By the third quarter of 2020, a rumour had begun to spread within the music industry. The story at the time was that Mr. Ayo Animashaun will be moving the Headies to the United States.
It was indeed an intriguing story because anyone who knows Ayo Animashaun, the founder of HipTV
and the Hip-Hop Awards (now known as The Headies), knows that he is an audacious man who can go to great lengths to achieve his goal. The sheer fact that he has, through thick and thin, put together Africa’s most consistent music award show has solidified his status as an icon in the music scene. Through the years, he has rallied support from major brands and the Lagos state government.
To the average man, this is normal but those within the music industry know that this is no small feat and here’s why: The Nigerian music industry has no money of its own. The top artists depend on brand endorsements and shows to earn their keep or advances/deals they get from foreign investors. For that reason, large corporations and the music industry have entered into a marriage of sorts where they rely on musicians to help push their marketing objectives while paying hefty amounts for endorsements. In many instances, these arrangements are clearly not thought out properly and the ROI is laughable while, in some, both parties are clearly satisfied with their arrangement.
Anyone who has worked in the corporate world can attest to the fact that managing and maintaining these relationships with these brands is a thing of skill and for Ayo Animashaun to pull it off for 15 years is incredible. So if it’s all good and rosy with the brands here, why the need to go seek foreign validation? Why take Nigeria’s and Africa’s foremost music award show to another continent entirely? The answers are numerous but the simplest answer would be a catchphrase that has become the rallying call for the music industry. Afrobeats To The World.
Exporting Nigerian music to foreign markets, particularly the West, has become a major objective for all Afrobeats stakeholders. These days, Nigerian artistes release projects and immediately embark on a tour outside the country. Music consultant, Bankuli, caused quite a stir earlier this year when he stated during an interview with BBC Africa, that “London is the new capital of Afrobeats.” As outrageous as it seems, Bankuli is right. London has fully accepted the Afrobeats revolution and has even integrated it into their music (Afro-swing) but they haven’t just done this with their love and support of our acts, they’ve backed it up with money.
Although Nigeria remains the biggest nation in Africa in terms of population, we are still a third-world country. Hence, the earnings that artistes can get from somewhere like London will be much larger than what they can get at home. An unfortunate circumstance but it is the reality of things that we must all come to terms with. It’s one of the reasons why over the years, the artists have treated the Headies with disdain and have developed a culture of not attending the award show in recent years. Other reasons they don’t attend the Headies? They accuse the award show of not being inclusive enough and lacking integrity. These few reasons could explain Ayo Animashaun’s bold decision to move the Headies abroad.
On the 1st of March 2022, in the Grand Ballroom of Eko Hotel and Suites, Ayo Animashaun stood in front of an audience that ranged from music business veterans, present-day music execs, journalists and a handful of artists such as Bnxn, Goya Menor, and Eltee Skhillz; and told them about his bold plan to take his biggest accomplishment away from its comfort zone to new pastures. Atlanta was the new destination and while some in attendance pondered on the logistics of it all, a rep from the US Embassy joined him on stage to inform the attendees that they are partnered with the Headies and would be supporting with visas for the stakeholders who will be attending the event. This particular statement was met with applause from the audience and Ayo took centre stage to announce that there will be new categories, a music conference, a talent hunt, and a music festival to accompany the 15th Headies but Ayo wasn’t going to stop there, he was just beginning to whet the appetite of his audience. He revealed that the media partners for this year’s Headies would be Netflix, CNN, Showmax, CBS, BBC Radio 1, and of course, HipTV. The biggest surprise that day was that a 2022 Bentley Bentayga would be given to the winner of the Next Rated Award, the most coveted award for any young musician in Nigeria. Right there in the hall, the audience was thrilled but the online audience on social media reacted to the news of the Headies being moved to Atlanta with mixed reviews.
One thing was generally assumed by most people who watched Ayo make these announcements in person and those who caught wind of it online, that the quality and overall experience of the 15th Headies Award would improve greatly; as it has remained rather mediocre in terms of production, public relations, and marketing.
So was there an improvement? Yes and No.
Here are some key features of the 15th edition of the Headies awards that took place at the Cobb Center in Atlanta, USA:
Like previous editions, this edition lacked the right push in terms of marketing and communication. For example, a lot of people were unaware of the fact that aside from the HIP TV channels on DSTV and GOTV, they could also watch the Headies on the Hip TV app and the Hip TV website. Another rather odd move from the Headies team was the fact that Anthony Anderson and Osas Ighodaro were announced as the hosts of the show on the evening of the show. Typically, a show like this would have announced the hosts earlier and used that announcement as part of the pre-rollout activities for the main event.
The talent hunt that Ayo Animashaun had announced as part of the activities that would accompany this year’s headies, did take place; but there was no major announcement or PR done around it.
Tardiness has been a key feature of entertainment events in Nigeria, especially music and unfortunately, this seems to be a behaviour that our entertainment stakeholders have exported to the rest of the world. This year, Kizz Daniel was pelted with objects and booed off stage when he showed up 4 hours late for a show in the USA. In 2017, One Africa Music Festival in New York started hours later than they had planned with the event centre and for this, they were forced to end the show abruptly, with the likes of Davido and Sarkodie going quickly through their sets while someone like Jidenna, unfortunately, did not get to even perform. Saddened by this, Jidenna made a statement that would later go viral “If we truly believe it is OUR time, as Africans, we need to be ON time”. Fast forward to 2022 and the 15th edition of the Headies that was slated to kick off at 7 pm (red carpet) and 10 pm (main show) respectively, started its red carpet phase at 10 pm, with the main show kicking off around some minutes past midnight. It’s a shame that at this stage of such an event as this, timing remains a vital problem.
Arise TV, another media house in Nigeria covered this year’s Headies and the picture from this station was far better than that from Hip TV, the home of the actual Headies show. The Red Carpet segment was as lacklustre as it had been in years past and viewers at home could clearly hear side conversations between the red carpet host and his colleagues who were working on set. It would seem that Anthony Anderson, the African-American actor famous for his role on the hit TV series, Black-ish; was not properly prepped for the show, and it was quite obvious to the viewers. From his stereotypical African jokes to an inappropriate sexual joke which he borrowed from a line off Prince Akeem’s character in “Coming To America,” to complaining about the absence of Nigerian superstars for the event; it became more clear to viewers that Anthony Anderson was a wrong choice for this event and his co-host Osas, had to continuously try to salvage his shortcomings with as much as grace as she could muster, but every once in a while, viewers could see through her frustration.
Stage management that night was another thing gone wrong. It took everyone way too long to come out to the stage, hence leaving us the viewers with a lot of awkward pauses. More than half of the people who presented the awards that were African-American, yet another brazen move by the Headies committee.
Travelling to Atlanta
It costs almost $5000 to take a round trip from Lagos to Atlanta, then there is still hotel accommodation and feeding to take care of. This hindered a lot of people from attending the event. Interestingly, a large number of the Headies Academy (the body that puts together the nominees each year) were not present at this year’s edition as a lot of them couldn’t get visas, which is quite absurd, given that The Headies and the US embassy had formed a partnership for this event.
The Performances & The Winners
Here’s where the Headies got it right this year. We finally got to see some exciting performances at the Headies thanks to artists like Bnxn, Flavour, Lojay & Ruger. With the nominations and winners this year, it’s clear to see that the Headies factored in inclusivity and it is a commendable thing. Unlike previous years, there wasn’t a lot of uproar over the winners, which signifies that this time around, the Headies got it right.
Final note: In Ayo’s attempt to cash in on the current Afrobeats wave, he has also exposed the mediocrity of our biggest award show to the International community. “Afrobeats to the world” seems to be the music industry’s equivalent of what Nigerians refer to as the “national cake” but in reality, only excellence will stand out. We see that in Burna Boy’s shows and his craftsmanship, and we see that in the way Wizkid’s “Made In Lagos” was marketed upon release. The proper work must be done in order for us to move the culture forward and actually take Afrobeats to the world.
But when you consider that Ayo Animashaun has done this for 15 years without great improvement, one may be tempted to ask if he really cares about the culture.