The 66th Grammy Awards show of Sunday night had its share of highlights, from Taylor Swift making history by winning her fourth Album Of The Year award, to Kylie Minogue landing her second award 20 years after her first.

However, between Trevor Noah’s presentation and Burna Boy’s medley performance – the first televised Grammy performance by an Afrobeats star – it was also a celebration of African talent and culture.

And with the inaugural Best African Music Performance award being scooped by Tyla for her smash hit ‘Water’, the 2024 awards marked the moment Afrobeats lost their stranglehold on the African music narrative. There’s a new African genre in town: Amapiano.

More than Afrobeats

The Best African Music Performance category, introduced this year, hasn’t been without controversy. Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason Jr. says the category was added to “accurately represent a diverse range of relevant musical genres. “

However, some have claimed that it failed to capture the breadth of music coming from the African continent. The recording academy’s literature has a non-exhaustive list of 18 genres that could be considered, including Ethio Jazz and Ghanaian Drill. However, it only featured nominees from two African nations and genres: Nigeria with Afrobeats, and South Africa with Amapiano.

Funnily enough, if we look back to 2019, when there was only one category for ‘World Music’ (renamed ‘Global Music in 2021), four African countries were represented. So, what’s going on? 

Well, the Grammys have always responded to changing music tastes. In 2022, the Global Music categories expanded, with the academy adding the Best Global Music Performance category. This doubled the number of ‘global music’ nomination slots (from 5 to 10). The Best African Music Performance feels like a continuation of this thinking. It also presented an opportunity for the club and radio-friendly music of Afrobeats and Amapiano to sit in their own category instead of competing with fusion artists who exist in quite a different ecosystem.

Why now? It’s Amapiano

What’s interesting about the new category is that it’s taken the international rise of a second major African music genre (Amapiano) to force the creation of an exclusively African category. There’s no denying Amapiano is having a moment on the international stage. Tyla’s ‘Water’ has over 380 million streams on Spotify alone, making it impossible to ignore.

What might account for the broader acceptance of Amapiano – specifically Tyla’s brand of Amapiano – is her more accessible alternative R&B sound, as opposed to the more traditional electronic/house sound that typifies the sound in South Africa. She’s the scene champion that everyone knows. Her twist on the genre has helped the wider international public understand Amapiano.

Other critics of the African Music Performance nominees complain that most songs are performed in English when Africa has up to 2000 living languages. 

However, English is the official language of Nigeria and one of 11 in South Africa. It’s also not a massive surprise that those acts exporting music for an international audience may have made some concessions so a wider audience can relate to the lyrics. That’s despite Tyla expressing a desire to sing in Zulu, like other Amapiano artists.

In contrast, Peso Pluma, the winner of Best Música Mexicana Album has made no concession to the English language. He doesn’t need to. There are 42 million Spanish speakers in the US alone, with nearly 500 million worldwide. His winning album Génesis peaked at no.3 in the Billboard chart, and he’s amassed billions of streams. 

Where next for global music?

So what can we expect next from the Grammys? One scene that’s notable by its absence come Grammy time is K-Pop. Blackpink, who sold out back-to-back shows at the 82,500 capacity MetroLife Arena in New Jersey last year have never received a Grammy nomination. Interestingly, South Korean entertainment giant Hybe’s recently acquired American hip-hop label Quality Control. Could these industry machinations make the prospect of a K-Pop category more likely?

For now, the Grammys’ recognition of Amapiano underscores the critical role of scene champions. These individual talents can elevate entire music scenes, guiding new listeners to explore and appreciate the sounds and culture of regional scenes.  

Wherever the next big music scene comes from, the recognition of Amapiano at the Grammys is a bold step towards greater global music representation. And with the trend towards glocalisation in music, it’s possible to imagine award shows further diversifying their categories to more comprehensively acknowledge the breadth of musical expressions worldwide. 

Read more about Amapiano’s sonic evolution.

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