The first-ever MTV Africa Music Awards held in Abuja, Nigeria delivered a heavily Afro-centric show and winners' list that has been welcomed by the continent's industry.
"The fact that the performances that really stole the show were African collaborations and the dominance of African winners in all categories speaks volumes about how African music is value by the fans here," said Lance Stehr, owner of the Johannesburg-based Ghetto Ruff label whose Afro-crunk act Jozi took honours in the best live performer category.
Jozi had also performed in front of a crowd at Abuja's Velodrome with Nigeria's R&B duo P-Square, who were named best group winners on the night.
Debbie Phillips, television producer of several MTV EMAs, said the collaborations between different African artists had been some of the most successful at an MTV awards event to date.
Nigerian folk-pop singer Asa's teaming up with South African hip-hop star HHP, during the former's song “Jailer” (Naïve) was a highlight as was South African indie-rock act Cassette's collaboration with Kenyan hip-hop star Jua Cali and Nigerian acts Naeto C and Ikechukwu.
The home crowd had given all the Nigerian performers - including Asa and rapper 9ice - a rousing reception. Nigerian artists snagged six of the 10 public-voted awards.
D'Banj, a singer and songwriter whose music is inspired by Nigeria's AfroBeat tradition, took home three MAMAs: artist of the year and best male as well as listeners’ choice for his song “Why Me.” The award was designed to acknowledge the significant role played by radio in Africa.
Fellow Nigerian rapper Naeto C won best new act, while 9ice won the best hip-hop award.
The Nov. 22 show also featured a moving tribute to Nigerian Fela Kuti whose children, Seun and Yemi accepted the MAMA legend award given to the late Afrobeat innovator. Seun Kuti had provided a suitably African show opener when he performed his father's song “Army Arrangement,” supported by Fela's own legendary backing band, Egypt 80.
At a press conference the day before, Seun Kuti had spoken about the difficulty of getting a label deal in his home country. "I would love to release here in Nigeria but there is no label industry to speak of which is why being part of the MAMAs is really special to me," Kuti told Billboard. His “Many Things” is released on the French-label Tot ou Tard.
The best female gong went to Kenyan singer Wahu who dedicated the award to her husband, the artist Nameless. Nigeria's Ikechukwu won the best video MAMA for his song “Wind Am Well.”
The sole international artist to feature on the gong tally was best R&B winner Alicia Keys, who accepted her award via a video speech. U.S.-based South African rock band Seether also videoed in their thanks for their best alternative gong.
The Game, Flo-Rida and Kelly Rowland were the international performers with Rowland including a collaboration with multi-MAMA winner D'Banj for the closing number of the show. The host was BBC 1Xtra's Trevor Nelson.
The inaugural MAMAs were not broadcast live. The show broadcasts on MTV base on South African-based, pan-Africa satellite bouquet DSTV as well partner networks and terrestrial channels STV (Nigeria), AIT (Nigeria), NTV (Kenya), WBS (Uganda), TV3 (Ghana), TBC (Tanzania) and RTGA (Democratic Republic of the Congo) from Nov. 29.
Alex Okosi, the Nigerian-born VP and general manager of MTV Networks Africa, would not reveal where the second MAMAs will take place in 2009 although there is much speculation around the East African country of Kenya.
He also stayed silent on the investment made by sponsor Zain, a major cellular network operator. "They have signed a three-year deal with us and we are very grateful for that," Okosi said. Insiders put the sponsorship at well over $10 million for the MAMAs package, which also included several “Road To MAMA” concerts featuring The Game and local acts in the DRC, Kenya, South Africa and Nigeria.
BEST LIVE PERFORMER
Jozi (South Africa)
P Square (Nigeria)
Seether (South Africa)
Alicia Keys (USA)
ARTIST OF THE YEAR
BEST NEW ACT
Naeto C (Nigeria)
Ikechukwu (Nigeria) - Wind Am Well
LISTENERS’ CHOICE AWARD
D'Banj (Nigeria) – “Why Me”
Fela Anikulapo Kuti