How transparent and credible is the VGMA?

BY: Arnold Asamoah-Baidoo
Theresa Ayoade
Theresa Ayoade

With just days to the 19th edition of the Vodafone Ghana Music Awards (VGMA), there’s no shred of doubt that it remains the ‘biggest’ and most-respected awards scheme in the Ghanaian entertainment industry – and in all honesty, Charterhouse, organisers of the annual festival, has done an incredible job of elevating the scheme’s clout over the years.

However, with all the class and significance the awards enjoys, there are also the inevitable controversies attached to it, something synonymous with every recognised awards show across the world.

Over the years, controversies about the VGMA have hinged predominantly on the purported wrong selection of nominees and the choice of some winners.

The awards, in the determination of its winners, is said to actually go through a thorough and genuine regimen, but for some music fans and critics, the choices of some winners make them view it with skepticism.

Strong cases of perceived lack of transparency?

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In 2004, the five awards won by gospel greats, Daughters of Glorious Jesus, for their album Aseda, generated such a ruckus and Charterhouse endured heavy backlash, to the extent that they almost gave up on the awards.

For the first time in the history of the awards, the audience openly booed Irene & Jane when they were announced winners of the Best Female Vocalist category in 2008, beating the likes of Ohemaa Mercy, Becca, Diana Hamilton and Cee.

The fact that Irene& Jane were under the management of Charterhouse made the win seem dubious.

Music lovers were in disbelief when Hiplife artiste, C-Zar, won Hiplife Song of the Year with Mercy Lokko in 2009 soaring above the likes of Okyeame Kwame (Medo Mmaa), Klala (Am3 h3y3 f3o), Reggie Zippy (Adoma), Dunsin (Oyeadi3 y3) and Obour (President Obour).

In 2011, ardent GMA followers were left bemused to see Zapp Mallet beat Nacee to pick the Producer of the Year prize, in a year where Nacee did everything right and deserved to claim the honour.

Even the legendary Zapp was less expectant of the award as he showed such astonishment during his acceptance speech.

Herty Borngreat produced arguably the biggest shock of the Awards thus far when she annexed the Best Collaboration of the Year in 2013 for her collaborative effort with Trigmatic ahead of arguably the most popular collaboration of that year, Asem and Kwabena Kwabena’s Bye Bye.

In 2014, the Academy and Board’s decision to award Bisa KDei the Best Songwriter of the Year for the song, Give it to Baba over Minister OJ’s Maye Se Mo Pen, created some mistrust for the scheme.

Just last year, Joe Mettle was able to win the Artiste of the Year, ahead of the likes of Sarkodie, EL, and Stonebwoy, and he had no hit song enlisted in the nomination list.

These occurrences and more have created doubts about the Awards, with many questioning the integrity and transparency of the scheme.

Are the processes really airtight?

Over the period, Charterhouse have assured Ghanaians of a very credible and verifiable awards scheme by publishing the processes of the selection of winners.

According to such publication, there is a Collection of Entries stage where qualified songs are taken from submissions from record companies and verification done via search engines like Google, data from Mobile Content companies and from the Copyright Office.

There is the Categorisation Process, where the VGMA Board compiles the entries into the categories and the Nomination Process where songs, artistes and albums are nominated. After all that, the organisers come out with the official nominations list.

Over the years, music fans, critics and stakeholders have questioned the blatant anomalies in the categorisation and nomination of songs.

Songs that do not qualify with regards to time of release are nominated, artistes with several albums are nominated as new artistes, songs are categorised wrongly and songs that qualify for nominations are ignored.

So, with all these mishaps, some of which have been acknowledged by the organisers in the past (Cynthia Macauley as New Artiste, Nicholas Omane Acheampong as Producer of the Year etc.) – it goes to prove, that the Awards cannot be as airtight as depicted.

Flawed voting system?

Of all the documented processes of the VGMA, the most crucial is the voting process. It includes 40 percent public voting, 30 percent VGMA Academy voting, and 30 percent VGMA Board voting, all for the Public Voting Awards.

The industry voting awards include 50 percent VGMA Academy and 50 percent VGMA Board, which also has 100 percent voting rights in the Honorary, Sound Engineer and Producer of the Year Awards and voting is via mobile phone (short code) plus voting sessions for the VGMA Academy and Board respectively.

It is also said that, all the votes are supervised and tabulated by world-renowned business advisory firm, KPMG and with all these procedures, the VGMA is cast as one of the most credible, transparent and error-free awards schemes in Ghana but wait a minute, is that the case? Not quite!

With the perceived wrong choice of winners for some categories, many have also raised issues about the transparency of the voting system and the collation technique of world-renowned business firm, KPMG.

Before 2016, there was a school of thought that posited that if Charterhouse and KPMG publish the collation of public votes, Academy and Board votes, maybe it will go a long way to change the mindset of Ghanaians about the lack of transparency.

Indeed, in 2016, after some pressure from followers of the scheme, Charterhouse released the voting results, a month after the main awards in a bid to exhibit some level of transparency. Did it help? Of course not!

As expected, questions were asked if the voting results were not manipulated – considering the sort of bewilderment that greeted the announcement of some winners, especially E.L. as Artiste of the Year in 2016.

According to critics, the results could only be trusted somehow if the results were displayed on large screens on the awards night but certainly not weeks after the event was held.

How to improve transparency?

Should the organisers allow some media presence in the deliberations of the Board? Should they let the media in on how voting is done and how compilation is handled by KPMG? Would that help with the integrity and transparency of the scheme?

Maybe, just like the critics demand, Charterhouse should present the results on the night of the awards, breaking the collation down to depict how the three voting blocks (Public, Academy, Board) voted. Perhaps, that could help.

But why should the organisers even bother with all these moves just to show Ghanaians the scheme is transparent? Has any music awards scheme in the world been bereft of controversies? Not the Grammys, not the BETs, not the SAMAs in South Africa and not the Headies in Nigeria!

Maybe, just maybe, there’s little or nothing Charterhouse can really do to disabuse the minds of people on lack of transparency with the awards.