Nigerian domination, presidents under fire, a controversial voting system, a prophecy foretold, tension over a last-minute switch. The African Union? No, the MTV Africa Music Awards (MAMAs) 2016, at the Dome in Johannesburg, heavy with the heaviest music in Africa and laden with controversy.
Before a note was played, the first controversy struck. Rising African star Trevor Noah – who is tripping the light fantastic on The Daily Show in New York – pulled out from fronting this shimmering night in the country of his birth. He was ill.
In stepped Bonang Matheba, for a whispered R500,000 (about $36,000), with just 24 hours to go, to become the first African woman to present the event in its nine-year history. Founder of the MAMAs, Nigerian Alex Okosi, claimed it was “exciting” and “it’s girl power tomorrow”. You can only imagine how chuffed he was to lose his host 24 hours before the awards and how stressful the last-minute rehearsals must have been.
Women took center stage on the night and were outspoken. Co-host Nigerian Yemi Alade retorted to her President Muhammadu Buhari over his comments on a visit to Germany recently along the lines that a woman’s place was in the kitchen and the so-called “other room”.
“Women, don’t forget! We are not only good in the kitchen and good in the living room and good in the other room; we are also good anywhere we want to be,” snapped back Alade from the stage.
This drew rapturous applause from the thousands in the crowd.
When the awards came, it was women again to the fore. One touching moment amid the glitz was the awarding of the Africa Re-Imagined Award to Mary Taedzerwa who is fighting in Zimbabwe against the marriage of children. She was married off at the age of 15. Her efforts helped persuade Zimbabwe to increase the legal age for marriage to 18 in January. According to UNICEF, 34% of girls in Zimbabwe, aged 20 to 24, were married by the time they were 18.
As the awards were handed out, there were questions in the audience about the Google voting system. Many claimed it didn’t reflect Africa. The system allows every person five online votes a day and they can return to the system the next day. This means people can easily pile up the votes, making it more of a popularity contest than an appreciation of music on the continent.
On top of this, a mere 28% of the population are on the internet meaning most Africans can’t vote.
More than half of Nigerians are on the internet – about 100 million users, 60 million more than anyone else – and that could explain why, yet again, the West African nation did well.
It also may be that Nigeria has the second-fastest growing music industry in the world, after Indonesia, and is getting stronger every year. According to a report by PricewaterhouseCoopers, it will be worth $86 million by 2020.
Maybe the self-proclaimed South African Prince of Hip-Hop, from the other end of the continent, knew what he was talking about. Love him or loathe him, AKA made a sidewalk prophecy in FORBES AFRICA (December/January 2015) saying Nigerians have attitude to burn.
“Nigerians are told to be great,” he says. “In South Africa we are told to be humble.”
On this night he was right. Nigerian artists stole the show winning both Male and Female of the Year awards, Best Song as well as the outright Artist of the Year. The big winner of the night was 26-year-old Wizkid who released his first album at the age of 11, under the name Lil Prinz, at a time of life when most of us were learning how to ride a bike. He is taking the continent by storm, making music with Drake, Chris Brown and Tinie Tempah.
As the crowds melted away into a night full of insects and summer rain, they reflected on the band of talented Nigerians who came to South Africa’s city of gold and shone.