The attempt to globalise the event is laudable, nevertheless, it is glaring that there’s still more to be done…
By Emmanuel Daraloye
While the 16th edition of the Headies Awards (Headies), which took place at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre in Atlanta, US, was ongoing on the 3rd/4th of September, 2023, the majority of Nigerians – the award’s place of origin – were fast asleep. They would wake up to news reports surrounding the winners, and a lot more, in the typical Headies fashion. It has been a roller coaster of winners’ listings in newspapers and other media outlets. One aggrieved post by a winner and soon after, the country has moved on, in the expected Nigerian fashion.
The Headies, formerly known as the Hip World Awards, was established in 2006 by the Hip-Hop World Magazine of Nigeria to celebrate artistic excellence and recognise outstanding achievements in the Nigerian music industry. The annual ceremony usually features performances by established and promising artistes, broadcast live on HipTV, and up until the last two editions, (which have been held in Atlanta, USA) has always been held in either Lagos or Abuja.
In May 2023, a call for submission was made for the awards, with the nominees in thirty-six categories announced in July, rewarding music projects released between January 2022 and March 2023. The categories had twenty-two voting groups, eleven non-voting groups, a hall of fame category, and a special recognition award.
Grammy Award-winning act, Burna Boy, received eleven nominations, the highest for this year and was closely followed by Asake who had eight nominations. Rema, Simi, and Davido had five nominations respectively.
In the weeks preceding the event, there was a brunch and then a hangout session organised by the American consular office, which saw a potpourri of music industry stakeholders network extensively.
(Read also: A Brief Commentary on the 15th Headies Awards)
Actor, Gift David, and TV presenter, Mc Rhelax hosted the red carpet for this year’s event, with an array of fast-rising and veteran singers in the music industry gracing the red carpet, including Ayo Makun, MI Abaga, Khaid, Spyro, and Wande Coal. When the Yahooze crooner, Mr. Olu Maintain came on the red carpet, he informed the host that he was now a father and emphasised the need for A-list artistes to prepare for the “winter days”— a period they would no longer hold the spotlight.
The Headies, relatively notorious for its never-changing setup, had critiques and well-wishers primed for its 16th edition. Interestingly, viewers were eager to see whether a repetition of notable gaffes and infamous moments would accompany this 2023 version – begging the question – was this year any better?
Storm Boy commenced proceedings in the main show by performing a medley of songs, with Kizz Daniel’s “Buga”, getting highlighted. His performance was quickly followed by a drumming session. The drummer played a three-tier Akuba drum, with its rhythmic flow not going unnoticed.
Another personnel-related note was the chemistry between the two show hosts – award-winning actress and producer, Osas Ighodaro and American actor, TV presenter, and model, Terrence J. While the duo did not disappoint with their outfits for the night, it became quickly obvious that the hosts were vaguely acquainted before the event. Terrence J’s inadequate knowledge of Afrobeats was also on full display, a bit strange coming from the host of Afrobeats’ flagship award show, but not that surprising in view of the general critique of his choice as host from the get-go.
Another remarkable moment was Odumodublvck’s performance of “Best Rap Single” award-winning “Declan Rice”, which was hindered by the malfunctioning microphone and the faulty speakers. Odumodublvck’s fashion choices were pleasant however, as he was donned in a black Agbada with his signature Okpu-Agu, a traditionally woven red and white headpiece, predominantly worn by the Igbo.
When the show promoter, Smade, and TV host Adesope Olajide came on stage to present the “Best Rap Single” category, an over-excited Smade made the mistake of calling the category “Best Rapper”, but was quickly corrected by Olajide. Noteworthy is the fact that the Headies, at the very least nailed this award category, as it was quite incontrovertibly won by Odumodublvck.
But the biggest embarrassment of the night, by far, was the announcement of the winner of the “Alternative Song of the Year” award category. Beaming on the screen was Wizard Chan’s “Earth Song”, but the announcer, Keni Ogunlola, read out “Tinko Tinko” by Obongjayar as the winner. This elicited screams from the audience and the live streaming was temporarily cut off thereafter. This was only seen to have been resolved close to 12 hours later as social media was agog with an acceptance video of the same award by Wizard Chan, after the apparent mix-up.
Other performers at this year’s Headies Award were Wande Coal, Blaq Bonez, Seyi Vibez, and Asake. Seyi Vibez’s vocals left much to be desired and Asake’s stage performance was hindered by the sound system, with the chemistry between Asake and the backup singers noticeably weak.
The Headies Awards has hardly ever been a night for valedictory-type speeches, it is usually one where the winners give appreciation to God, their fans, and their families. However, there was an exception this year, and arguably the highlight of the night, as the “Calm Down” crooner, Rema, while receiving his award for “Best Male Artiste”, praised and offered words of encouragement to Afrobeats stakeholders in his acceptance speech of over three minutes, while also emphasising the need to safeguard Afrobeats’ institutions and to continuously set eyes on its global dominance. An overwhelmed Asake could say no more than “thank you” after winning the “Album of the Year” and the much coveted “Next Rated” award. No doubt, the Obafemi Awolowo University graduate was elated to be rewarded for his 2022 terrific sonic run.
The total time run of the live broadcast for the Headies Awards was close to seven hours, with about four hours dedicated to the red carpet, making for a rushed award show, with some of the winners unable to collect their awards on stage. The awards presentation unsurprisingly started behind schedule, as is not far-fetched from typical Headies Awards ceremonies.
This year was one of serial award-winners’ absences in typical Headies fashion. Rema collected the “Best Music Video Director” award on behalf of Director K. Rexxie’s “Producer of the Year” award was received by Director Pink. Wande Coal’s award for “Best Male Vocal Performance” was accepted by Mr. Kareem Mobolaji, Empire Records’ regional manager, who also collected a plaque for Burna Boy. MI Abaga accepted the special recognition plaque given to Sound Sultan. It must be said that incidents like this continue to damage the relevance and credibility of the award show.
The “Best Recording of the Year”, “Songwriter of the Year”, “Best RnB Single”, “Best Vocal Performance” (Female), Headies “Viewers’ Choice”, “Best East African Artiste of the Year”, and “Best North African Artiste of the Year” were announced off stage. This was the same for the “Best Southern African Artiste of the Year”, “Best Central African Artiste of the Year”, “International Artiste of the Year”, “Best Alternative Album”, and “Best RnB Album”, with the winners announced via the Headies’ official Instagram and Twitter accounts. Crowning these obvious infamies was Ayar Starr’s vocal displeasure at being awarded off-screen, leading to a general public discourse about a possible misogynist slant in the Nigerian music industry as a whole.
The pre-event offerings of this year’s Headies were incredible, but the main event was slightly above average. The red carpet was commendable but the main show was full of avoidable mishaps which we hope will be corrected in the Headies’ next rodeo. The question of hosting the award show in the US remains a contentious issue among music many industry players, as there are some who hold the opinion that the award shouldn’t have been taken abroad, while others believe there is a need to galvanise the current “Afrobeats to the world” wave by taking it to the global entertainment capital. The attempt to globalise the event is laudable, nevertheless, it remains glaring that there’s a lot more to be done. This year’s version of events is not so different from what has transpired previously at Eko Hotel, Muson Centre, Ibeju Lekki, or any of the previously used venues. We collectively owe it to posterity to ensure that our prime music entertainment award show becomes more reputable, as the Headies remains an emblem of the state of our industry. It is only hoped that its organisers equally appreciate the gravity this award show carries, and implement suggested reforms where necessary, as the sustenance of this now global movement largely depends on collective institutional and organisational brilliance.
Emmanuel Daraloye is Africa’s most prolific freelance music critic. He has over 600 album reviews in his archive.