Bar a few production hiccups and microphone glitches, the inaugural edition of the Trace Awards and Festival was indeed a festival of dazzling lights, electrifying music, and exceptional talents, deftly curated to showcase the rich tapestry of African music on the continent and in the Diaspora.
From the delicious, melodious and swingy mix of North and East African music to the pulsating energy and eclectic rhythmic beats from West and South Africa, the beautiful city of Kigali in Rwanda provided the perfect background for Africa’s dazzling stars at the inaugural edition held on Saturday October 22, to celebrate Afro music and talents. It was also the 20th anniversary of Trace, a global TV and multimedia platform.
The Awards ceremony included a list of 150 performing artistes across 30 nomination categories, covering diverse music genres such as Dancehall, Afrobeat, Amapiano, Afro-pop, R&B, Rumba, Zouk, Kizomba, Genge, Soukous, Coupé Décalé, Rai and Bongo Flava and Gospel.
Hosted by Nigerian music veteran, Dapo Oyebanji popularly known as D’Banj, and Angolan global supermodel Maria Borges, the inaugural awards was staged at the BK Arena in Kigali, touted as East Africa’s biggest indoor arena, with thousands attending. The Trace Awards featured live performances from Africa’s renowned and emerging stars, including Nigeria’s Davido, Yemi Alade, Mr Eazi and Pheelz, Rwanda’s Bruce Melodie, and Tanzania’s Diamond Platnumz, among others.
The versatility and diversity of performances were impressive: with the likes of Davido, Pheelz, Yemi Alade, Bamby and homegrown star Bruce Melodie delivering commendable showings. Despite the diversity of style and languages, the universal language and power of music was fully understood by the live crowd and viewing audience, with each performance and rendition like painting a mosaic of musical portrait to frame for the ages.
However, Davido’s performance could have been better. But his undoubted star power seemingly ensured that he got away with the sub-par performance of his hit song, Unavailable. Musa Keys and the backup singers literally carried him as Davido’s encore and keys fell flat at some point, and he had to psyche the crowd to sing for him. Pheelz delivered a virtuoso with his hit song, Finesse (featured on FIFA 2023), with backup from the Nyundo Music School choir giving it another edgy feel.
Expectedly, Nigerian artistes shone brightest, winning a plethora of categories at the Awards. Davido and Rema won two awards: Rema won the ‘Song of the year’ for his hit song ‘Calm Down’ and the ‘Best Global African Artiste,’ alongside South African star Nomcebo Zikode (Jerusalema); while Davido won the ‘Best Male’ and ‘Best Collaboration’ categories. Burna Boy, Yemi Alade, Asake and Mr Eazi won an award each, for the Album of the Year award (Love Damini), Best Music Video (Baddie), Best Artist – Anglophone Africa, and the Changemaker Trace Award respectively.
Wizkid, Ayra Starr, Kizz Daniel, Tiwa Savage, BNXN, Show Dem Camp with Oxlade, Olamide with Ckay, Fireboy DML, Nissi, Odumodublvck, DJ Spinall, Kel-P (producer), and Moses Bliss also got nominations in different categories.
One of the highlights was when 2Baba (Tuface Idibia) who was described by Dbanj as “the OG before the IG,” was honoured with the Lifetime Achievement Award. It was well deserved. About 20 years after its release, Tuface’s African Queen remains a global hit, it paved the way for many other African hit songs and was among the firsts to be used as soundtrack in a Hollywood movie (Phat Girls).
“I’m short of words right now. But I just want to say that I am super happy. I’m super proud, and super excited, where African music is right now, centre-stage; the whole world is paying attention. And it gives me great, joy and pleasure and honour to stand here to collect this lifetime achievement award. One love to all my fans,” 2baba said on receiving the award.
Similarly, the coveted Best Global African Artiste of the Year category was another, a battle between the New Cats and Old Cats (credit: Davido), with ‘New Cat’ Rema dislodging ‘Old Cats’ – Davido, Burna Boy, and Wizkid. The Mavin artiste’s meteoric rise and latest win might just be pointers that he may be the future of African music. Following his wins, in a show of maturity, Rema recognized individuals and groups that played key roles in his music growth.
The choice of winners in a few categories may have raised a few eyebrows across the continent, such as Best Gospel Artiste (which had Moses Bliss and Benjamin Dube) and Best Female Artiste (with Tiwa Savage and Ayra Starr), but were won by Ivory Coast’s KS Bloom and Senegal’s Viviane Chidid respectively (Maybe the organisers wanted more diversity in the winners list?). Similarly, Wizkid FC fans may feel a bit miffed that their starboy didn’t win an award at this event.
Launched in 2003, Trace is a leading multimedia platform that caters to African and Afrocentric music and culture. Since its inception, the platform has been responsible for the promotion of Afro-Urban music across the globe, harnessing the power of the internet to provide entrepreneurial opportunities, vocational training, and business expertise to artists and other people within the creative industry.
Trace and their media partners provided a global spotlight for Africa’s renowned and emerging music stars, particularly for a few whose style of music would have just restricted them to their respective countries or geographical locations on the continent. It was a spectacle to behold. The stars and superstars were there too, although the absence of a few major winners live at the event, due to some factors, was evident.
It celebrated those making the music and those behind the music scenes, the producers and Disc Jockeys making the star shine even brighter and the beats come alive. Bar the few hiccups in microphone sounds and production, overall, it was a great show.
The continent has seen the rise and demise of a few notable awards events such as the now rested Channel O Music Video Awards, as well as the MTV Africa Music Awards (MAMA) – which was last held in 2016 and the organisers were forced to postpone indefinitely the 2021 edition due to sponsorship constraints. Hopefully, with more sponsorship and collaborations, the Trace Awards and Festival is here to stay. Rwanda was a great host and the organisers could also consider rotating it yearly around the biggest African cities.
It is almost impossible to capture in one frame all the best talents from 54 countries with hundreds of diverse languages, cultures and rhythms. But the unifying language of music helps a great deal. And Trace Awards achieved quite a commendable feat in its quest to deliver a truly Pan-African music award event.