Charter House, organisers of the Vodafone Ghana Music Awards Festival (VGMA) announced the nominations for this year’s awards at the beginning of this month. The announcement would usher in the entire range of activities that would lead to the final night of the awards.
The other preceding events as announced at the nominees unveiling include a nominees’ jam at Ho in the Volta Region and the Industry Awards Night that would take place exactly one week before the main awards night to be held in Accra.
As has been the practice over many years since the music awards has been around, there has been a huge brouhaha on the list of nominations released by the board of the VGMA organisation.
Except this time, the vitriol with which industry players, industry watchers, entertainment reporters and the public have used in criticizing the list and the entire organisation is beyond what has happened in the past.
The reason this year’s nominations have received so much skewering has got to do with the fact that the board may not have considered a few things and in trying to explain why the list was the way it was and some of the people speaking on its behalf have assumed a “take it or leave it” attitude to explain away what is perceived by some as its lackluster performance.
It must be said that as much as some, indeed most, of the criticisms of the board could be said to be rightly made, it also has to be said that there have been some that scathed the board and its members unfairly.
I am aware there have been many opinions expressed on the subject on many platforms, including this paper, regardless of that however, I intend to spend today to take a look at some of the issues and how they could be averted in subsequent years if we desire to keep the results of the awards above board.
SHATTA WALE NOMINATIONS:
The dancehall artiste who in my view was the most popular musician last year came away with five nominations. The irony is that his popularity last year came as a result of his criticism of the Ghana Music Awards and Kaakie after the latter had picked up awards that he thought ought to have gone to him.
Shatta Wale tweeted and insulted the VGMA organisation, Kaakie and everybody else in sight and he even went to the studio to make a diss song directed at Charterhouse and decreed in that song that he never should be nominated for any VGMA award. The insults he directed at Kaakie were terribly tasteless and classless and many wondered how he could do that.
He did apologise to Kaakie with a song he did not too long after the incident but waited till the very end to apologise to Charterhouse for his actions after the last VGMA. Some construed the apology to mean that he wanted to be nominated and that he didn’t mean any of it.
It is in view of this that some have been hard on the board that it should not have nominated Shatta Wale because he had discredited the entire organisation of the awards and needed to suffer the consequences. They think his apology was not genuine and that the pardon thereof was a bad precedent for the future.
I disagree with that point of view because firstly he apologised for his infantile indiscretion and we cannot judge a man’s true intent, we can only believe or not believe what they say and two the issue of precedent and encouraging others musicians to do same in future is a moot point as each case would be taken on its merit if it happens.
NEW ARTISTE CONTROVERSY:
The biggest controversial areas that the board has to deal with has come by way of the nominees for New Artiste of the Year and since the release of the nominees list, the spokespersons for the board have done a wonderfully terrible job of explaining this list to the public.
The simple question is this: who is considered by the VGMA as a new artiste? The answers have been amazingly different from banal through “you can take it as it is and we don’t care what you think” to shifting of goalposts from one point to the other.
There is a definition that Charterhouse has published many times, but it seems the board puts its own interpretation to it and the public can have their own interpretation as well. This category has three nominees namely Kumi Guitar, Joey B and Akwaboah.
First of all Kumi Guitar’s nomination sparked an early controversy because his producer (or is it manager) Mark Okraku Mantey sits on the board (an issue I will soon come to) as well as his relative obscurity before the release of the nominations.
Kumi, it would be revealed later, has previously come out with a song and so technically should not be nominated. The board explained that the work wasn’t his and that he featured on someone’s compilation.
Meanwhile, Bisa K. Dei wasn’t nominated in this category because he sang Azonto Ghost previously although that was explained as belonging to a movie maker and not his own.
Even Akwaboah is reported to have released some of the songs for which he was nominated in 2012 and that, if it were true, would mean he couldn’t make the nominations. It’s been denied by him and his team although the story is sitting on the internet as we speak.
The issue of why Kofi Kinaata was not nominated has come up strongly and the board has explained it away that one he didn’t put in nomination (well, people have been nominated and gone on to win although they didn’t put in their nomination) and he wasn’t nominated in any of the other song categories so he couldn’t be nominated for new artiste (the most laughable of all explanations as the category definition says nothing about that).
We can also talk about Noella Wiyaala, the young lady who won the Vodafone Icon and the fact that she came out during the year under review with some good singles and did performances with them. Her team claims they submitted her work but she couldn’t make the list that has only three nominees.
The inconsistencies in the board’s explanations over this particular nominations list is the one thing driving up the many discussion points and making it look like they didn’t do a good job and yet don’t want to be questioned.
ARTISTE MANAGER BOARD MEMBERS:
Over the years that the Ghana Music Awards has seen many controversies but the biggest and the one that runs through almost every year is the constitution of the board.
There is no denying the fact that the board is, and rightly so, made up of people in the industry such as artistes, artiste managers, producers, executive producers, arts writers and event organizers. However, I have always been an advocate of the notion that those whose artistes are up or could be up for nominations should not invited on to the board or if they were invited then they should recuse themselves.
One of the many criticisms of the nominations and the new artiste category specifically has been that Kumi Guitar earned his nomination because Mark Okraku Mantey was part of the board. That in my view is a very petty accusation, the board ought to take whatever criticism there is to any of the nominations and we should not target just one person, it is collective responsibility.
That said though I believe that in order not to get itself in such a situation and then having to explain that no single person had influence on the list that came out bla bla bla, they should do what I have said above: don’t invite people whose artistes are eligible contenders to the board or if you are the person recuse yourself as I did sometime ago. It’s a far safer option and the board would not have to explain anything to anybody because there will be nothing to explain.
Spokespersons for the board have been making the argument and trying to compare the Ghana Music Awards to other awards shows elsewhere in the process that they should not be accountable to the public. That the board comes out with the nominations, the awards are held and we all go home, no questions asked the board about why this and why that.
Sorry but that is and infantile argument and comparison. You have structured your awards as a public awards, asked the public to vote and by spending their money via airtime and you are going to tell them to sod off and not question anything you do? That Mugabe-like stance would not pass us by in this country. We shall question the board, regardless of who sits on it (even if I end up sitting on it again sometime) and we shall demand that if the work it did wasn’t satisfactory enough it should go back and redo it. The board can take our advice or play hard about it, it won’t prevent us from expressing what we think about such a public awards as the VGMA.
The VGMA board changes like a chameleon when it comes to staying consistent with its own rulings on issues related to lewd lyrics in songs that are presented to it for nominations. I have a few examples to share on this.
Samini, then known as Batman, lost his nomination in a particular year when his song Linda was adjudged to be vulgar because of a line in the song. Two years ago, R2Bees lost their nominations because of Sarkodie’s rap line in their Agyeei song that was suggestive in the view of the board.
Here’s something to ponder, in the same year that Samini’s song was disqualified Obour’s Konkontibaa was a target as well, but they both were invited to the board and asked to explain their lyrics and if they had the chance would they change the lyrics. Samini said he would not, Obour said he would and based on their own testimonies Linda was dropped and Konkotibaa went through to pick awards.
Again, in the year that R2Bees’ song was debarred from nominations another song had much stronger lyrics was even more suggestive than Sarkodie’s line in Agyeei. Eduwodzi’s Yenko Nkoaa had a line in Ewe that was even more suggestive than that of Sarkodie and yet it was left to go even when this was brought to the attention of the board.
This year a song has been nominated in which Sarkodie drops a line that is even worse that what he did on Agyeei but it passes without a whimper. Joey B’s Tonga is suggestive, very suggestive, nothing more suggestive than that music and Sarkodie’s line about pulling something is not lost on anyone. Kwabena Kwabena’s Adult Music is what it is, an adult music and it is very suggestive. Both songs were given the green light and they could end up with awards.
Another attempt by a board member to explain this is that they were presented with radio edit of the songs in question. Let us even give them the benefit of the doubt that they were presented with radio edit, what are they going to award the radio edit that only the board listened to or the one listened to by all of us over the period. What would I be voting for when I decide to vote for Tonga as the most popular song of the year, radio edit or the one I listened to on DJ Black’s show?
I don’t give a rat’s behind what or how it is done elsewhere, there should be some consistency in what is presented to the board or what the board on its own volition chooses to nominate and what we hear throughout the period.
Forgive my naiveté but playing the song many times on radio without a radio edit version and surreptitiously presenting the board with a radio edit version to be awarded doesn’t sound right to me. The board will tell you they no control over what is played on radio, that’s why there should be consistency and they should insist on that. Unless, of course, we decide at some point to take this strong and suggestive lyrics moratorium off the criteria!
There seem to be a lot of knotty points with the VGMA that need to be addressed for its continued legitimacy as the bona fide industry awards scheme. When issues arose and people had challenges with the manner which the process was being run a conference was called and issues debated to sanitize the awards. The decisions from that meeting sustained the awards for a long time.
I think, humbly, that it is time another of such a conference was held for the industry to discuss, debate and agree (or disagree) on some points to be implemented going forward. There is no gainsaying the fact that the Ghana Music Awards is a private initiative which has become a public event.
It is important, for its own legitimacy that the organisers work with the industry to fix some of the issues that have been raised. They should take the advice of the doves too and not rely on the hawks to portray them as not desirous of taking constructive criticisms.
By Francis Doku