African stars are out to shine at BET Awards

2014-06-29 15:00

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When the Black Entertainment Television (BET) Awards show airs in the US tonight, it will break new ground by giving South African Afro-pop duo Mafikizolo and Nigerian singer-songwriter Tiwa Savage?–?nominees in the Best International Act: Africa category?–?their first US performance platform.

Now while we’d like to keep our cool about such things and say, “We are African, we don’t need to be validated by the West” to downplay the value of this level of exposure would be silly.

Like it or not, when it comes to the pecking order of global music and arts, the US is a cultural superpower.

Just to be seen to “make it” there in a world where perception is everything can be all that it takes.

Tiwa Savage’s fairy tale story, for example, begins with her singing background vocals for a few of the stars she now calls her contemporaries.

In fact, USA Today newspaper recently carried a piece listing five nominees to know at the BET Awards this year and she is among them.

Ghanaian hip-hop artist Sarkodie will join the other two MTV Africa Music Award-winning acts to perform as part of the Music Around the Globe presentation, a move to introduce BET’s primarily African-American audience to the talents from Africa.

This strategy dates back to 2008 when the Best International Act: Africa category was introduced, born of the network’s mandate to build a global distribution footprint.

At a pre-awards reception held for Best International nominees in Los Angeles this week, senior vice-president and general manager for BET International Michael D Armstrong tells me: “A big part of what I do is making the brand more relevant in the markets where we operate, so obviously we are an American brand and we have been designed for the better part of 35 years to appeal to African-Americans.

“But we also understand that there are BET viewers who come to the brand from other parts of the world. By integrating these awards?–?even though we aren’t on the main stage on the big night yet?–?we are beginning to expose the US audience, not just the BET audience, to these amazing artists.”

Armstrong heads back into the gathering of African and UK artists, handlers and media huddled in loose groups on the fourth-floor patio of the JW Marriott Hotel for the weekend’s activities.

On one side, a female DJ is seamlessly blending African club bangers with US Top 40 hits much to the appreciation of the intimate gathering.

At the event, Mafikizolo look particularly striking in their signature beaded jewellery.

There are many Best International nominees present.

Congolese pop star Fally Ipupa stands in the centre of a circle of people demonstrating Nigerian star Davido’s new dance craze, the skelewu.

Public relations staff usher talent in and out of suites for sit-down interviews and photo opportunities. The LA sun sets, bringing a soft, red glow to the anticipation of what the next 48 hours will bring.

»?Catch the BET Awards 2014 on Tuesday at 10pm Central African Time on BET International

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