The year ahead: Will Kenzo win a Grammy?

Eddy Kenzo performs in Kampala in 2017. PHOTO/MICHAEL KAKUMIRIZI

What you need to know:

  • Kenzo got nominated for Gimme Love, a song he recorded with American singer/songwriter Matthew David Benson, better known as Matt B. 

On November 16, social media and traditional media platforms were awash with rather exhilarating news that Ugandan musician Edrisah Musuuza, alias Eddy Kenzo, had been nominated for the Recording Academy Awards also known as the Grammy Awards.
While this was a shocker, owing to the pedigree of the awards many regard as music’s holy grail, avid followers of Kenzo claimed to have seen it coming.
For an artiste who had just become the first Ugandan musician to bag a Black Entertainment Television (BET) Award in 2015, a Grammy nomination was just bound—many said—to happen.

Kenzo got nominated for Gimme Love, a song he recorded with American singer/songwriter Matthew David Benson, better known as Matt B. Despite not being known to many Ugandans, Matt B is without any doubt a formidable musician whose 2021 Eden album debuted on Top 40 Billboard R&B charts.
Matt B is also married to Angella V Benson, a music producer, artiste manager, Grammy nominee and a Professional Member of the Recording Academy/Grammys. With this track record, Kenzo could well have been nominated with an artiste who knows a thing or two about being at this stage. Question is: will this translate into the Ugandan bringing a Grammy home next February?

When news broke that Kenzo and Matt B had been nominated in the Best Global Music performance category, quickly, many paid attention to the other nominees in this category. The category includes nominees such as Burna Boy’s Last Last, Udhero Na by Arooj Aftab and Anoushka Shankar, Neva Bow Down by Rocky Dawuni Featuring Blvk H3ro, and Bayethe by Wouter Kellerman, Zakes Bantwini & Nomcebo Zikode.

Burna Boy favourite
A cursory glance at these nominees triggers one’s mind to swiftly think of what magic Kenzo and Matt B, including the other nominees, need to do, if they are to beat Burna Boy to the Grammy.
Not only has the Nigerian titan had such a good year, but the song Last Last has been such a hit. In fact, many, including music critic Jenkins Mukasa, have argued that this is a lopsided contest—with Burna Boy in the box position.

For numerical context, Last Last has so far received 135 million views on YouTube against Gimme Love’s 866,000.
Away from numbers, however, one would still ask what exactly it would take for a nominee to edge a particular category. First, people’s choices are out of the question—this is a purely peer-voted award, with a technically selected membership of voters.
According to the Recording Academy, the voters only select and vote in the fields and categories in which they operate day-to-day.

Kenzo lifeline
The voters or academy also make their choices based entirely on the artistic and technical merits of an eligible song or artist. 
This, according to Mr Joseph Batte, a music critic and arts writer, may be a lifeline for Kenzo and the rest of the nominees because then it goes down to how good a song is technically more than its numerical strength.

Others have, however, argued that in light of the category in which Gimme Love is nominated, Last Last may still have an edge due to its unrivalled global appeal. This is where the numbers will come back to haunt Kenzo and Matt B.
“Usually, artistes whose music tops charts or ranks highest always stand a chance in winning such awards, especially when it comes to international categories. I think Matt B and Kenzo did not do much in terms of pushing this song further,” said Batte.

 Speaking about numbers and charts, while Gimme Love ranked 36 on US Afro-beats Billboard charts, Last Last ranked number one on the same charts. If this does not scare Kenzo and the rest of the nominees, then nothing should.
Kelsey McKinney, a Vox Magazine writer, also attributes one’s chances at a Grammy to their album or song’s appeal to the United States market. With Matt B’s nationality being American, one would quickly imagine that his song would have an edge here. However, Last Last still comes off as the most promoted song in the US market in this particular category.
Two days after its release, Burna Boy performed Last Last at the 2022 Billboard Music awards in the US.

Technical prowess
But ultimately, as highlighted earlier, one’s best shot at winning a Grammy is usually hinged on the song’s technical prowess. And oftentimes, technicalities hinge from the production of the song.
“Gimme Love”, originally done by Matt B, was remixed to feat Kenzo and this production was done by Ugandan producer Steyn, who was also nominated. While his work on the song cannot go unappreciated, Last Last still boasts of a wealth of experience in terms of production.

The song, which sample’s American vocalist Toni Braxton’s He Wasn’t Man Enough, was produced by Mikael and Samuel Haataja, commonly known as Off and Out, Chopstix, MdS, and Ruben.
On May 13, it was released through an international label—Atlantic Records. Owing to this, Ugandan producer Nase Avatar says thus: ”Not to downplay the local producer who worked on Kenzo’s song, I think it would be pretence not to appreciate the work put in the making of Burna Boy’s song and, in fact, some of the other songs in the same category.”

He adds: “I think, in the end, this should be a learning opportunity for our local producers to challenge themselves for global markets.”
The 65th Grammy Awards are slated for February 6, 2023, at the Los Angeles’ Arena, in Los Angeles, California. With all this in play, the big question that further remains is: Will Uganda’s golden boy Eddy Kenzo bring the Grammy home? Let us watch the space!