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KORA Awards: Africa's Answer to Grammys
Diplomatic Pouch / August 30, 2012

By Larry Luxner

Africa’s most important music awards ceremony takes place this December in Côte d’Ivoire, but 190 lucky Washingtonians — including the heads of 25 diplomatic missions in town — got a preview of the extravaganza on Aug. 11.

The KORA All Africa Music Awards, known as the “Grammys of Africa,” hosted a U.S. kickoff at the Arena Stage of Washington’s Mead Center for American Theater.

The fashion show and dinner, a precursor to the actual awards ceremony in the Ivorian capital of Abidjan, featured Daouda Diabaté, Côte d’Ivoire’s ambassador to the United States, under the patronage of Maurice Bandama, the country’s minister of culture, and Robert Beugre Mambe, governor of the district of Abidjan.

Among the top African fashion designers and performing artists at the gala dinner were Gilles Toure (Côte d’Ivoire) and Korotimi Dao (Burkina Faso).

KORA is the brainchild of president and executive producer Ernest Coovi Adjovi, who spoke to Diplomatic Pouch in between appetizers and the main course.

“This is the first time we’re doing this event in Washington,” said Adjovi, who’s originally from the West African nation of Benin but also has Ivorian citizenship. The businessman lived for many years in Namibia, where he ran a sugar-packing factory and served as Côte d’Ivoire’s honorary consul in Windhoek, the Namibian capital.

“In 1995, I started bringing African artists to perform in Windhoek. I love music and I love big parties,” he said. “After attending the Grammy awards in Los Angeles, I came up with the idea of an awards ceremony for the whole continent. That’s how KORA was born.”

The contest is named after the kora — an African musical instrument made from a calabash, or gourd.

“In the old days, the kora was used to pass messages on to people, so I picked it because I wanted to have a symbolic name for the event,” said Adjovi, who inaugurated the first KORA Awards in Johannesburg back in 1996 “because Namibia did not have the know-how, equipment or infrastructure to host big events.”

South Africa continued to host the KORA Awards annually until 2005, when the African Union asked Adjovi to relocate it. “So we went to Nigeria and found ourselves in a situation of corruption,” he complained. “We lost three years and resumed in 2010 in Burkina Faso.”

In fact, Adjovi was arrested by Nigerian police that year and detained following allegations that he had defrauded various local governments and music-industry promoters there, in a fiasco that led KORA’s official partners in Nigeria to call for a boycott of the event in Burkina Faso. Coovi intended to move the show to Côte d’Ivoire in 2011, but then civil war broke out and the show had to be cancelled — meaning this December will be the first such edition of KORA in two years.

The actual awards ceremony will feature performances by 12 artists throughout Africa, but KORA is a one-month event that begins Nov. 30 and features a concert in Abidjan every Friday, Saturday and Sunday night until Dec. 29.

The event is expected to attract 40,000 to 50,000 people; the event, expected to cost between $6 million and $7 million, will be financed largely through corporate sponsorships.

“The government of Côte d’Ivoire will assist us, but I have to finance the event because we don’t want public funds,” Adjovi explained. “Our experience in Africa has taught us that when you take public funds from any government, they tend to tell you what to do.”

Since KORA was held for so long in South Africa, that country is perhaps the best-represented in terms of talent — though musicians from all over the African diaspora are competing for top prizes, and that includes the United States.

Partnering with KORA locally is Howard University’s WHUT-TV, which in 2002 began exclusive broadcasts of the annual ceremony via satellite from South Africa.

“I need African-Americans because that’s what every kid in Africa wants. American music has been dominating Africa for too long,” Adjovi complained. “The kids don’t want to listen to African music. They want rap, R&B and hip-hop.”

For more information on upcoming events, visit www.koraawards.org.

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