Africa's reps at the next Grammy Awards

The nominees for the 58th Grammy Awards were revealed in the USA last week.

Rocky Dawuni. Photo: schedule.sxsw.com
Rocky Dawuni. Photo: schedule.sxsw.com

While the awards focus on the North American music industry, several African artists are in the running for the world’s most famous music awards. They include past winners Angelique Kidjo (Benin), Wouter Kellerman and Ladysmith Black Mambazo (South Africa), as well as surprise nominations Rocky Dawuni (Ghana) and the Zomba Prison Project from Malawi.

Ghanaian reggae musician Rocky Dawuni earned a nod in the highly competitive Best Reggae category for his album Branches of the Same Tree. A first for Ghana, he’s up against Jamacian reggae heavyweights Luciano (who toured Africa in April this year), Morgan Heritage (who headlined Abi-Reggae in Abidjan in April), Barrington Levy and Jah Cure. Dawuni, who in August headlined the annual Habari Africa festival in Canada, took to Facebook to celebrate the nomination: “Thanks so much for all of your love and support of conscious music!” The globe-trotting reggae man's new album includes the track 'Nairobi', a tribute to the Kenyan capital.

 

South African flautist, Wouter Kellerman, is in the running for another Grammy. The former electrical engineer will be hoping to make it two Grammy wins in a row. Last year he won Best New Age Album for Winds of Samsara, a collaboration with Indian musician and producer Ricky Kej. His latest album, Love Language, has been nominated in the Best Contemporary Instrumental Album of the Year category. The album includes the song ‘The Long Road’, which Kellerman says paints the life of Nelson Mandela through the colours of his flute, and ‘Winter’, featuring another Grammy-winning South African export, the Soweto Gospel Choir. The album debuted at number 1 on the World Music Billboard charts in July 2015. It also hit number 1 on the Zone Music Reporter (ZMR) Top 100 International Radio Airplay Chart in August 2015, and spent 10 weeks in the CMJ New World Top 40 Chart, peaking at number 12. Kellerman is up against American jazz heavyweights Marcus Miller (who recently performed in South Africa at the 2015 Joy of Jazz festival), Kirk Whalum (no stranger to East Africa, performing in Uganda and Kenya this year), Bill Frisell and a collaboration between Snarky Puppy (US) and Metropole Orkest (Netherlands).

Meanwhile, Nigerian-American singer Jidenna has been nominated for a Grammy in the Best Rap/Sung Collaboration category for his massive hit 'Classic Man' featuring Roman GianArthur. The song is up against the likes of Nicki Minaj, Kendrick Lamar, Big Sean, Common and John Legend.

In the only Grammy category that African artists have often dominated over the years, Best World Music Album, less surprising are the nominations of former winners Angelique Kidjo (for her new album Sings) and Ladysmith Black Mambazo (for Music From Inala with Ella Spira & The Inala Ensemble, first released in 2014). Kidjo’s nomination last year, for Eve, a dedication to African women, beat off competition from Malian kora player Toumani Diabate, among others. That was Kidjo’s second Grammy win, having taken the award in 2008 for her eighth studio release, Djin Djin. Due to a separation of the World Music categories between the years 2004 and 2012, Djin Djin won the Best Contemporary World Music Album award. Following the reuniting of the categories, Kidjo’s 2015 win was for Best World Music Album.  

The South African isicathamiya ensemble Ladysmith Black Mambazo, who received a Lifetime Achievement Award at this year’s All Africa Music Awards (AFRIMA), last received the World Music Grammy in 2014, thus making 2016 a contest between recent winners. LBM have received countless Grammy nominations over the years, first winning in 1988 for Shaka Zulu.

 

Competing against Kidjo and LBM is the groundbreaking Zomba Prison Project, an innovative recording project featuring music by prisoners at a maximum-security prison in Zomba, Malawi, produced by Grammy-winning American producer Ian Brennan (also of Tinariwen) and his wife Marilena Delli. Zomba prison is a dilapidated brick structure that was built in the 19th century. Designed to hold 340 people, today it houses over 2000. The head of prisons allowed Brennan and Delli access for the project in exchange for Brennan’s offering a series of classes on violence prevention to inmates and guards. They were then embedded within the compound and sworn to secrecy, eventually emerging with the album I Have No Everything Here, featuring the voices of 60 male and female prisoners.

The only non-African acts in the Best World Music category are Indian music Anoushka Shankar (daughter of the legendary Ravi Shankar) and Brazilian icon Gilberto Gil.

The 2016 Grammy Awards ceremony will be held on Monday 15 February 2016 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, California, USA. For the full list of nominees visit the Grammy website.

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