The Grow, Unite, Build, Africa (GUBA) Enterprise and Rolling Stone hosted the second annual African Nominee Brunch on Saturday in Beverly Hills, celebrating a landmark year for African representation at this weekend’s Grammy Awards.
The brunch is among the more vibrant events in all of Grammy weekend. This year’s celebration marks the second time GUBA has hosted the Nominee Brunch and the first time Rolling Stone has signed on to partner, and this weekend’s gathering was particularly notable as Sunday’s Grammys marks a new category set to bring increased visibility to African music: Best African Music Performance.
The nominees for the inaugural award are Asake and Olamide‘s “Amapiano,” Burna Boy’s “City Boys,” Davido’s “Unavailable” featuring Musa Keys, Ayra Starr’s “Rush,” and Tyla‘s “Water.”
African music’s global influence has exploded over the past several years, thanks to a surge in popularity for Afropop, and its subgenres like Afrobeats in Nigeria and Ghana, and Amapiano in South Africa.
“This is just the beginning of the journey for our organization in having a significantly bigger embrace of the culture of the continent,” Recording Academy President Panos Panay said at the event on Saturday. “This is a big step, this is us as an Academy truly embracing what we know is a fundamental shift and ultimately the assertion of the continent on a global stage. It’s incredible to be here to celebrate this music, this culture from this continent — it’s about time.”
The event kicked off with a performance from dance group AfroMekah, choreographed to some of the songs nominated for Best African Music Performance including “Water” and “Unavailable.”
Panay brought up Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason Jr., who similarly spoke about the importance of highlighting African music as so many genres from the continent have blossomed.
“Times are different, everything’s changed, and the Academy is a different Academy,” Mason said. A big part of that is the music that we’re celebrating and a big part of the music that we’re celebrating right now is music from the continent of Africa.”
Following the new category’s announcement, some African music industry insiders emphasized the importance — and the potential challenges — of having this award properly represent the entirety of a largely diverse African diaspora, not just what’s noticeable among more mainstream and western audiences.
At the brunch, Mason and Panay described this year’s inaugural award as the first step in a longer line of progress with African music they hope to see from the Academy going forward.
“I’m excited to listen and learn from a lot of you. We don’t know everything,” Mason said. “I love Afrobeats, Amapiano, but we don’t know everything about all the music and all the talent that is happening everywhere in the world. So I’m counting on you, all of you, to help inform us, to educate us so we can understand how to serve.
“And it’s not just about the trophies,” he continued. “The trophies are fun, but it’s also about all the other work that the Academy can do to help build music, infrastructure, and ecosystems. And not just in L.A. and New York, but in other countries [and] other cities all around the world.”
The Grammys will air on CBS at 8 p.m. ET on Sunday.