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By Melanie Nathan, February 04, 2024

Over thirty African countries criminalize LGBTI people, and yet this is never discussed by superstars, musicians, singers, or industry leaders, nor do they create any awareness that serves meaningful  advancement of LGBTQI+ rights on the African continent. Those who are in the Diaspora, out of the range of the laws back home, that could criminalize them as allies, as gays or lesbians, as promoters of homosexuality, are complicit in their silence about the criminalization, persecution and vicious violence exacted against Africa's lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer, non binary and ally communities.

Yes you can speak out.

This pervasive silence is either fear, greed, lack of awareness, lack of concern and care, or even a declaration that those who are silent are part of the vast majority of Africans who consider LGBTQI+ people Satanistic and abominations, not deserving of human rights. Calling on African superstars to lead the way in the opposite direction of the current trend- which is heightened criminality and persecution. Lead the way to counter the despots such as President Museveni of Uganda who are calling for African leaders to rid the world of homosexuality. Uganda passed The AHA 2023, otherwise known as The Kill the Gays Bill last year, Ghana is headed on the same path. Nigeria did its damage back in 2014.


When the Nigerian star Burna Boy steps on the Grammy stage with rapper 21 Savage and R&B singer Brandy at Los Angeles’ Arena later today, it will be historic for being the first ever live performance by an Afrobeats artist at the awards ceremony. It will also be a watershed moment for African music on the industry’s biggest stage as it will be the first Grammys with a category for Best African Music Performance.

The show, which will be hosted by South African comedian Trevor Noah for the fourth time, will have a distinctly African feel.

There are five nominees for the inaugural Best African Music Performance including Burna Boy’s City Boys, Asake/Olamide’s Amapiano, Ayra Starr’s Rush, Davido/Musa Keys’ Unavailable (all from Nigeria), and South African singer Tyla’s Water.

African artists have won Grammys in the past, including the first ever by Miriam Makeba in 1966 alongside Harry Belafonte for Best Folk Recording. More recently, African winners including Angélique Kidjo (2008) and Youssou N’Dour (2005) have tended to be in the “World Music” category or “Global Music” which Burna Boy won in 2021.

Semafor's Yinka Adegoke's VIEW

The last decade and a half has been an incredible period of international growth for African popular music, led by West Africa’s Afrobeats and South Africa’s Amapiano. But the buzz I’ve been picking up from people in the music business who are all in Los Angeles right now for Grammys Week is that this is a special moment for African popular music taking its rightful place on the global stage.This didn’t happen by chance. Lots of artists, managers, agents, label executives, and others have been working on what veteran Nigerian-American music executive Efe Ogbeni likes to frame as “Africa to the world.” Ogbeni, who helped chart the early international careers of acts including Davido and Tiwa Savage, says the new category and live performance will help consolidate the much higher expectations for a continent whose DNA makes up much of modern popular music. “These events are great opportunities for discovery, a lot more people are going to discover Afrobeats and African music after this,” he says.For Timi Adeyeba, co-founder of Amplify Africa, a Los Angeles-based event organizer, this has been a long time coming. “When we started doing events in 2016, we did it out of the need to create a lane and opportunity for Africans in the diaspora to enjoy their culture because no one was really paying attention to us,” says AdeyebaIt’ll be the latest watershed moment for Afrobeats and Amapiano which are the current hottest pop genres around the world. It’s important to note that while African music in itself doesn’t need validation to be relevant, establishing valuable pathways to global markets is vital for building (in some cases, rebuilding) sustainable local music industries. The global business has a habit of creating superstars without deep roots in their local markets unless the artist or their team make a conscious effort to plant seeds for the next generation of talent. This is how global music hubs in LA, New York, Nashville, and London got started.Inevitably, the Afrobeats or Amapiano sounds won’t last forever in their current form — and that’s not a bad thing. They will very likely evolve or be completely replaced by other sounds from elsewhere. But looking at the world’s demographics, I’d hazard a guess that ‘elsewhere’ still has a very good chance of being somewhere in Africa.


Melanie Nathan, Executive Director of African Human Rights Coalition is a qualified country of origin expert witness in the United States and global immigration courts, providing expert written country conditions  reports and testimony for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, non-binary, LGBTQI + asylum seekers from African Countries, to include activists, allies and human rights defenders. Melanie also consults multinational corporations regarding briefings and policy for operations and issue impacted by anti-homosexuality laws and country conditions.


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