By Oris Aigbokhaevbolo
Come 25 June, the music-loving world will witness the 2017 edition of the BET Awards. For African music fans, one category will receive particular attention.
Since Ice Prince won the first individual BET Award for Best International Act: Africa over such acts as 2Baba (then known as 2face Idibia) and Ghana’s R2Bees, the category has become one of the respected Western accolades open to African acts.
The award was previously shared on two different occasions, three of the four winners being Nigerians. D’Banj and 2face won in 2011 while Wizkid and Sarkodie won in 2012. This format was then scrapped in favour of a single winner, leading to Ice Prince hoisting the trophy by himself in 2013. Davido won the second individual award and DJ Black Coffee took the award at the last ceremony. At some point the South African said Wizkid deserved the honour.
This year, Wizkid has the opportunity to make good on the DJ's claim as he joins seven other African acts on the list of nominees for the forthcoming edition, which was made public on 15 May. He has been nominated at each of the past two editions without winning.
Nonetheless, the 2017 list of nominees is a cause of celebration for Wizkid’s StarBoy label. Mr Eazi, whose signing to the label was announced at the 2016 Vodafone Ghana Music Awards, is also up for the award. Joining both StarBoy artists are their countrymen Davido and Tekno. From South Africa, Babes Wodumo, AKA and Nasty C are on the list, as is Ghanaian reggae dancehall act Stonebwoy. Both Davido and Stonebwoy are past winners, the former winning at the 2014 ceremony, and the latter following in 2015.
The BET Awards were the subject of a backlash by African artists in 2015 as several of them spoke against shabby treatment over the years by BET. The awards were not televised, trophies were given backstage and the winning acts were said to have footed their own bill in the first year of the awards. Leading the complaints, Yemi Alade said, “Africa is not a country! It is wrong to nominate huge African stars and publicly try to humiliate Africa. Why on Earth is the African category of the awards held hours before the main event?”
Ade Bantu joined in, saying, "Young African artists are desperate for global attention, so desperate to break into the American market that they would sell their soul to the devil in a heartbeat. Unfortunately the continent's music market lacks structure and a voice, so the peddlers of hype and fame are having a ball exploiting young impressionable kids promising them photo opps with Nicki Minaj and Jay Z".
Wizkid said: "I'm hearing BET is mad because I didn't come for the pre-shows and interviews… But I won’t be attending your pre-shows and nominee parties if I’m getting the award at 10am before the main show – same reason I didn't come backstage to pick up the award when I won the first time."
A BET representative responded on social media saying African acts need to be humble. "Stop tweeting lies and mistruths. There has never been a backstage presentation of any award. Pre-recorded," BET's rights and research administrator for business and legal affairs, Lilian N Blankson, said. "It does nothing to the network to take it away – but it sends us back several steps."
Calls for a boycott were never made. A Facebook page created for the purpose has since disappeared. And last year, alongside Black Coffee, Falz won an award. The Nigerian rapper later bragged about his Viewer's Choice Best New International Act win for 'Biggy Man', a song off the Reekado Banks album Spotlight.
"Many men wan finish me," he said. "But I dodged bullet, charged up and won BET."