Not everyone is afforded the opportunity to attend a major, national awards ceremony. I won’t say “never,” but my career aspirations will probably keep me away from the accolades and/or money required to grab a ticket for, say, The Grammys. But in early April, I was able to secure a seat at the Vodaphone (sponsored) Ghana Music Awards (VGMAs). It was quite an experience and one that I will never forget! There WAS a red carpet filled with press cameras, TV personalities as well as screaming fans. There were pre-show interviews about which designers the celebrities were sporting, their pending nominations and other aspects of their personal lives. There were rows of seats in front reserved for all of the biggest names in Ghanaian music from High Life legend Daddy Lumba to up-and-comer Mz. Vee, hip life mainstays Edem and E.L, and international stars like Yemi Alade. I was pleased to see many artists take the opportunity to shine light on social issues from the recent tragedy in Kenya to the struggles with Boko Haram.
When the 4-5 hour award ceremony (that admittedly started TOO late for something so long) finished, we had watched 25 awards) get handed out and were treated to performances of all genres from the likes of Wiyala, Sonny Badu, No Tribe, Papy Kojo & Joey B, Edem, Dark Suburb, Pato Ranking and many more! For those who were not fortunate enough to get a ticket to this year’s VGMAs, the entire show was broadcast onto a set of screens that had been set up in Osu, Accra’s main nightlife neighborhood.
In addition to the free live broadcast, many of the artists left the Convention Center after their stage performance to put on an encore show for the fans on Osu’s Oxford Street! The awards show was also broadcast on television and online for anyone outside of Accra, or too lazy or busy to make it to the live performance in the city.
External validation is always a difficult process for something as subjective as art. Not one Grammy or Oscar show has gone by without a percentage of the population vocalizing their complaints. Winning a Grammy is a huge accolade for a musician’s career but missing out on a nomination or failing to take home the gold trophy does not reflect poorly on a piece of art’s quality in any way. While many categories’ titles include “Best…,” we all know that there is a lot more that goes into the process than simply who made the “best” song, album, video…whatever “best” even means in this context. I am sure that the 2015 VGMAs carried similar shortcomings, but it was a bizarre experience being completely out of the fold, on a personal level. I have been getting to know the Ghanaian music scene to the best of my ability – I was familiar with at least half of the nominees for most categories, but not all – since I arrived here in December, 4-5 months prior. I know that Stonebwoy and his current hit “Baafire” are literally EVERYWHERE right now but I had to take Charter House’s (the governing body) word that he was indeed Ghana’s “Artist of the Year”. I was rooting for personal favorites, but I didn’t even know if the ones I liked were deserving of the awards I hoped they would win. It was certainly a different take than I usually have with an event like this, one of a complete spectator; unable to pass judgment on any artist’s victory or defeat. All things considered, it was a great opportunity that I was more than happy to seize.