In theory, international music makers should be thrilled about the Grammys being handed out this Sunday.
Instead of one category for global music, there are two, doubling the number of nominations from 5 to 10.
(The new category is called “best global music performance.” The Grammy rules says it is “reserved for international performers exhibiting non-European, indigenous traditions.”)
But if you look at the list of nominees for the 64th annual awards ceremony, it’s not that diverse.
Seven of the nominees are from two nations: Nigeria and Benin.
There are no newcomer countries – places that have never been had a local artist nominated.
What’s more, the number of artists is limited: four of the five artists nominated in the brand new global performance category are also nominated in the global album category.
There’s not a lot of linguistic variety either.
I would argue that the Grammys inadvertently perpetuate the legacy of colonialism by focusing on countries that were former British colonies and have inherited English as an official language, like India, Nigeria and South Africa. In fact, all five of this year’s nominations in the global music album category feature predominantly English language songs.
It’s a category I care a lot about – and often have a personal stake in. I’ve had the honor to record 38 records by artists across Africa, Asia, Europe and South and North America — often in places that are reachable only by boat or on foot. Two of these artists have been nominated for a Grammy – Tinariwen (who went on to win for the album Tassili in 2012) and the Zomba Prison Project in 2016, representing Malawi’s first (and only) case of artists receiving a nomination.
Global performers can win in non-global categories. Remember ‘Who Let The Dogs Out?’
Now it is true that the so-called “global” categories aren’t the only place where an international musician can vie for an award.
There are currently 86 Grammy categories, bestowed by the Recording Academy, a group founded in the U.S. Not surprisingly, the vast majority of nominees are typically from the U.S., Canada and England.
Spanish language performers can not only compete in the global categories but have six categories for their music – plus a whole Grammy program of their own with the Latin Grammys.
Some international musicians are nominated in categories like classical, “small ensemble” and movie scores. And once in a while, an international performer captures a mainstream award – in 1965, for example, the bilingual bossa nova and jazz song “The Girl from Ipanema,” performed by Brazil’s Astrud Gilberto and saxophonist Stan Getz, was named record of the year.
And “Who Let the Dogs Out” — from the Bahamian group Baha Men — won for best dance record in 2001.
South Korea’s hugely popular K-pop boy band BTS has been nominated twice in pop music categories although they’ve not yet been winner.
The record shows how narrow the list of nominated countries is
But as a rule, the best chance for a Grammy for an international performer is in a global category.
A nomination or win in one of the two global categories can have a tremendous impact. Isabel Soffer, co-founder and co-director of globalFEST— an annual international music festival in the U.S. that features international artists, states: “The Grammys could be a particularly powerful platform to educate, celebrate diversity and foster musical discovery through this extraordinary category in a truly meaningful way.
“The public who may listen to new music through Grammy nominations is cheated out of new sounds from around the world, artists are cheated of new audiences and the opportunity to make money and the world suffers because music, as we all know, is the best way to start to understand the world, re-think differences and create joy.”
Yet in the decades the global category has been around — the first year such an award was given was 1992 — the list of countries that have had a winner or even just a nomination has been scant.
Here are some of the statistics:
*Over two-thirds of the 197 nominations in the history of the global categories have been shared by just six nations: Brazil, India, Mali, Nigeria, South Africa – and the United States. In fact artists from the U.S. have been nominated and won more times in the Global category than any other nation. (Though this is an “international” category, artists from the U.S. have never been excluded from eligibility; this year, for example, Hawaii-born Daniel Ho is a nominee and in past years American rock stars like Mickey Hart of the Grateful Dead have won.)
*Overall, only 14 out of 56 African nations have had artists receive a nomination: Benin,…
Read More: Opinion: Grammy’s ‘global music’ categories ignore musicians from much of the