Tuesday, August 17, 2010

MTV Africa Music Awards : The Little White Lie

For every time I ever heard the tag-line of the MTV Africa Music Awards commercial, I felt a cringe somewhere inside me.

I never really investigated the reason for that cringe, but I knew there was something terribly wrong with the statement being made at the end of the MAMA’s commercial.

“Giving Africa a Voice”

A few weeks ago, after hearing it yet again, I actually repeated it to myself a few times and it was immediately clear to me why I always had that negative reaction toward it.

It is a blatant LIE.

The MTV Music Awards is MTV’s signature continent specific Annual music Awards event. The MTV Europe Music Awards (EMA’s), MTV Asia Awards, MTV Australia Awards and now MTV Africa Music Awards are held annually in celebration of musical achievement around the world.

The MTV platform is very well recognized globally, and Africa was proud when in 2008, the first ever MAMA’s was held in Abuja, Nigeria.

Everyone was excited about this huge opportunity for African artistes to be recognized on an International platform. I was so excited about it, that I actually went to Abuja just for the Event.

Finally, we had our very own MTV Awards Event, as opposed to the African Act Category the entire continent had to struggle for on the Europe Music Awards (EMA’s) platform.

Nigeria’s TuFace and D’banj won the Best African Act Award in 2005 and 2007 respectively.

D'banj receiving his EMA

Without a doubt, African artistes have benefitted tremendously from the MTV Award platform and I celebrate that in every way I know how.

However, to make an outright claim that the MAMA’s platform ‘gives Africa a Voice’, is something I find completely absurd and insulting.

I think it’s just WRONG to say that.

It would have made a lot more sense if the tag-line was “Letting Africa’s Voice be heard”, that would have been a home truth that cannot be contested.

When someone says they gave you your Voice, doesn’t that mean that apart from them, you have no voice?!

So does this mean that before 2008 when MAMA’s was established, Africa had no voice??

But isn’t Fela Anikulapo-Kuti an African Voice which has been heard for decades before 2008? How about Mama Afrika, Mariam Makeba, who died in November 2008, but through her music, had been a Voice even in Apartheid South Africa?

What about Youssour Ndor, Brenda Fassi, Papa Wemba, Oliver De Coque, Seun Anikulapo-Kuti, Sound Sultan, Daddy Showkey and all the thousands of great Artistes who through their Music, have been a Voice for the millions of Africans they represent; did the MAMA’s give them their voice?

Let’s not even talk about our folklores; traditional music passed down from generations of Africans. Did your forefathers in the villages have televisions or any clue as to what MTV is?!

Even in personal relationships, the concept of “say what you mean and mean what you say” is an invaluable one, so it actually confuses me that a global brand like MTV, backed by a major indigenous Telecoms company, can confidently make such a profound claim, which is clearly a Lie.

Someone actually wrote that line, it passed through an Approval process, and has now been on Television for quite a while; a clear deception, being communicated to the millions of young Africans who watch and believe everything they hear and see on MTV daily.

How do you now convince the 13year old Nigerian boy, whose entire worldview is shaped by what he sees and hears on MTV Base, that Africa didn’t get her voice from the MAMA’s?!

How do you teach this same boy the concept of Individuality and the value of finding his own voice as a tool for making an impact in his world?

How do you convince him that there is pride in being African and much to celebrate about who we are and our history as a people?

I’m sure we all know that the best way to get anyone to accept an idea, regardless of how absurd it is, is to continuously confront them with it until they have no choice but to believe and accept it.

Why is it that the tag-line for the MTV Asia Awards doesn’t make the same claim?!

Have we as Africans become so desensitized to our own sense of Identity that we gleefully accept whatever we are told about ourselves, in exchange for an International Platform for our music?

Is that what it is?!

What about me? I have a Voice, it took me a long while, but I finally discovered it, and I have never been on the MAMA’s platform.

Neither has Tosyn Bucknor, whose voice gives hope to thousands of young people on the radio every week-day, or Funmi Iyanda who for years was a Voice for people who otherwise wouldn’t be heard, through her Talk Show on NTA.

Are these not African Voices?!

No matter how nicely wrapped a Lie is, it can NEVER become Truth. It will always remain a Lie.

The MTV Africa Music Awards with Zain, DOES NOT and DID NOT give Africa its Voice.

And that’s a Home Truth.


  1. wow...such assertiveness...preach sister!

  2. Okay Tari...this is quite angry. And I totally get you. But even though I don't work for MTV I think they probably used the term 'giving Africa a voice' quite loosely to mean that they gave 'air' to Africa's voice. Sometimes these seemingly little things pass through loads of heads and hands and are still not spotted.

    But if it was deliberately used in pompous declaration that Africa wouldn't have had a voice apart from them, then MTV should be ashamed of themselves.

  3. We are desensitized like u rightfully said and most times we want to be like the western world thereby getting our true identity lost in d process. Truth be told, they are ahead of us by the whole nine yards but the annoying truth is dat they bait us with phony recognitions cos they see our ignorance and complacency in many things. We don't even really know what we want, thank God for undaunted voices like urs...its not only in MAMA shit like dis happens, it cuts across but there is hope. For the young ones, we are d one wit the responsibility to help 'em unlearn and learn d truth.

  4. Tari. Take this to the next level. Since so many music genres can trace their roots directly or indirectly to Africa, Africa ACTUALLY GAVE MTV A VOICE. That tag line is both ignorant and presumptuous.

  5. You seem very passionate about this issue. And rightfully so I must add. Change it. Any way you know how. Submit a write up similar to this to a MTV representative. It might not change anything, but at least you would have done your part. For the sake of the 13 year old boy who believes everything he sees on tv.

  6. have a point but yet you seem to forget that it has given Africa a more international platform. Dont forget that prior to the entry of MTV Africa, African artists who broke into the international music scene did it purely based on their own efforts.

    Music is universal and in order for an artist to attain complete commercial success (NOTE the use of the word commercial) he not only is a hit in his own domain but also elsewhere. Youssor, Rachid Taha, Amodu et Mariam, Kodjo Antwi, Baba Maal, Fela and the likes are not only known on their continent thanks to international platforms.
    Which is why many artist are coming back home to try and promote their music here first and be push from inwards..

    In Europe they have become more aware that Africa produces great music even though its a token category. I worked in music for a really long time in Nigeria and as a result i do recognize that it has given Africa a voice, even not just internationally but but unifying us as a continent and making us look inward and recognizing that you dont need to do a collabo with an american artist but you can also have great tunes together.

    So I disagree with you in ur assertion that its a white lie. You may have found your voice independently but some wouldnt have without Alex Okosi dream. And no, I dont work for MTV base NEITHER does he know me.

    P.S. I would take more issue with international award ceremonies who have token Femi Kuti story of when he was first nominated for a Grammy and the humiliation he felt when he attended. Now thats something to be angry about.