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Is it the end for Africa’s MAMAs?

What next?  Last week, it was announced that the MTV Africa Music Awards slated for February 20 will not be taking place. Andrew Kaggwa and Isaac Ssejjombwe trace the journey of MTV to Uganda and what this means.

The relationship between Uganda and MTV is one that is older than many people could imagine.

It all started in 2005, then African countries were forging musical unity through initiatives such as the Kora Awards and Channel O Music Awards by popular music station Channel O.

MTV with its flagship MTV Base Africa were opening their doors to Africa and had decided to take the launch to different African countries.

Uganda was one of these countries.

With local artistes Bebe Cool, Klear Kut, Peter Miles and Jose Chameleone, the channel planned their launch. Known for their star appeal, they had attracted Will Smith and Ludacris to the South African launch. In Uganda, it was Nigerian superstar 2Face Idibia, who was making waves across the continent and the world with his song “African Queen”. The song was catchy, thanks to a guitar pattern they had borrowed from Justin Timberlake’s “Cry Me a River” but above it all, it had featured in Phat Girlz, a Hollywood film by Academy Award winning actress and comedian Monique Angela Hicks alias Mo’Nique.

It was a big deal at the time that even critics that did not clearly know “African Queen”, at least made it a point to mention the fact that the song was in a Hollywood film.

However, by the time Viacom, the parent company of MTV brought the Base to launch in Uganda, “African Queen” was only popular among some circles, that at the end of the day, it could have been Peter Miles and Navio that carried the day, thanks to their collaboration, “Ruckus”.

The song was so hot that it, alongside Bebe Cool’s “Lonely”, Michael Ross’ “On Fire” and some songs by Ngoni, made up Uganda’s first roster on MTV Base.

But that wasn’t all, 2Face joined Peter Miles, Navio and the other members of Navio’s Klear Kut to do a remix of “Ruckus”.

And just like that, Uganda had successfully realised the first objective of MTV Base as a channel, “to bring Africa together” and thus, forge a relationship with the channel.

That year the MTV through their popular MTV Europe Music Awards (EMAs) in Lisbon, Portugal introduced a new category – Best African Act, joining another lot of regional categories such as the Best UK Act, Best Italian Act and Best Swedish Act, among others.

2Face easily won that.

Uganda’s first nomination was in 2007 when Jose Chameleone was a nominee alongside D’Banj, HHP, Jua Cali and Samini.

Enter the MAMAs

A lot was generally happening on the continent as far as art was concerned. For instance, the Africa Movie Academy Awards had been launched, and through Matt Bish’s State Research Bureau, Uganda had celebrated a nomination, while in music, Chameleone and Bebe Cool were getting nominated in the Music Of Black Origin (MOBO) awards and many Ugandans were getting nominated at the Channel O Music Video Awards.

Either way, the launch of the MTV Africa Music Awards in 2008 was still exciting, the stakes were bigger and as you could imagine, the belief was that the MAMAs were a bigger stage.

But that wasn’t all, the first MAMAs were a celebration of African music in a unique way. For instance, unlike those that came after, weeks heading to the 2008 event on November 22,  four concerts celebrating nominees were organised in DR Congo, Kenya, South Africa and Nigeria.

Uganda was represented by East African Bashment Crew, a trio of Bebe Cool, Nazizi and Wyre who were nominated for Best Group, while Allan Toniks for his “Beera Nange” was a nominee for Listeners’ Choice award.

Over the different editions of the shows, Ugandans such as Radio and Weasel, Blu3, Bebe Cool, Jose Chameleone, Eddy Kenzo and Sheebah, among others have been nominated.

The 2021 MAMAs

The awards have not been consistent, for instance, since they were launched 13 years ago, they have only been held six times, taking a three-year break twice.

The awards were coming back as a vehicle to drive tourism eyeballs towards Uganda and what the country has to offer.

“The awards are an extraordinary African cultural experience, and we understand the important role it plays in driving awareness, cross culture education and profiling the continent’s rich leisure tourism offerings on the international stage,” Godfrey Kiwanda, the state minister for Tourism said during the launch.

There were questions about the timing of the show, considering the fact that Uganda was going through an election, plus, there was a Covid-19 situation.

“Uganda is a peaceful country and by the time the awards happen, the elections will be behind us, that’s not something we should be worried about,” the minister had assured at the time.

Yet, for most of the time since the awards were announced, they took a backseat as the elections, which had many artistes contesting, drove the narrative.

On December 9, the first batch of nominees were announced with artistes Burna Boy, Tiwa Savage, Simi and Ugandans John Blaq and Sheebah gaining some nominations.

The first challenge of the awards was when they unveiled a new category for the host city, Best Ugandan Act, some Ugandans looked at it as a token category given to an industry so weak to compete favourably with the rest.

“Is our music that bad that we can only compete with ourselves?” wondered one fan on Twitter.

Uganda vs Nigeria

Only three days after nominees were announced, two Nigerian artistes; Tems and Omah Lay were invited to Uganda for a performance that had been advertised as a brunch.

Days before the concert, Bebe Cool had started making social media posts seeking the cancellation of the show, considering the fact that for more than eight months, Ugandan artistes had not been in position to organise concerts.

The show went on smoothly, however, after a social media storm from local artistes, Tems, Omah Lay and one of their managers were arrested.

Just like that, two of the nominees in the Best Breakthrough category were prisoners in Uganda and other nominees at the same show such as Burna Boy, WizKid, DJ Neptune as well as other artistes such as RunTown, Mr P, RudeBoy and Davido were calling Uganda out. That was the first time talk of boycotting the MAMAs in Kampala started.

But this was just one of the things that was going on.

In November at the heat of the presidential campaigns, riots had erupted across the country and more than 50 people had been killed.

At that time, again, the nominees of an award show that was only months away were joining the world to pray for Uganda. At the time, Davido, Yemi Alade and Sauti Sol, among others joined the world to call for the end of police brutality.

Then there was an internet shutdown for six days and the last nail in the coffin, DJ Khaled’s hosting announcement.

After all had happened, on Thursday, through their social media platforms, MTV Base announced it was postponing the event to a date they will communicate.

What does this mean?

During the launch of MAMAs 2021, a series of activities had been announced, including the Road to Mama, a serialised reality show that would bring different African artistes to enjoy Uganda’s tourism sites and a talent search that was aimed at using the awards to shine a light on mushrooming talent in different regions of the country.

It was thought that Ali Alibhai’s Talent Africa was spearheading that campaign.

When contacted though, the Talent Africa CEO said it is true there will be a talent search but it’s a different arrangement from the MAMAs.

Being a virtual show, some of the performances were already in production by the time the plug was pulled. However, many of Viacom’s contracted partners in Uganda all refused to comment because of contractual obligations.

According to an official communication to these writers from MTV, the awards have been postponed but will still take place in the 2021 calendar year and still as a virtual event.

However, even when the awards may be postponed, they note that voting has been closed: “The closing date for votes was January 31. We shall keep you posted on any further developments.”

The MTV MAMAs are, however, not the first awards to be postponed after nominations have been announced. In Nigeria, The Headies, one of their biggest awards, have been postponed before, as have the Sound City Awards, in 2016, and the Kora Awards.

Many times, postponed awards don’t return, they simply sit the year out and plan for the future.

However, with the level of investment, belief is, like the few that have returned after a postponement, the MAMAs will bounce back bigger and better.

What nominees think

John Blaq

John Kasadha, alias John Blaq, a two time nominee, says the nominations humbled him but was also a sign that he has started crossing borders.

“I was nominated alongside respected artistes which helped me break into the African market. With these nominations, I’ve already achieved. I’m working with different artistes just because I was nominated,” he says.

John Blaq says despite the political timing and not having internet yet the fans had to vote online, they were ready for the MAMAs.

“I believe the postponement will help us organise better. I personally didn’t want them to be virtual. I wanted a physical audience because it would help us get connected,” he says, adding, “The awards are coming back because the organisers have invested a lot of their time. It’s just a pause.”

Pallaso

Pallaso

Pius Mayanja, as a Mayanja, is no stranger to the MAMAs, his two brothers have been there. He says a nomination is every artiste’s dream.

“The MAMAs nomination means a lot to my career. I am in a category that lines up Africa’s biggest musicians and I am just fortunate to be alive for this moment,” he says.

About them being postponed, he says it is okay because he believes the organisers did it with the best intentions.

“Our population is lower than some other countries and it is very hard to compete with them, worse when you don’t even have Internet. So maybe it is better for a later date when we can all compete fairly,” he says.

Like John Blaq, Pallaso is positive the MAMAs will happen. “I think they are coming back because they said they are postponing, not cancelling them.”

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