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B Side, Music

7 Times Africans Moved us at the Grammys

We spotlight seven unforgettable moments where African artists and their music have shone brightly on the Grammy stage

  • Melony Akpoghene
  • 6th February 2024
Miriam Makeba and Harry Belafonte

The Grammy Awards have always been a big deal, celebrating incredible talent across genres from all around the world. And this year, it was a particularly special moment for African artists and fans of African music. . While previously acknowledged primarily within the World/Global music category, African artists secured an unprecedented number of nominations thanks to the newly established Best African Music Performance category.


Now, while criticisms of representation and inclusivity persist, there have been undeniable moments where African artists and their music have shone brightly on the Grammy stage, leaving a lasting mark on the ceremony’s history.


We revisit seven of such unforgettable moments.



1. Miriam Makeba as the Pioneer (1966)


South African singer Miriam Makeba, known as “Mama Africa,” and American folk icon Harry Belafonte’s joint win for Best Folk Recording in 1966 marked a significant moment. Their song, “Manhã de Carnaval,” a Brazilian protest song, emphasised the global fight against apartheid in South Africa and racial injustice in the United States. Accepting the award, Makeba delivered a powerful speech condemning South Africa’s racist regime, making the Grammys a platform for political awareness.


2. Youssou N’Dour: Bringing Senegalese Sounds to the Mainstream (2004)



Senegalese singer-songwriter Youssou N’Dour’s win for “Best Contemporary World Music Album” with “Egypt” in 2004 was a notable recognition of African popular music on the global stage. N’Dour’s blend of Senegalese mbalax with Western influences intrigued audiences worldwide, further breaking down barriers and introducing new sounds to the Grammy spotlight. His win paved the way for other African artists to gain recognition and mainstream success.


3. The Joint Win of Ali Farka Touré and Toumani Diabéte


The Grammy for Best Traditional World Music Album in 2006 went to
In the Heart of the Moon, a collaborative album by Malian musical giants Ali Farka Touré and Toumani Diabaté. Touré — the legendary Malian guitarist — had earned his first Grammy in 1994. This win celebrated the mastery of these two griot musicians. The album, a beautiful blend of Touré’s soulful vocals and Diabaté’s intricate kora playing, displayed the depth and artistry of Malian music.


4. Angélique Kidjo’s Speech (2020)


Beninese singer music legend Angélique Kidjo, known for her powerful vocals, is a Grammy staple.  She took home the Best Contemporary World Music Album award in 2008 for
Djin Djin. Her album, a tribute to the legendary Nigerian musician Fela Kuti, reignited interest in Afrobeat music and introduced a new generation to its message of social justice and cultural pride. Kidjo’s continued win highlighted the enduring legacy of African music and its continued influence on global sounds. As she picked up her fourth Grammy for Celia, she gave a speech, saying “Four years ago on this stage, I was telling you that the new generations of artists coming from Africa are going to take you by storm and the time has come,” after which she dedicated the award to fellow nominee Burna Boy.


5. Wizkid and Burna Boy’s Giant Leap (2021)


The 2021 Grammy Awards witnessed an important moment for Afrobeats. Nigerian artists Burna Boy and Wizkid both received nominations for Best Global Music Album, marking the first time the category featured two Nigerian acts. Burna Boy ultimately won the award for his album
Twice as Tall. Even though the world was in a pandemic-inspired lockdown, Burna Boy performed an elaborately choreographed set during the premiere show. Although only Burna won, the recognition itself was a remarkable pointer of the global reach and impact of Afrobeats music.


6. Tems Wins her first Grammy (2023)



Unlike some previous African Grammy winners who were established figures or part of larger groups, Tems stood out as a young, independent artist navigating the industry on her own terms. Her rise was swift and impactful, marked by critical acclaim. So when she even got nominated for Best Melodic Rap Performance alongside Future and Drake, it was a pretty huge deal. Then, she won the award, sparking disputable claims labelling her as the first female Nigerian to win a Grammy.


7. Tyla’s Win & Burna Boy’s Performance on the Grammys Main Stage (2024)



The 2024 Grammys witnessed a watershed moment for African music. For the first time, a dedicated category for Best African Music Performance was introduced, with Asake, Olamide, Burna Boy, Davido, Ayra Starr and Tyla as contenders. The South African pop girl, Tyla, won. It was her first Grammy nomination and her first career win.


Additionally, Nigerian artist Burna Boy made history by becoming the first Nigerian to perform on the GRAMMYs main stage at the live event.

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