As the first recipient of the inaugural award Best African Musical Performance GRAMMY Award, South African singer Tyla has officially etched its name in history. At GRAMMYS 2024that of the 22 year old Afro pop hit infused with amapiano “Water” beat out several well-established names in African music.
While Tyla’s success on Music’s Biggest Night highlights the Recording Academy’s continued efforts to showcase the diversity of African music, her victory is more of a one-armed embrace rather than a total, legless embrace of African music .
This is mainly because “Water” was successful and marketable for its use of Western pop influences. Although Afrobeats and amapiano are certainly cross America, awarding a golden gramophone to an artist whose work reflects familiar sounds is a curious step forward for African music. Yet Tyla’s victory could spur greater embrace of the African sound, and the virality and ubiquity of “Water” has propelled the Johannesburg-born singer-songwriter to unheard-of heights.
“Water” reached number one on the Billboard US Afrobeats Songs and Hip-Hop/R&B charts, and became the first African song to enter the Billboard Hot 100 since 1968. The track peaked at number 7, making Tyla the highest ranked song. African solo musician in Billboard history. The “Water” dance challenge on TikTok took the track global, and the song has been featured in more than 1.5 million videos.
The widespread appeal of “Water” is a culmination of elements including a fusion of Western pop with more subtle Amapiano influences. The song fuses stylish American R&B and pop compositions with the wood-driven drums and piano leads synonymous with the South African amapiano genre.
Learn more: 10 African GRAMMY winners over the years: from Miriam Makeba to Angélique Kidjo and Burna Boy
Indeed, most musical genres (regardless of the continent of origin) inspire and contribute to each other. The resulting music transcends regional boundaries and appeals worldwide – and Tyla’s “Water” is proof of that resonance. But it also reflects how major Western influence is often necessary for African music to transcend the continent.
The Recording Academy’s new category was designed to highlight “strong elements of African cultural significance,” said Shawn Thwaites, project manager of the Recording Academy Awards and author of the category. In describing eligibility For the Best African Musical Performance category, Thwaites noted that songs must feature “stylistic intent, song structure, lyrical content and/or musical representation found in Africa and the African diaspora.”
Yet when it comes to recognizing lesser-known genres – from South Africa’s gqom to Tanzania’s Singeli to Ghana’s asakaa – global audiences still have a long way to go.
“We need to dig deeper and detail the different genres of music. We know that there are many different types of music – hundreds of genres, in fact – coming from Africa and all 54 countries on the continent,” said Harvey, CEO of the Recording Academy. Mason Jr. told GRAMMY.com after his three trips to this vibrant continent. “I would love to see us be able to honor even more music from Africa and other parts of the world.”
Thwaites hopes that celebrating the diversity of African music will also lead to greater cultural exchange. Ultimately, this could lead to “more collaborations between artists of different genres and more artist relationships between labels and executives in America,” he said.
But for this progression to take place correctly, there must be cultural education on music within the continent and that is something Ghazi ShamiCEO/Founder of Empire Records, Distribution and Publishing – who consulted with the Recording Academy on the new category – is eager to see it expand.
“I think we will see expanded categories in African music in the years to come, but this is a good start towards recognizing the merits and impact of African music,” he said. told GRAMMY.com before the ceremony.
Tyla’s GRAMMY win is an exceptional achievement, especially for a young African woman. African popular music has often been skewed towards male artists. At GRAMMYS 2023, Themes became the only female solo artist currently living in Nigeria to win a GRAMMY. (Sadisticborn in Nigeria, won four GRAMMYs but lives in the UK)
A similar trend is observed in South Africa, where Miriam Makeba was both Africa’s first GRAMMY winner and the country’s solo singer to win before Tyla.
Tyla’s win is a beacon for other young female performers in Africa, including another nominee in the category. Ayra Starr and singer-songwriter and producer Bloody civilian — prove that women artists can and will be recognized, whatever their country of origin. It also demonstrates how the distance between African artists and international prestige has been reduced, thereby strengthening the chances of artistic innovation.
His victory is also remarkable in a category bringing together Nigerian artists. Of the five nominated works, “Water” is the only one that was not created by an artist of Nigerian origin or currently living in Nigeria. (Although the South African producer Moussa’s keys is featured on Davidois nominated “UNAVAILABLE.”) Although South Africa has a long history at the GRAMMY Awards, Tyla is proof that the world is listening to what his country has to offer.
While his fellow nominees — Starr, Burna BoyDavido, ASAKE & Olamide – and artists like Wizkid Although we have also taken responsibility for the globalization of African popular music, there is still a long way to go.
Tyla’s victory is very promising for African music as pop music. While “Water” certainly contains notable South African elements, part of its Western appeal may lie in its use of familiar sounds. For Africa to truly win, the world must embrace African music for what it is, not what it tries to be.
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