Every award is given based on a set of subjective criteria. This is a fact that many do not wish to deal with but it is the truth.
An award instituted by an oil company will most likely be partial to works that address environmental sustainability. A writing prize instituted by a beer company will not give a prize to a piece about drunkenness no matter how well written.
Judges are usually issued a rubric but rubrics are well, just rubrics.
But I found something completely different when I called on the AFRIMA judges to observe as they adjudicated on the 5th AFRIMA entries.
The 10 member panel of judges are sequestered at the tony Eko Hotel and Suites where they will, over the course of seven days and nights, sift through 8,009 entries from all over Africa.
Watching them play, listen and decide on the songs, I was struck by how it all depended, not immediately on the rubrics before them, but on a mix of ear and gut feeling.
The song must sound a certain way for them to consider it.
This might sound frivolous but it is not so because the 10 judges are well versed in the music industry and are able to tell a hit song from the first beat.
The AFRIMA International Jury is populated by two members drawn from each region of Africa. One African music professional each representing the Diaspora; (i.e. Europe and North America), and a representative of the African Union Commission.
The judges this year are: Tabu Osusa from Kenya and Joett from Tanzania, Charles Tabu from Congo, DRC, Bob Ekukole, from Cameroon, Omar Essaidi from Morocco, Delani Makhalima from Zimbabwe, Chris Syren from South Africa, Olisa Adibua, from Nigeria and David Tayorault, from Côte d’Ivoire. Rita Ray, a UK-based BBC Radio 3 presenter representing the Diaspora-Europe, Hadja Kobélé Keita represents the Diaspora-North America, Angela Martins is the Head, Culture Division, African Union and represents the AU.
Only 10 jurors made it down to Lagos.
“Yay or nay?” Adenrele Niyi of AFRIMA would ask after playing a song, usually for about 1-2 minutes.
Then the judges would say Nay or Yay.
The yays or nays were almost always unanimous.
But sometimes someone would make a comment and it was those comments that made my afternoon as they ranged from the practical to the sublime and the ridiculous.
“Let’s, listen a bit more,” one of the judges would say and Adenrele would hit the play button.
“Pretty run of the mill,” a female judge said and all laughed in agreement.
“Sounds like a remix of a remix,” another judge said panning a song.
“That song has too much Nigger,” a male judge observed in reference to a rap song.
“Mediocre at best,” someone said and drew laughter
Whenever a song is good, the judges enter a score immediately into a proprietary software that automatically displays the scores on a dashboard meaning that no one judge can change his score or influence a score underlining the transparency of the process.
Watching them it seemed like fun but not so much when you consider the sheer number of entries they must run through.
“We were here till 1am,” Mike Dada, the founder of AFRIMA says as we head for lunch. “And they reconvened early this morning. They will eat lunch, do a press conference and resume immediately.”
African musicians by sending in their entries have bought a lottery ticket and it depends on these men and women, musical taste makers from across the continent, to decide who wins the jackpot.