The Grammy Awards; How Africans Have Overcome Foundational Obstacles and Winning Through the Years. [Pt 1]

MARIAN MAKEBA (South Africa)
Best Folk Record (Collaboration with Harry Belafonte) – 1966
The first Grammy Awards ceremony took place on May 4, 1959 simultaneously at two venues, the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, California, and the Park Sheraton Hotel in New York City, New York.

It took seven years after the inaugural edition for Africa to record her first winner, as South African Miriam Makeba won Best Folk Record for her collaboration with Harry Belafonte. The singer, on exile, won the award while locking horns against the apartheid regime of South Africa and amid the civil rights movement in the United States.

SADE (Nigeria/UK)
Best New Artist – 1986
The soulful-jazzy sultry voiced songstress, Helen Folasade Adu, was born in Ibadan, Nigeria to a Yoruba father and an English mother. Sade studied fashion in London before becoming the vocalist and face of the band that bears her name, Sade.

The jazzy, soulful pop feels on the group’s 1985 record ‘Promise’ earned instant acclaim, reaching No. 1 on the Billboard 200. Three other GRAMMYs followed, starting with a Best New Artist award in 1986.

Best World Music Album – 1994
Growing up in the town of Niafunké close to Timbuktu, Ali Ibrahim Touré was that stubborn boy, earning him the nickname “Farka” (Donkey). This rebellious nature of his propelled him towards music though his parents frowned upon this life path but he defied them, building his own musical instruments.

Ali Farka Touré not heeding to his parents may haveh hindered him from becoming the godfather of desert blues, the guitar-driven genre that has taken over North Africa. After traveling around his home country of Mali, learning from the different cultures, Touré got exposed to American blues music, specifically John Lee Hooker and blended the similarities between genres to create the tunes of his African influences with those from across the Atlantic.

Best Contemporary World Music Album – 2004
From Cape Verde, Cesária Évora grew up singing as a child. She became a club singer in the port city of Mindelo, gaining fame as the “Barefoot Diva,” performing without footwear in honour to the poor. Her voice, however, that made her an international star, singing in Portuguese-originated Cape Verdean Creole and putting the melancholic, fado and blues-derived genre of morna on a global stage.

Évora spent years performing around the world though not comfortable with the super stardom by the time her album Voz d’Amor won Best Contemporary World Music Album at the 2004 GRAMMYs. Évora lived in Cape Verde till her death in 2011 at age 70.

Best Contemporary World Music Album – 2005
Youssou N’Dour, Senegal’s legendary vocalist is famous in Dakar, West Africa for his skills on Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” and the Neneh Cherry collaboration on “7 Seconds.” He worked on Paul Simon’s Album Of The Year-winning Graceland alongside South Africans Ladysmith Black Mambazo.

In 2005, he coursed to history as Senegal’s first GRAMMY winner, winning the Best Contemporary World Music Album for his album Egypt. (The Sufi-inspired body of work also earned Egyptian producer Fathy Salama his country’s first GRAMMY). The GRAMMY Award was simply the capstone on a long, illustrious career.

N’Dour chose telling stories through music. By the 1970s he gained country-wise acclaim as lead vocalist for the band Etoile de Dakar, that pioneered the mbalax genre which blended Afro-Latin dance music with traditional local rhythms. His soaring voice on his work with Gabriel in 1986 shot him to international stardom. He stays in Senegal after breaking through and lives there to this day.