It is trite knowledge that no award scheme across the globe is devoid of criticisms. Even the globally known award schemes with several decades of existence such as the Grammys, Oscars, FIFA Ballon D’or, amongst others receive their share of criticisms. The VGMAs as an award scheme is no exception and therefore bears no immunity to these criticisms. Criticisms leveled against award schemes usually emerge during two periods.
These two periods are firstly, the period following the release of the list of nominees for the various categories of the scheme and secondly the period following the announcement of the award winners at the main event.
It has been a little over a month since the list of nominees for the upcoming 18th edition of the Vodafone Ghana Music Awards was released.
As usual, the nominee list has generated a host of controversies which have been rife since the list was announced. One of the sources of the controversies is the nomination of talented artiste, Kofi Kinaata for the Highlife Artiste of the Year category.
Before I proceed to express my opinion on this issue, I find it appropriate to address two preliminary issues. They include providing a definition of who a Highlife Artiste is and also, stating the category definition for the category under scrutiny for the purpose of guiding my opinion. My basic understanding of a Highlife Artiste is an artiste who releases Highlife projects on the regular and is therefore recognized widely as belonging to the Highlife genre. The VGMA category definition for the Highlife Artiste(s) of the Year category also reads;
“The Highlife Artiste(s) of the Year is the Artiste(s) adjudged by the Academy, Board and the General Public as the Artiste(s) with the highest audience appeal and popularity in the Highlife genre. The Artiste(s) must have released a hit single/album during the year under review.”
Per the criteria definition stated above, it is apparent that the criteria definition lends a justification to the VGMA board for nominating Kofi Kinaata for the Highlife Artiste of the Year category.
This is because, an ordinary interpretation of the criteria definition reveals that the release of a just a hit Highlife single or a Highlife album by an artiste, irrespective of the genre the artiste is regularly known for doing is sufficient to merit a nomination for the Highlife Artiste of the Year category.
The criteria definition renders the genre background of the artiste moot because the expression used in the definition is ‘The Artiste(s) must have…..’ not ‘The Highlife Artiste(s) must have…..’
It can be deduced from this expression used in the criteria definition that, you don’t need to be a Highlife artiste, which per my definition means that you don’t need to be an artiste who releases highlife projects on the regular to merit a nomination for the Highlife Artiste(s) of the Year category.
So far as you released a hit highlife song, despite the fact that you are not known to be a Highlife artiste, then it is sufficient to earn a nomination for the said category.
The other requirement with regard to the audience appeal and popularity in the Highlife genre is apparently contingent on the popularity of the Highlife single(s) released during the year under review. Therefore, if an artiste, irrespective of the genre he or she has subscribed to, and is widely & regularly known for doing, releases a hit highlife single, then obviously, the artiste’s audience appeal and popularity in the Highlife genre would be assured.
From the foregoing, it can be asserted vis-à-vis the criteria definition stated above that Kofi Kinaata’s nomination for the Highlife Artiste of the Year category is justified. However, I hold the opinion that his nomination for the said category is not a good precedent for the future.
I suggest that there must be an amendment of the criteria definition to restrict the eligibility for nomination for Highlife Artiste of the Year category to only Highlife Artistes. I hold the view that such a category must be reserved for Highlife Artistes only, that is artistes who regularly do Highlife music and are recognized as such.
To the best of my knowledge, Kofi Kinaata is a Hiplife/Hip Hop artiste because that is the genre(s) he regularly does and appear to have subscribed to. The fact that he has been releasing some Highlife and Afro pop tunes in recent times does not in any way erode his status as a Hiplife/Hip Hop artiste.
In an interview with Delay on her TV show sometime last year, Kofi Kinaata revealed that he has decided to do the Highlife & vocals in addition to the Hiplife/Hip Hop because of Castro’s departure. He explained that the wanted to fill the vacuum by doing the ‘Castro’ kind of music to appeal to Castro’s fans and lovers of Highlife music and vocally dense songs. He stated in the interview that he had not abdicated the Hiplife/Hip Hop music.
This explains why even in the midst of his recent Highlife releases, he still released Hip hop tunes such as ‘My Level’ obviously because the core of his fan base was originally founded on the love for Hip Hop/Hiplife or rap dominated music. Kofi Kinaata therefore remains a Hiplife/Hip Hop artiste and must be recognized as such.
He may be releasing Highlife tunes but the songs must be nominated for Highlife song(s) of the Year and not the artiste as Highlife Artiste of the Year if the artiste is not a Highlife artiste. He may choose to abdicate the Hiplife/Hip Hop and do more Highlife music on the regular. That would mean he has undergone rebranding to be recognized as a Highlife artiste. But until then, he is not a Highlife artiste, and per the interview he had with Delay, he himself does not recognize himself as such.
The fact that he has been releasing Highlife tunes recently does not make him a Highlife artiste. It shows his versatility. As an artiste, it is necessary to show some versatility and dynamism in your art to avoid critics and fans from tagging you as ‘one way’ or boring.
I am of the conviction that the law of diminishing returns in Economics applies to the taste and preferences of music listeners therefore it is very necessary for artistes to feed listeners with projects showcasing their versatility and uniqueness. This is what I observe Kofi Kinaata to be doing perfectly.
It is for this reason that I believe a Hiplife/Hiphop artiste like Sarkodie recorded an entirely Highlife album which he titled Mary. That was a display of versatility. It did not mean he should be recognized as a Highlife artiste because he does not do Highlife music on the regular.
The precedent the VGMA board has set with Kofi Kinaata’s nomination for the Highlife Artiste of the Year in accordance with its category definition is that a gospel artiste, a typical hip hop artiste or a dancehall artiste can also be nominated for the Highlife Artiste(s) of the Year category provided they release a hit highlife song during the year under review.
For categories such as Highlife Artiste of the Year, Hiplife/Hip Hop artiste of the Year, Dancehall artiste of the Year etc, they are categories which must be reserved strictly for artistes that are well known for the genres that they are being nominated for.
If for instance a Hip Hop artiste has released a highlife song as a display of versatility and it became a hit, then the song must be nominated for Highlife song of the year but not the artiste for the Highlife Artiste(s) of the Year. It is for this reason that I call for an amendment of the category definition for the Highlife Artiste of the Year and other categories such as Hiplife/Hip Hop artiste of the Year and Dancehall artiste of the Year because the category definitions as they exist currently appear to permit occurrences like the Kofi Kinaata situation.
So per the current status quo, if a Hiplife/Hip Hop artiste like Sarkodie releases a hit gospel song, it would be sufficient to earn him a nomination in the Gospel Artiste of the Year category. Would that mean Sarkodie is a Gospel artiste? As stated already in extenso, categories of this nature must be reserved for artistes who are nominated for such categories because they do projects of that genre on the regular.
Assuming in a particular year under review, there were no Highlife artiste(s) who did hit Highlife projects, then that category must be suspended due to the absence of Highlife artistes who must be there meritoriously.
The board must not feel so compelled to place artistes who are not recognized widely as Highlife artistes under that category. I am tempted to believe that Kofi Kinaata was added to the list of nominees for the Highlife Artiste(s) of the Year of the year because Bisa Kdei and Becca would have been the only nominees for that category if he had not been added. That would have been very appalling for a category which should be awarding artistes who do our pure indigenous music. Even with Kofi Kinaata’s addition, the number of nominees for the category is still very low relatively. This should be a major cause of worry for Highlife loyalists and the industry at large.
Finally, it is not in dispute that Kofi Kinaata has performed tremendously well in the year under review. He should have even been nominated for the ultimate category but the board held otherwise. A decision they have not been able to convincingly justify since the announcement of the nominees.
I will reserve my comments on this issue for another day. However, as I have explained above extensively, with respect to Kofi Kinaata’s nomination for the Highlife Artiste of The Year category, it may be appropriate with the existing criteria definition but as a precedent, it has the tendency of creating several controversies in the future.
The VGMA board must therefore subject the category definitions for the categories I highlighted to substantial reforms for the purpose of avoiding the potential reemergence of some of these controversies. May the main event this Saturday be a successful one.