For the last eight years the best and brightest on the African music scene have gathered in Johannesburg's Sun City for the annual Kora Awards, Africa's version of the Grammy Awards. Taking its name from the 21 stringed harp whose melodies are as intricate and universal as African music itself, the Koras promote African musical artists globally. Aside from the fashion shows, industry networking, and entertainment, the Koras are noteworthy for being the first African non-athletic event broadcast live in Africa, Europe, and Asia.
With an estimated viewership of 140 million, last December's audience consisted of over 70 countries worldwide, including the USA and Canada. Despite its growing popularity, many people are still unaware of the Kora Awards and their importance. After asking three friends, (one Liberian, one Sudanese, and one South African) about the Koras, I was surprised that none were aware of its existence.
Founded in 1994 by former Benin diplomat, Ernest Adjovi, the ceremony is unique in the vast scope of artists that it recognizes and introduces to the rest of the world. Broadcast live, the Awards unite musicians from all corners of the continent and the diaspora. Winners are chosen by television viewers.Adjovi noted that South Africa had been the host for the last eight years because of its infrastructure. Plans to host this past event in Nigeria were on the table, but the event clashed with the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting.
Last years ceremony, opened by South Africas Given Mabena, awarded the following: Best Female Artists from West, Southern, East and Central Africa were Suzanna Lubrano from Cape Verde; Busi Mhlongo from South Africa; Chamsia Sagaf from the Comoros; Mbilia Bel and Tshala Muana both from Congo (Zaire). Lubrano clearly was the big winner, winning Best West African Female Artist as well as Best African Female Artist for the track Nha Sonho (My Dream), the leading song off her latest album Tudo Pa Bo (All for you).Among the winners for Best Male artist were: long time favorite Kojo Antwi from Ghana; George Okudi from Uganda; Oliver Mtukudzi from Zimbabwe, and Alexandre Douala from Cameroon. Okudi was the big winner in this category.
Mtukudzi, also affectionately known as Tuku by his fans, also took home the highly coveted Lifetime Achievement Award. Mtukudzi is praised for singing about political corruption and the devastation caused by the AIDS epidemic.
Up and coming artists who were presented with a Kora were South Africas Barbara Kanam, Rwandas Jean-Paul Samputu, and Cameroons Macase. Eben & Family also won in the category for their popular Gabonese hip-hop. Another favorite among young audiences was the Stockholm-based Congolese born Avalon, who won in the Diaspora category. American artists Ludacris, R. Kelly, and Angie Stone were awarded for their talent in the African Diaspora category.
Previous Kora winners were South Africa's Brenda Fassie, and Bongo Maffin, Congo's Koffi Olomide, and Nigeria's Femi Kuti. A memorable moment in Kora history happened in 2000 when Brenda Fassie singing her big hit Vulindlela bounded over to the main table where Kora Executive Producer Ernest Adjovi and Mandela and wife Graca Machel were sitting. Not to be outdone, the Madiba stood up to greet the vivacious Brenda and did a jig.
For more on the kora awards, check www.koraawards.com