The BET Awards 2018 was held on Sunday night, June 24 in California, US and a major highlight was the presentation of the award for the Best International Act to Davido on the BET main stage.
The award in its 18th edition traditionally celebrates achievements of black men and women in the entertainment and also honors music, sports, television, and movies.
In 2011, the BET introduced the Best International Act: Africa category, which seeks to honour the artistes from the continent following the giant stripes and recognition that the likes of 2face Idibia and D’banj were beginning to attract at that period.
So while the award started in 2001, it took 10 years for African acts to force the attention of the organizers in a manner that the early years even suggests they were not exactly predisposed to.
The first year the award was introduced surprisingly saw two winners sharing the award, a feat that was uncommon at award ceremonies.
Nigerian duo of 2face Idibia and D’banj were announced as the joint winners of the 2011 Best International Act category, but more shocking to these artistes was the fact that they never got to receive the award on stage.
The duo picked up their awards at the back stage, hours before the main event even took place.
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The following year witnessed a similar pattern as the award was again jointly shared by Nigeria’s Wizkid and Ghana’s Sarkodie with the duo again not getting anywhere close to the main stage.
But with each passing year, African music continued to grow and artistes from the continent were attracting a global audience aided by the release of D’banj‘s Oliver Twist in 2012 and the gradual rise of Afrobeats.
Hence, it was expected that the 2013 edition of the awards saw a deviation from the double winners path as Ice Prince emerged as the sole winner of the category ahead of the likes of 2face Idibia and R2bees.
The following years saw different winners in Davido, Stonebwoy, Black Coffee and Wizkid in 2017, but every single winner never received his award on the BET stage and African artistes got tired of being identified as BET winners but began to demand for the respect that should come with it.
Reactions from African artistes
2015 was officially the boiling point for African artistes as a number of them found their voices and called out the organizers of the awards.
In an online poll conducted by Pulse, 67.7% of Nigerians had voted for African stars to boycott the awards.
Wizkid who was among the nominees posted a tweeted saying, “So I’m hearing BET is mad cos I didn’t come for the pre shows and interviews.
I won’t be attending your pre-shows and nominee parties if I’m getting the award at 10a.m. before the main show, same reason I didn’t come back stage to pick up the award when I won the first time”.
Another nominee, Yemi Alade also refused to attend the awards as she said, “Africa is not a country!!!… it is wrong to nominate huge African stars and publicly try to humiliate Africa.
Why on earth is the African category of the awards held hours before the ‘main event?
If African artistes are not worthy in your sight, please by all means cancel, delete, and omit the ‘Best International Act (Africa) category out of the glorified award.”
It was not just a case of Nigerian artistes standing up as Ghanaian/UK based act, Fuse ODG also took to his twitter page to state his displeasure with the organizers of the awards.
”The reason why I did not come is because you give our awards backstage! You have no respect for our hard work and achievements.’’
What kind of encouragement do artistes get when they are awarded in front of hundreds of empty chairs instead of people?”
Ghanaian Hip-life legend, Reggie Rockstone also added his voice saying, “When the nominees boycott the ceremony, they would get bigger publicity than how they are treated now.
A lot of African-Americans are not aware what is going on because a lot of the African-Americans are Pan-African. If they get to know this is how the Africans are treated, you will see the kind of support we will get.
In 2017, Wizkid was again nominated, with a tweet released to announce that he will also be performing on the main stage of the awards, but again, Wizkid was a no show at both the pre or main awards.
In a recent interview, Alex Okosi of Viacom International Media Networks Africa attempted an explanation on why African artistes were not recognised on the BET main stage, “The controversy gets a little bit lost.
The BET award is a global award with a lot of categories, so not all the categories get recognised on the stage. There is a UK Act category, French Act category and then the US categories.
Those awards are recognised on stage. But I think the main important thing is to recognise the opportunity that is being created, especially the exposure and the global recognition.”
Respect finally earned
But this is 2018 and the excuses are no longer tenable, with the organizers forced to acknowledge this.
The first move was the transformation of the category from the Best International Act: Africa, to simply the Best International Act and this time, it incorporates artistes of African heritage based in countries from around the world.
The organizers also announced via a tweet that the award will be presented on its main stage for the first time since the creation of the awards.
This is a good step, but it is long overdue.
Gone are the days when the best that African artistes could get outside our shores were closet shows and club performances, the likes of Wizkid and Davido now play in the big league selling out major concerts around the world.
Nigerian artistes now collaborate more with international stars and beyond the music, they are also influencing the pop culture with Wizkid recently joining the Dolce and Gabbana runway.
The feats recorded over the past few years can no longer be relegated to the background, African voices have grown louder than backstage or pre-stage recognition, if Wizkid can record a song with Drake or Davido perform on the Summer Jam stage as Gucci Mane, why can’t they receive their award on the same stage as the others.
The journey has been long and it is welcoming to see Davido pick up his award on the main stage of the BET Awards, a move that is thoroughly deserving as African artistes have earned their place among the best.