The real story of the 2014 Headies, Nigeria’s most visible music award ceremony, came at the end, strutting onstage in the toned shape of the strapping Okoye twins. Peter and Paul Okoye of P-Square performed and then received the Special Recognition Award.
Artists collecting awards are normal. Except for this detail: the award was hitherto non-existent. To put it differently, for the 2014 edition of the Headies, a category was invented for P-Square. And so sweeping was the urge to bestow this prize that the organisers named the award somewhat tautologically. Isn’t an award already special recognition?
Why this was necessary should be clear to followers of the award show. If it isn’t, bear with me. I’ll get to it.
Headies vs Grammys
“The Headies is almost like the African Grammys,” said Basket mouth, male host for the evening. He was jocularly justifying the ceremony’s late, late start. Of course, he was wrong. The Grammys begin usually by 3am and end around 6am. Unless there are glitches the Grammy ceremony is a three hour show. By contrast, the Headies, started by midnight and stretched till 5am. Yet who are we kidding? American culture is pop culture worldwide. And if originality is applauded, so is reproducing the visual excellence and smooth delivery of the Grammys. The Headies failed on both counts.
Featuring a shambolic red carpet session—with out of breath (and maybe out of depth) presenters, awful lighting and a clueless rent-a-crowd to whoop the mostly C-list stars using the main entrance—the televised show was a mess. Despite the embrace of all that is shiny and foreign, Nigerians are not given to celebrity adulation in the way of Americans. Sure we love talking about famous people—it is why Ms Ikeji is successful—but we are not breathless consumers of celebrity. Where there is a choice, you’ll find that the Nigerian prefers a reserved admiration. Savvy shows adapt quality from elsewhere; oblivious ones, as the Headies proved to be, import without discriminating.
The stars themselves did their best to ruin the show. 2face’s absence for the night’s first accolade—Best R&B Song—seemed to suggest to subsequent winners that they, too, could avoid their awards. At some point it seemed the winners disappeared at the very instant they were called upon to collect their awards. For some however it was clear that the award meant a lot. The underrated Niyola appeared to shed a tear upon winning Best Vocal Performance (female).
Oritshe Femi was another artist for whom an award meant a lot. “I be street boy, but now God don elevate me,” he said upon receiving the Street Hop award.
I wondered if this statement was a disavowal of his award. With the paucity of singers who did grow up on the streets, Oritshe Femi’s was the only category with a predetermined winner. Closely following as a certainty was Timi Dakolo’s win for Pop Vocal Performance. I’ll argue that Oritshe Femi’s Double Wahala could have won the category as well without much controversy—that would send a message contrarian to the received idea that vocal performances must come from genres most akin to American forms. Of course that would give Nigeria’s most mainstream award a subversive edge, an appellation they are rather too keen to avoid.
Tribute to Fallen Stars
The show’s tribute to deceased artists was a nice touch. Although the use of Jimmy Reeves as photos of the late artists appeared on the screen was perplexing? Are there no suitable songs by Nigerians?
I wasn’t sure if Mavens, as a group, should have been nominated for best collaboration since they are a unit. Luckily Wizzy Pro’s Emergency with Patoranking, Skales and Runtown won the category. The Quartet came up to perform the song. The Nigerian audience is perhaps the most difficult in the world. Stingy with applause, easily irritable and with a zing meter ranging from indifference to boredom, Nigerians are rarely encouraging. The young men were hardly rewarded for their energy. Even Toke Makinwa, female host and Empress Smug, discarded her condescension to implore a catatonic audience for applause or signs of life.
Jesse Jagz won Lyricist on the Roll, unleashing the loudest cheer for a win. He dedicated his award to displaced people. Previously, the camera kept cutting to Jesse as he lost other nominations; each time, even smiling, his face remained inscrutable. It must have been a relief to win, albeit for a lesser work. The song God on the Mic is deserving, but his true achievement is the album, a category he was shut from, presumably because the jury realised it would be tricky to situate his album in a genre. And if an album doesn’t win within a genre, how can it win the general category?
Patoranking’s Night and the wait for a female Next Rated
“If I tell una say I don sell rat killer before, una go believe? If I say I don do bricklayer before, una go believe?” That was the highpoint of Patoranking’s Next Rated speech. His win meant yet another year without a female winner in the category, highlighting the gender divide in an industry with infinite spots for female dancers and few for female singers. It was Yemi Alade’s loss more than it was Skales, or Runtown’s. The contemporary scene resembles an ancient fiefdom: females are seen but not heard. In any case, the pressure is with triumphant Patoranking—will he slink away like the Skuki boys or erupt like Wizkid?
An absent Sarkodie won the award for African Act, a half-hearted attempt at courting the international for what is in spirit—as observed in its extreme lateness—and in performance following performance, a thoroughly Nigerian award show. It should unashamedly claim the turf. In any case if it hasn’t earned enough local respect why scout for foreign appeal?
The Headies Headache and the P-Square Problem
As the event wound down, the award and performances seemed pre-arranged. Davido won for Aye and came to perform the song. And the men from P-Square were handed individual headies after performing a medley of their hits, ending a feud with the award ceremony that begun when the twins lost out to Asa about in 2008. At the time, P-Square’s camp claimed the loss was due to tribalism. Yoruba Asa (real name Bukola Elemide) won for Best Album as did DJ Tee (real name Adetokunbo Odubawo) for Best Video. Igbo boys P-Square and their director brother Jude Okoye were nominees in both categories and went home empty-handed. In protest the boys boycotted the show. The Headies, confident at the time, ignored the whinging.
In 2014, however, the Headies is a little insecure. The televised clips leading up to the show have artists repeatedly asked what the award has done for them, if they are winners; and what it will do for them if they are nominees. Timid stuff.
P-Square, by contrast, has taken the opposite route, becoming more certain of their own merits. And rather than actively seek awards—years ago, they embarked on a television campaign when they scored an MTV nomination—they court American artists. Akon, Rick Ross, TI and, failing to get MJ, they got Jermaine Jackson. Much more than looking for international appeal, P-Square now is invested in the politics of respect.
With both these players out for something, it was only a matter of time before the teary reconciliation.
And so it was that the feud ended with P-Square’s spirited performance. And with two statuettes in their moneyed palms. By the end of their performance, the Headies had received major star-power for a show stacked with young, untested acts; while P-Square have the respect of that Nigeria’s most visible award show can give.
“This award is not just for P-Square,” they said. “It is for the industry.” Yeah right. I wonder how many emissaries were sent their way. Let’s call the 2014 Headies what it really was: a barter ceremony.
Between Davido and P-Square came Olamide. As was the pattern at the end, he performed Eleda Mi after collecting his second Album of the Year award in as many years. He also received his second successive rap album of the year, beating of frequent collaborator Phyno, who may be the strongest contender. If Phyno was anything like P-Square circa ‘09, we’d have a controversy. He isn’t; and so we don’t.
Not like Olamide would care. “…Dem say the boy na smello, dem say the boy na kpako, story for the gods!” he said, riffing on his hit song. Although much relaxed, his subsequent performance was a victory lap.
Unfortunately, at five hours, the show itself was an endurance trek.
Oris Aigbokhaevbolo is a film, book and pop critic. Follow him @catchoris
First published in YNaija.