The Conundrums Facing AFRIMA

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Vanessa Obioha writes that the All Africa Music Awards (AFRIMA) has the potential to be the most revered continental award in Africa, perhaps our own African Grammy, but it must address some key issues to achieve that milestone

Music awards are not easy to organise, particularly one with a magnitude like the All Africa Music Awards (AFRIMA). It takes strategic planning and marketing communications to make a lasting impression. The international committee of AFRIMA had this in mind when they set out to organise an award event that will celebrate and reward the creative sector in the continent. The award will be the most revered in Africa. To achieve this, they got the backing of the African Union Commission, thus earning a reputable identity.

Mike Dada, the founder of the award had lofty ideas which he wanted to bring to fruition. He was determined to raise the standard of award events by curating different experiences embedded in AFRIMA. There was going to be the business summit with music and culture stakeholders, a tour of the host city,and a mini concert known as the AFRIMA Music Village to usher in the awards. To fully give it an embracing African feel, interested countries will go through a bidding process where the highest bidder will be bestowed the hosting rights for a maximum of three years.

Many doubted his capability when he first announced his grandiose plans, but Dada, who runs an integrated marketing communications company, PRM was undeterred. He knew he would pull it through.

So in 2014, when he finally held the first edition of the award, it left many jaws on the floor. With models donning different African costumes reflecting the diverse culture of the continent, AFRIMA brought the whole of Africa to Lagos. It was a great opportunity for the Lagos state government that was partnering with it to promote tourism.

By the second edition, AFRIMA had gained momentum. It brought in the likes of Tanzanian artiste Diamond Platnumz who at the time was the most demanded artiste in Africa. Other African music legends were also in town to celebrate the beautiful sounds of Africa.

Though subsequent editions registered AFRIMA on the minds of many, the award always seemed to suffer from poor organisation. One of its fundamental problems was that it was too accommodating. For a ticketed ceremony, AFRIMA attracts a mammoth crowd that makes one wonder if the tickets were actually sold or given out freely. Traffic control is always chaotic. Take for instance, the 2015 edition which took place at Eko Hotels and Suites, Victoria Island, Lagos, there was barely a place to seat as every space was occupied such that when the main dignitary of the occasion, the APC National Leader, Bola Ahmed Tinubu arrived with his entourage, they had to wait a while for the ushers to move the guests who took over their reserved seats. Attracting a large crowd is definitely good for business but not when it leads to rowdiness and alters the flow of programme.

When it was announced earlier this year that Ghana would be the host country of this year’s award, there was a slight hope that the award will be better organised. Being that the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture was the sector working with the AFRIMA team, a level of orderliness was expected. Also, it was an opportunity for the Gold Coast to showcase its beauty to Africa.

That was hardly the case. Last minute plans on logistics led to delayed flights, leaving most of the invited guests stranded at the airport as they awaited the AFRIMA team to take them to their hotels. Those who arrived earlier were lucky to secure a room in some of the fine hotels in Accra, such as the Golden Tulip, Marriott, Ibis, Kempinsky and others. Yet, checking the guests into their rooms was problematic. There were no reservations made for some of the guests. Apparently, communication among the AFRIMA workforce was very poor. Some of the team members seemed at a loss on what to do as misinformation flew around. It took the intervention of the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture to sort the accommodation issues out.

Conveying guests to different venues for the lineup events was also an irksome issue. The planned tour to Ghana’s Presidential Office known as Jubilee House and Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Ground was delayed for hours due to the unavailability of buses to convey the guests to the venues.

Again, the crowd control issue reared its ugly head at the main ceremony. While the Accra International Conference Centre was glam up to give the event a befitting outlook, it was not big enough to accommodate the invited guests. People were forced to stand, including nominees before the ushers found a spot for them. However, kudos must be given to the stage designers for making good use of the stage despite its smallness. They set it up in a way that the stage was able to take in a band as well as make room for performers to carry out their stunts.

The long duration of the award is another issue the organisers need to address. Not everyone had patience to wait over three hours till the winners of the 36 categories were announced, coupled with the lined-up performances. Some of the seats were empty by the time the award drew its curtain.

However, the trio, Michael Blackson, Pearl Thusi and Anita Erskine who played hosts did a fantastic job in holding down the energy despite the long dragging hours. Their chemistry on stage was very impressive. Some of the performers like Ghanaian energetic singer Wiyaala, Togo’s Toofan and Nigeria’s 2Baba (who was the only Nigerian artiste that performed despite earlier announcement that Mr. P would perform), and DJ Switch also wowed the audience.

No doubt, AFRIMA has the potential to be the most revered continental award in Africa, perhaps our own African Grammy. But to achieve that milestone, it must address these key issues. Its logistics and communication department either need an overhaul or to have its personnel sent for training. If information was well communicated, the organisers might have avoided some of the glitches experienced at the event.

It may also want to look at the calibre of people it invites to the ceremony. ‘Padi padi’ is not good for business. There were some Nollywood actors who had no business in that award but came on the bill of the organisers. They neither presented awards nor staged a play. In a way, this shows the magnanimity of Dada. But sometimes, a little discipline must be inculcated in order to survive in showbiz.

Nevertheless, Dada deserves some accolades. To run a show of this magnitude for four years consecutively is not a walk in the park. It is definitely overwhelming. Somehow, Dada still manages to surprise all despite the seeming challenges.

One of the significant things Dada has done so far is to give visibility to countries in Africa that their music were previously barely recognised around the continent. For instance, Hamza El Fadly,a Moroccan singer broke down on stage when he came to accept his award for the Best Male Artiste in North Africa, so did the Ugandan singer Sandra Nankoma who won the award for the Best Female Artiste in African Inspirational Music. Amid tears, she told the audience that she was bullied in school because of her dark skin which made her release the song ‘Kaddugala’ to fight against social discrimination based on skin tone. It was the song that fetched her the award. Chad DJ , Afrotronix was elated to be recognised on the platform. His country’s music is not that popular on the continent but with his trophy as the AFRIMA African DJ, he believes their music would get the desired attention.

Another relevance that Dada has brought to the continent through this platform is recognising African music legends who are often times forgotten. This year’s AFRIMA Legendary award went to the South African music icon Yvonne Chaka Chaka whose music career spanned over 30 years.

It was an emotional moment when Ghana music veteran Teddy Osei of the famous afro-pop band Osibisa was wheeled to the stage to receive his special recognition award. The man who dedicated 50 years of his life to music was moved to tears as he accepted the award.

In appreciation of the support the Lagos state government gave to AFRIMA over the years, the governor of the state Akinwunmi Ambode’s was given a special recognition award for his contribution towards the growth and development of the arts and tourism sector of the state.

Nigeria took home most of the awards for the night with Davido winning the Best Male Artiste of the Year and the Artiste of the Year awards. Other winners were, 2Baba, Stonebwoy, Mr. P, Betty G among others.