Music

Jabali Afrika producer gets seat at Grammy’s Academy

jabali afrika

Jabali Afrika members Joseck Asikoye (left) and Justo Asikoye. PHOTO | POOL

Summary

  • Following the outcry about bias in the voting system of the Recording Academy for nominees and winners of the Grammy Awards, the academy has invited new players from a broader pool this year.
  • Kenyan musician and producer Joseck Asikoye of the band Jabali Afrika has been admitted to the Recording Academy Class of 2021 as voting member.
  • The privilege of voting among other music industry peers for the Grammy Awards is just one aspect of the strategy to establish a greater influence for many African artistes.

Following the outcry from Black musicians and women, about bias in the voting system of the Recording Academy for nominees and winners of the Grammy Awards, the academy has invited new players from a broader pool this year.

Among the industry professionals who have been admitted to the Recording Academy Class of 2021 as voting member is a Kenyan musician and producer Joseck Asikoye of the band Jabali Afrika.

“I was part of a meeting between musicians of African heritage and the Academy CEO following the outcry over the lack of transparency in the process and he promised greater representation in the academy that votes on the nominees and eventual winners,” says Asikoye.

He has been in Kenya during the pandemic as part of his long term strategy of relocating back home after more than 20 years in the US.

Jabali Afrika whose music is based on African percussions, vocal harmonies and colourful choreography got their big break when they were hired by Alan Donovan to perform at the African Heritage in Nairobi in the early 1990s. Many fans from that era will remember songs like “Aoko” and “Achoke” that established the young musicians as a unique presence during a period when artistes of their generation were influenced by hip hop and R&B.

Asikoye is advocating change in the Grammy process where African artistes like Burna Boy and Wizkid who have crossed over to the mainstream international music charts are still lumped together with other artists from across the world in the category now called Global Music Album.

“Burna, and Wizkid are now appearing in the Top 100 music charts so they are good enough to compete with everyone else and leave the Global Music category to artistes who are making music outside the mainstream,” he says.

The privilege of voting among other music industry peers for the Grammy Awards is just one aspect of the strategy to establish a greater influence for many African artistes. “We are now going to rally as many artistes and industry players to establish an African chapter of the Grammy Awards,’’ says Asikoye.

Back home, he has established an outfit for creatives called Manifest Africa to build some of the structures that can attract the major global music investors to Kenya. “Digital is the future of music and digital is based on data which is key to attracting investors,” says Asikoye.

He is styling the business as a music services company, and not a label because those are extinct in today's market.

“We are setting up the entire ecosystem of artiste development, from recording the music, shooting the videos, to organising festivals and tours for the artistes once opportunities to go on the road resume,” he says.

His brother and fellow band-member Justo Asikoye meanwhile is recording the Cultural Hub, a recording studio based in Nairobi’s Athi River.

“The big music investors look to South Africa on the continent because the industry there is structured and organised,” says Asikoye.

In Kenya, he says, we have a lot of activity in the music circles but are lacking the organisation to ensure that the welfare of the artiste is guaranteed and the investor also sees the benefit of putting their money in the industry.

Asikoye is turning his attention to the new generation of Kenyan artistes and has so far connected with the popular contemporary artistes like the group Mbogi Genje, Boutross, and Trio Mio whose video “Cheza Kama Wewe” has more than seven million views on YouTube.

Jabali Afrika will be using their international links to connect this new generation of artistes like Damian “Junior Gong” Marley.

“We don’t want to change these kids, let them express themselves in the best way they know-how, a bit like how the West Africans have remained true to their heritage and in that way crossed over to the mainstream.”

“The support structure for music, like the radio stations and media, the publicists, the event organisers and promoters are mostly exposed to the artistes who are closer to the kitchen in Nairobi who have more access while the rest of the musicians who are talented with original music are left out,” says Asikoye,

He says that artistes do not earn revenue commensurate to their online views, because there is still little advertising on YouTube in this region so part of the plan to grow the industry is to market these online numbers globally.

“The structure must benefit the artistes much more than anyone else who is part of the system,” he says.