Oh Mamaby Diane Coetzer / 15.10.2009
Compared to the blood-boiling stories of an endlessly demanding The Game holed up in his Abuja hotel room, that punctuated the inaugural MTV Africa Awards last year, this year’s event hardly raised an outrageous celebrity moment sweat. Ok, so you could count the push-up contest turned strip-down show put on by host Wyclef Jean and Akon, but somehow even that didn’t seem as ludicrous as you may think when picturing the two artists stripped to their underwear, a mic thrust into Akon’s briefs, for no better reason than to show how buff they are.
Maybe this is because in spite of wanting to lambast the mighty MTV for hiding its American-centric globalisation plans under the guise of “giving Africa a voice” through the Mamas, the show was just so defiantly African (no overbloated international star winners, only African or Africa-connected performers), it proved hard to take pot shots at it. Or perhaps it was because the second Mamas were held in Nairobi, Kenya where everyone and everything seems… just so damn nice, especially when compared to the harsh edges of 2008’s Nigerian experience.
Actually, the choice of Wyclef to run things on stage was a particularly inspired one that helped underscore the moment of Afrocentricity that defined the 2009 Mamas. UK DJ Trevor Nelson did a capable job last year but Wyclef is masterful in his ability to push the emotional buttons of everyone around him, be it the media, Kenyans, Africans, fans and other musicians while remaining the pro that he evidently is. For instance, he may have been off-script at just about every point – like the time he brought the backstage chef on stage to talk about how the world can help with Kenya’s crippling drought. Cassette’s Jon Savage tells me that having view of the teleprompt meant as loose as he might get, Wyclef always spoke the last few lines of the script to cue in cameras and movement.
What’s more, at the press conference at the artists’ hotel the day before the Mamas, Wyclef put on a talk show that swept everyone along – masterfully (yes, again the word) keeping the spotlight on himself while talking about his Haitian family’s slave roots in Benin, the role of Lucky Dube (“he was to Africa what Bob Marley was to Jamaica”), the craziness of driving a Kenyan Matatu and the “ill skills” of Africa’s artists. It was proof that the incendiary December 2008 live show Wyclef put on at the Bassline – which had left us stunned with its high-energy, rafter-climbing, guitar-strumming craziness – was no accident but part of this clever artist’s desire to place himself at the heart of where he finds himself. A way of reinforcing his authenticity in the global music world.
One of the African performers mentioned as ‘Africa’s music future’ by Wyclef at the press conference and on stage Saturday night, was HHP, who scored a downright coup by taking home the Best Video Mama for ‘Mpitse’ and, in doing so, dished out a turning point for me when it came to this year’s Mamas.
Full disclosure means I must confess that I have a personal attachment to the song and its toilet-themed video, because one Saturday morning I found myself clutching my old typewriter, in a toilet booth at the Alexandra Theatre, trying to live up to the director’s expectations that I look like a harried writer trying to find a peaceful spot to work. All because the supremely gifted HHP namechecks me in the scorcher of a song in way that still melts my heart. Any remaining cynical thoughts I may have had that night in the Moi International Sports Complex were kicked to the curb at that moment and I had a blast of a time through the rest of the show, even, yes, warming to Akon (who, incidentally, was rumoured to have narrowly escaped the clutches of Kenyan authorities keen to pin him down on a string of missed shows in the East African country).
MTV may not have made global stars of any of the African artists that make up close to 50% of MTV base’s playlist (at least according to head honcho Bill Roedy, who was in Nairobi). For now, its headline-grabbing claim to give “African music a voice” might just be concentrated on a once a year show where African artists and their fans flex enough muscle to keep the likes of Coldplay, Green Day, Kanye West, Jay-Z, Beyonce and even Akon away from the winner’s podium.
• You can see HHP’s award-winning and me-starring video below
• You can catch the 2009 Mamas on MTV base from October 17th to see if my feel-good take on it translates to where it counts: the television screen.
BEST FEMALE Amani (Kenya)
BEST MALE Nameless (Kenya)
BEST PERFORMER Samini (Ghana)
BEST GROUP P Square (Nigeria)
BEST ALTERNATIVE Zebra and Giraffe (South Africa)
BEST HIP HOP M I (Nigeria)
BEST R&B 2FACE (Nigeria)
ARTIST OF THE YEAR D’Banj (Nigeria)
BEST NEW ACT M.I. (Nigeria)
BEST VIDEO HHP (South Africa)
LEGEND AWARD Lucky Dube (South Africa)
MY VIDEO AWARD Patricke-Stevie Moungondo (Congo Brazzaville)
LISTENERS CHOICE AWARD Nameless (Kenya)