainly between these two camps – the big balls and budget pop music and the real and beautiful music. There are a variety of reasons for this, financial insecurity, the fear of collaboration, fearfully close relations with big labels and the definite xenophobia of the South African recording industry. And these may never change, however the kora has shown some direction. And that is exciting.

Last year the event was politicised and boring – this year the event was a hoot – it was entertaining, organised, invigorating and it did have those momentary flashes of beauty. And that is where the longevity of this event lies.

Please send us all your opinions and any suggestions for next year.

Read An Interview with St Michael Zulu, Zambia’s first nominee and winner. He was voted by audience vote best African artist for 2001.

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