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New Grammy category highlights the global appeal of African music


Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

John Yang: From samba to hip hop to reggae, so much of the music we enjoy has African roots. As Stephanie Sy reports tonight, for the first time, the Grammy Awards recognizes music produced in Africa with a category of its own. This report is part of our Arts and Culture series CANVAS.

Stephanie Sy (voice-over): On a recent Friday night in Washington, D.C., DJ Duo Mathias Broohm and Chris Harris mixed tunes from across the world at layover, their monthly dance party.

Chris Harris, DJ Nativesun: You never know sometimes where your layover is going to be at. So that's how we wanted the music to be. You never know where we're going touch, know sonically.

Stephanie Sy: And how big of a role does African music play in these jams?

Chris Harris: Plays a really big role.

Stephanie Sy (voice-over): They sample sounds from across the continent, from Afrobeats, a fusion sound driven by West African rhythms, to Ama Piano, a sub-genre of house music from South Africa.

Mathias Broohm, DJ: A grew up listening to hip life, which is like the old school Afro beat.

Stephanie Sy (voice-over): Broohm was raised in a Ghanaian household in Maryland.

Mathias Broohm: The African sound has always been in me. I grew up loving these rhythms.

Stephanie Sy (voice-over): In recent years, those familiar sounds have hit the global mainstream. One seminal moment, Drake's 2016 mega hit One Dance, featuring vocals from Nigerian afrobeat star Wizkid. Since then, some of the biggest names in pop, R&B and hip hop have collaborated with African artists and producers.

Mathias Broohm: Now that like Beyonce or like Chris Brown or like your Selena Gomez being one of the biggest afrobeat songs from last year, it makes it so much easier to be able to tap into that pocket of stuff that I was afraid to play because I afraid it would clear the room out. But now it all just goes hand in hand.

Stephanie Sy (voice-over): African musicians have also become stars outside of the continent.

In 2022, Burna Boy became the first Nigerian artist to sell out New York's Madison Square Garden. And last year, Tyla became the first South African to enter the Billboard 100 in more than half a century with her amapiano inspired single, Water.

Tina Davis, President, Empire: Once you hear it, you hear those drums, you hear the percussions. It permeates in your body, you feel it. You can't stop.

Stephanie Sy (voice-over): Tina Davis is the president of Empire, a U.S. based record label and distribution company that has a roster of African artists.

Tina Davis: It started out being something that the dasper really loved, of course, but now it's grown to a worldwide phenomenon. A lot of people all over the world love the music.

Stephanie Sy (voice-over): Music that until now fell under the global music category at the Grammys.

Tina Davis: Every music that doesn't have a category goes into world music. And I think it's unfair to all genres of music to just be clumped in one category.

Stephanie Sy (voice-over): Last year, the Recording Academy announced a new category, best African Music Performance for songs that, quote, utilize unique local expressions from across the African continent.

Juls, Producer and Musician: It just shows how important our music has come and how influential we've been.

Stephanie Sy (voice-over): Juls is a British Ghanaian Afrobeats producer and musician. He's long pushed for African music to be recognized at the Grammys.

Juls: Grammy is the most ultimate musical award ceremony in the world, right? So them giving us this category is kind of like a way of us kind of like getting into the mix and being able to be strategic and say, hey, tell our story properly.

Stephanie Sy (voice-over): This year's nominees, all from Nigeria or South Africa, are mainly Afrobeats or Amapiano artists.

Anita Gonzalez, Georgetown University: I think the first class of nominees are just the tip of the iceberg.

Stephanie Sy (voice-over): Anita Gonzalez is a professor of performing arts at Georgetown University.

Anita Gonzalez: There's such a huge amount of music that comes from the continent, from South African vocal chants to string music that has been performed by the Grios and others, to the Ethiopian music and North African music. All of this is part of the vast panoplay of what we call African music.

Stephanie Sy (voice-over): She hopes the new category will spotlight other African genres.

Anita Gonzalez: I'm hoping that with this Grammy recognition that people will also understand the vitality of each of the countries and the unique kind of ethnographic sounds that they're producing.

Stephanie Sy (voice-over): That's a dream shared by many in the industry.

Tina Davis: And hopefully we'll have an African Grammy at some point, an actual award show like the Latin Grammys. I think sky's the limit.

Stephanie Sy (voice-over): Back in DC, Mathias Broohm says it's clear that regardless of where African music goes next, it's already had an impact.

Mathias Broohm: I grew up in an African family. We'd have our different lunches than the American kids. We would look different. We would dress different. They're like, oh, you're not cool. You're from Africa. You're not from here, blah, blah.

And fast forward to this day and age, everyone's like, so what's popping in Ghana right now? What's popping in? Like, I saw the Nigerians wearing this. Where can I get that? And it's totally so weird to see it, but, I mean, it's great to finally see it.

Stephanie Sy (voice-over): A cultural footprint that is sure to grow. For PBS News Weekend, I'm Stephanie Sy.

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