Nseobong Okon-Ekong and Vanessa Obioha
were part of the teeming crowd that witnessed a gathering of vibrant and colourful artistes from 42 African countries in Lagos at the 2016 edition of the All Africa Music Awards, AFRIMA

Since the President/Executive Producer of the All Africa Music Awards, AFRIMA, Mike Dada, is a Nigerian, it stands to good reason that Nigeria was given the first privilege to host the event for the statutory number of three years, but this was not to be taken for granted as Nigeria still had to indicate and bid for hosting right like other countries. To many watchers, AFRIMA stands on the tripod of Dada and his co-producer/ regional director, East Africa, Mike Strano, who is based in Kenya. The third leg of the tripod is the South African, Matlou Tsotsetsi, who has the designation of Sponsorship and Communication Director. While Dada may be conceded the privilege of first among equals, from the first edition in 2014, it was clear that these three persons had commanding and towering influence in executing the awards.

Nigeria’s three-year tenure of hosting AFRIMA ended this year. Hopefully, another country will win the bid to host it, that is, if Nigeria fails to bid again or loses the bid. However, this year, Lagos State took up the role of the host city for the award which previously struggled with issues of sponsorship in the last two editions, having failed to garner support from corporate Nigeria in the expected huge doses. The coming of Lagos into AFRIMA was a welcome relief to the organisers which has had a complementary effect on the state, as well. Taking place at a time Lagos announced a year-long series of activities to mark the 50th anniversary of the creation of the state, AFRIMA offered a window to market the potentials of the state to visiting African countries. Previously, the African Union had targeted four Nigerian cities as potential host for the continental awards ceremony. These cities were: Calabar (Cross River State), Lagos (Lagos State), Port Harcourt (Rivers State) and Uyo (Akwa Ibom State).

Governor Akinwumi Ambode along with his wife, Abimbola, the state’s Deputy Governor, Mrs. Oluranti Adebule, and a team of commissioners and other functionaries attended the awards at the Eko Hotel and Suites. A good number of the over 5,000 guests and 2100 international delegates from 42 African countries at the third, AFRIMA which was broadcast live to countries around the world had to stand as all seats were occupied.

eyoThe event was witnessed by an array of officials of the African Union and African music superstars; AFRIMA past winners; 2016 nominees; members of the diplomatic corps, stakeholders in the creative/ entertainment industry in Africa and media executives. Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbanjo, was represented by Senator Babafemi Ojodu.
Ambode reiterated Lagos State’s vision of making the city the undeniable entertainment capital of Africa, as well as being the hub of creative expressions in the continent. This, he opined, will open up the economy of the state for more foreign and local investors.

The award has had a major breakthrough in the continent with its unique concept of culture and music. Interestingly, the music fare is not just Nigerian, but music from different parts of the continent. The acceptance of these different kinds of music by Nigerians is a task that AFRIMA needs to apply more serious effort on. Going by the number of prominent Nigerian artistes who have turned their back on the AFRIMA stage even when they win big at the awards, it is arguable, to say, the least that Nigerians have fully accepted AFRIMA. There is no doubt, however, that, there has been a steady climb of the event which landed its first controversy stemming from a supposedly shared name. Till date, not a few still confuse the All Africa Music Awards, AFRIMA with the African Muzik Magazine Awards (AFRIMMA).

Like the Biblical admonition that encourages the good and the bad to grow simultaneously until it is time to separate the wheat from the chaff, AFRIMA has established an unassailable reputation for being able to work in partnership with the African Union, AU from inception till date. Through the AU, it is gaining increasing support from governments of the various countries. The support of the Lagos State government at the 2016 awards was a stamp of approval showing that AFRIMA has the cooperation of all levels of official organs of government.

The same can not be said of AFRIMMA. Known for its eclectic grandeur and music display, the acceptance by Nigerians is slowly taking shape as it becomes one of the leading events to look forward on continental the culture and entertainment calendar. Acceptance of AFRIMA may be said to be nearing the pass mark, even in Nigeria. Unfortunately, if the AU does not give the nod to Nigeria for another three-year period of hosting, the gains of entrenching knowledge of music and musicians from other African countries to Nigerians may suffer a setback again. Turnout at the 2015 AFRIMA was magnanimous, as well as the accompanying glitz and grandeur that showcased a typical a Nigerian setting.
But whether the Nigerian audience grasped the importance of the award is a question for another day.

AFRIMA is apparently an eye opener on the rich, diverse and versatile sounds of music from Africa. In fact, other African countries appear to place more value on the awards than Nigerians. For many African artistes, getting Nigerians to appreciate their music and show love to them as they mount the stage to receive their awards was an uphill task. It was like forcing a horse to drink water. Most members of the audience wore a vacuous look each time an award went to a non-Nigerian or an artiste from another African country took to the stage to entertain. These cold reception, and sometimes forced or mocking enthusiasm was a form of discouragement to these artistes.

Nevertheless, like the superstar from Tanzania, Diamond Platnumz, put it, language is no barrier in music. This statement was true in the case of some artistes who needed little persuasion to bring the audience to their feet. The few good examples were the likes of Uganda’s Eddy Kenzo, South Africa’s Soweto Gospel Choir and Benin Republic’s Zainab. Their performances were characterised by dramatic stunts and dance moves.

The 2016 AFRIMA showed that the organisers may well be on their way to scoring good marks with the crusade of making African music global. In partnership with the African Union Commission, AFRIMA’s goal from day one was to unite the continent through music and culture by rewarding creative talents that have immensely contributed to the growth and development of the continent.
Perhaps, this was what influenced the Lagos state government to support this year’s event. From security to logistics, Governor Akinwunmi Ambode ensured that as the hosting city of the prestigious award, Lagos wore its badge with pride and honour.

Therefore the organisers raised the ante in this year’s edition. With few tweaks here and there, they were able to trend on social media a few days to event, particularly when the participating artistes and countries arrived Lagos and went on a tour of heritage sites in the city and were hosted to a state banquet by Governor Ambode. Weeks before the event, the buzz was visible with in-your-face publicity on BRT buses, lamp posts and billboards. All of these helped to leave a memorable impression on the audience. Since its inception three years ago, 2016 could be adjudged the best year for the organisers. They turned all the stones and clearly brought out all their trump cards. From the selection of hosts to the invited African guests, they made the entertainment industry proud.

Kicking off with its thematic open concert ‘AFRIMA Village’ on Friday which was preceded by a roundtable summit for entertainment stakeholders, Lagosians partied like at no other time at the Eko Atlantic City with headline acts like Femi Kuti, Nneka and others. The sprawling open grounds was filled with happy feet and joyous voices who had come to have the time of their life. They screamed, danced, hugged, and virtually let go of their inhibitions. This was indeed a Lagos party. Totally turned up.

For the nominees from other parts of the continent, they were jaw dropped when the team took them on a tour of Lagos city. If they were superstars in their home countries, AFRIMA made them feel like megastars with the degree of hospitality on display. They were driven around town in customised buses followed by a convoy of security officials as they visited heritage sites like Freedom Park on Lagos Island, and ended up at the State House where Governor Ambode and his team gave them a grand reception.

Albeit, they couldn’t be carried away by the lofty gifts, for some of them, their mind was on the awards the following day. Would they win or not?
In an attempt to make a bold statement in the entertainment industry, AFRIMA employed every deployable tactic for its main event, starting with the red carpet where distinctly dressed ushers conveyed the dress sense from particular regions of Africa. The red carpet must go down as one of the largest red carpet zones in entertainment history. It covered a great expanse of the hotel’s drive-in. Cameras were strategically positioned from all angles even from the rooftop, to capture guests in colourful and shocking attires as they strut the carpet, showcasing the rich culture of Africa. Billed to kick off at 4.30 pm, guests hardly kept to time. However, the organisers had a back-up plan up their sleeves with sensational entertainment provided as the all white-clad iconic Eyo masquerades of Lagos took to the red carpet to display some stunts. They would later be joined by the troupe from the Lagos State Council for Arts and Culture who sang and danced their heart out.

Televised live to over 80 countries, the awards didn’t kick off at the scheduled time of 7.30 pm, but almost an hour and a half later.

The first few minutes of the show were like a blur, a bit confusing. People were still trying to get into the hall. Those inside were looking for seats. The reserved space for the different categories of tickets were all mixed up. People stood and craned their neck to see the stage as everywhere was swarmed with heads. The large screens on stage didn’t didn’t serve the purpose until the ceremony was underway.

Similar confusion was also noticeable at the guest registration point where they were required to exchange invitation cards for the entry wrist band. Not a few guests went home at this point when they waited for close to one hour for tags that were not forthcoming. When the tags finally came, there was a mad rush to get them. As a major part of the red carpet area was unlit, unscrupulous elements took advantage to steal. Thus, there were a few reported cases of missing telephones, trinkets and cash.

In what has beome its established tradition, the show kicked off with a recital. But the timing of Sage Hanson’s recital was very miscalculated. His message was lost on the crowd, perhaps, because most of the guests were yet to settle down and some were already restive from the energy draining effort to access the venue, or maybe he lacked the dramatic flair with which Jimi Solanke captivated his audience last year.

Nonetheless, normalcy and entertainment returned by the time the Soweto Gospel Choir came on stage followed by a mob of dancers. Dressed in different attires, the group of happy feet did all manner of stunts from flying to somersaulting that left the audience in awe.
The three hosts, South African, Bonang Matheba; Moroccan, Ahmed Soultan and Congo’s Ika Jong, graced the stage next. While Matheba rode on her celebrity status, it was Ahmed Soultan who delighted the crowd more with his dramatic antics. Jong in her hoarse voice and French-speaking tongue seemed to confuse the audience.

The awards proper was interspersed with musical performance. The first winner of the night was Angola’s Bruna Tatiana who was unknown to the crowd. She won in the category of Best Female Artiste in Central Africa. She made a slip by tahnking the organisers ‘for this nomination’. Perhaps she was too surprised to realise she had been elevated from a nominee to a winner!
Another gaffe was recorded when Zimbabwean actress,Vimbai Mutinhiri who paired with Olisa Adibua to present an award walked off the stage chatting the slogan ‘Eko O Ni Baje’ made popular by former Governor of Lagos State, Babatunde Fashola. To be sure, Governor Ambode came to power with his own slogan, ‘Itesiwaju Eko Lo Je wa Logun’. Vimbai may not be alone in this error, Ambode’s communication team need to do more to drum home his slogan and its importance to residents of Lagos and beyond.

As the awards progressed, quite a few people began to question the veracity of the emerging winners in the different categories. For instance, many couldn’t imagine how VVIP won the award for the Best African Group in a category that had notable names like Mafikizolo, MI Casa, Toofan and Sauti Sol. Although, the Ghanaian group tried to win the audience with their past famous songs, they had little to show in their musical career in recent times apart from their new release ‘DogoYaro’ ft Samini which also won Video of the Year. What exactly set VVIP apart from other contenders as the Best African Group? Is it their longevity or the kind of music?

What about the category of the Songwriter of the Year? What yardstick did the judges use to arrive at Ugandan Navio’s ‘Njogereza’ as winner of this category? The award could hardly be justified for a song that kept repeating one word, ‘Njogereza’
The award that clearly caused an uproar in the hall was when Aramide was picked as the winner of Best Female Artiste in West Africa over Seyi Shay, Yemi Alade, Tiwa Savage and other great talents.

Notwithstanding, there were categories that made the Nigerian audience very jubilant like when Falz was announced the winner of the ‘Revelation of the Year’ and Phyno Ft Olamide clinched the Fans Favourite of the Year for his song ‘Fada Fada’.

Tecno fans were disappointed as the young star failed to clinch any award. Wizkid on the other hand was the man of the year as he was revealed as the Artiste of the Year, on the same night that he was awarded two awards in the MTV European Music Awards. Similar to what happened at the inaugural AFRIMA, this year, there was no mention of the Entertainment Writer of the Year category.

The adjudged winners were not the only controversy at the gathering. Spurred by Femi Aderibigbe, better known as Kwame who owns the 24-hour music television channel, Nigezie, the raging argument on who serves the best jollof rice between Ghana and Nigeria resurfaced again. The audience argued excitedly and expectedly, Nigeria won the case by a large margin. However, other presenters tried to keep the controversy trending, particularly when Ali Baba came on stage dressed like a Kofi. The joke was not lost on the audience, particularly with Ali Baba’s verdict. “Nigeria, he said, owns jollof rice. According to him, Ghana, at best has something that can be called coloured rice.” Everyone roared in laughter.

Uganda’s Eddy Kenzo was the showman of the night. Donning a crisp black suit with glittering studs in his ears, he was mostly seen on camera, standing and cheering his fellow colleagues.
By the time he came on stage, he turned on his charm to get the audience on their feet as he performed was lost. By the time Niniola joined him to perform their hit track ‘Mbilo Mbilo’ (remix) which fetched them the Best African Collaboration award, the audience finally warmed up to him. He was followed by Beninoise Zainab who dazzled the audience with her charisma.

The best performance of the night was probably the Soweto Gospel Choir and Darey. Before Darey came on stage, the South African chorale intrigued the audience with a performance of the Miriam Makeba’s ‘Pata Pata’. Their colourful performance was enhanced by their attires and their stagemanship.

Darey would later join them to give a stellar performance of ‘Pray for Me’ with choreographers that evoked a worship ambience. His rendition of ‘I Go Make Am’ brought the audience to their feet, particularly when he asked the Soweto choir to dance the song their way before teaching them how to dance in ‘shoki’ and ‘etighi’ but then, they already knew the dance.

The ‘Jagaban’ crooner YCee also entertained the audience. However the artistes that got the loudest cheer were Falz, Phyno. Director General of the Nigeria Tourism Development Corporation, NTDC, Sally Mbanefo, danced happily to his performance of ‘Fada Fada’. More stellar performance came from Patoranking and P-Square who closed the event.

Perhaps, AFRIMA’s trump card was their special recognition awards. Paying tribute to Papa Wemba who died earlier in the year, the director of Social Affairs of African Union. Ambassador Maiyegun, presented the award to the widow and daughter of Wemba. Choked with emotions, the widow couldn’t utter a word but bowed her head. The daughter on the other hand appreciated the organisers and promised to honour her father’s memory all the time. Diamond Platnumz would later perform a song he did with Papa Wemba.

King Sunny Ade was the next to be honoured with the award. The king of Juju, who has been celebrating his 70th, danced on the stage with Adewale Ayuba. He left after receiving his award, but later returned to dance more when Brymo and Aramide performed some of his hit tracks. While Brymo clearly carried the song and added his own swag to its delivery, Aramide struggled to catch her breath. It was a difficult song for her to deliver

Cameroonian mega star, Manu Di Bango, was the last man on the list. The 83 year-old man expressed gratitude to the organisers and to show his virility, he played his lovely saxophone as he sang ‘Aye Africa’. The AFRIMA award apparently a lot to Dibango who disclosed that it was his first award of appreciation for his craft in Africa.

This year’s edition of the Africa International Film Festival, AFRIFF opens today with official formalities at the IMAX Cinema in Lekki Phase 1, Lagos. The festival is supported by Canon Central and North Africa (CCNA).

Activities at the week-long event are spread across the Filmhouse-IMAX, Genesis Cinema and Silverbird Cinema, Victoria Island and AfriNolly Space, Oregun, Lagos, CCNA is offering further support skills and capacity development among creative and talented youth and professionals in Nigeria on film and photography.

“We aim to familiarise Nigerian filmmakers and photographers, and the attendees to the festival with cutting-edge professional technology that is used internationally,” said Katie Simmonds, Canon’s Strategic Operations Professional – Emerging Markets Africa/Sustainability Projects.
She said Canon is always committed to launching new innovative programmes that help provide the knowledge and skills needed to promote creative talent and drive the growth of a vibrant local industry.

“Our partnership with AFRIFF, Nigeria, underlines our focus on supporting the nation in building the next generation of talent who will drive the growth of the country’s television, film and photography sectors. It will empower youth, build their skills, and help facilitate rewarding careers in the industry.”

So far, about 50 would-be trainees, made up of film students, practitioners and the media have registered for the cinematography class.
Fidelis Duker, Sola Shobowale, Zebrudaya Bag BON Special Recognition
Organisers of the Best Of Nollywood, BON Awards billed to hold in Abia State have unveiled veteran entertainer Okey Bakassi and rave of the moment actress, Mercy Aigbe Gentry, as the matching hosts for the December 10 event.

The CEO of the Awards, Seun Oloketuyi said, “It is with all pleasure that we introduce to you the hosts of this year’s Best Of Nollywood Awards. We are proud to announce Okey Bakassi and Mercy Aigbe Gentry as the hosts of the Awards.”

Okey is one of Nigeria’s prolific comedians and actor who for over two decades has carved a niche for himself as a vintage entertainer, while Mercy Aigbe Gentry has over the years built her career as the darling of the new school Nollywood.

“We are also pleased to be honoring in the Special Recognition category veteran film maker, president and founder of the Abuja International Film Festival, Fidelis Duker, Chika Opala, better known as Chief Zebrudaya of the New Masquerade fame and prolific actress, Sola Shobowale, for their time proven contributions to the growth of Nollywood.” Oloketuyi added.