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Nama: Who decides for people?

“KumaAwards ekuNAMA vakandibiridzira apa gore ranga rapera kwese ndichirira, ngoma ndaimba munhu wese akayidairira. (They cheated me at the National Arts Merit Awards (Nama) awards despite my songs being popular the whole year as they were sing-along hits)…” goes a verse in Zimdancehall chanter Killer T’s recently released song titled Vakandibiridzira.

By Kennedy Nyavaya

His grievance is what most artistes share annually after Nama, which grab controversial headlines as each edition passes.
There was shock after the announcement that Jah Prayzah’s Mdhara Vachauya had won the Most Outstanding Song award ahead of Killer T’s song Takangadaro.

This year’s ceremony appeared a mere replica when Zimdancehall chanter Soul Jah Love lost out on the same award. Many felt he was supposed to win as a result of the mega hit Pamamonya Ipapo, but alas it was Jah Prayzah again who took it home for Ndini Ndamubata.

However, in the recent case not only did Soul Jah Love get frequent rotation on different radio stations, it became a craze fuelling memes, renditions and even influencing street lingo as well as charismatic preachers among other trends.

Like many, the creative lyricist’s manager Father Parise could not hide his agitation when quoted this week suggesting the camp would release a reprimanding song as they felt robbed.

Arts awards worldwide are met with subsequent controversies, especially when they are left in the hands of a few individuals to decide.

“A panel of independent adjudicators guided by a selection criterion and appointed to preside over all submissions went through an intense seven weeks of adjudications,” these are the words of Nama chairperson Professor Ruby Magosvongwe when she was announcing this year’s nominees.

According to Magosvongwe, the faceless and nameless adjudicators are both “seasoned and professionals” in various fields.
Songstress Ammara Brown, who lost out the Outstanding Female Musician to gospel singer Janet Manyowa, took to social media to clarify the circumstances albeit subtly exposing the unknown judges’ unpopular decisions.

“The Namas are not based on facts, they are based on opinions. A panel of anonymous judges observe your work and battle it out among themselves,” read part of the caption to her picture on Instagram.

Manyowa’s followership and popularity pose no meaningful competition to Brown’s legion of “Ammartians”.

Brown won the same award for 2016 yet she was more impressive last year than ever before in her career.

In justification, the organisers, National Arts Council of Zimbabwe (Nacz), have maintained that it is not about popularity but the “clear-headed” judgement of the adjudicators.

Nacz deputy chairperson Nicholas Moyo believes the numbers and nature of artistes who submit their work for the past 17 years absolves the Nama “brand and its legitimacy”.

“The calibre of artistes entering Nama speaks a lot to the brand and its legitimacy,” said Moyo in an emailed response to The Standard Style.

“Controversies around awards are not unique to Nama and most of the time people that complain use their own measures and criteria not used by Nama. It is important that anyone familiarise themselves with the Nama criteria and then project their view.”

The criteria Moyo talks of is, however, not clear looking at Jah Prayzah’s dominance at the past two events leaving one to question: what, if not popularity, is being used to give him the awards, especially after releasing a song less than two months before the closing date of submissions?

In theory, Nama is ready to encompass all forms of art, but the calibre of winners echoes a different reality.

“At Nama we do not prescribe what has to be presented by artistes that will offer entertainment. The adjudication process as well was not in any way influenced by the political tide,” said Moyo.

His comments are confusing for those who wonder how three award categories with nominees were rendered winner-less ostensibly as a result of “lack of imagination and creativity” in the submitted material at this year’s edition.

Perhaps while still in the tide of embracing information and communication technologies, Nacz ought to provide more open forums for arts enthusiasts in the country to also influence the quality of winners they expect.

Failure to do that threatens the legitimacy of the event as the respected sole arts awards remaining in the country. After all, if they bear the name “national” then they have to encompass the whole nation’s views not just a bunch of secret professionals.

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