Before introducing herself, Joanna Chu, the Vice President of the Awards Department, set the grand stage for her colleague Shawn Thwaites. Chu has been with the Recording Academy for over nineteen years. During our interview conducted through Zoom, she talked to me about the exciting changes she’s seen, experienced, and been part of in the past three years.
Joanna: [I’ll] introduce myself, and then I’ll pass it over to Shawn, because Shawn is actually the brain power behind this proposal. He worked on it for over a year. Okay, doing all the research to make sure that it has everything we needed to make this successful category. thank you so much for giving us the floor to talk to you. over to Shawn.
Shawn Thwaites: Thank you, Joanna. Yes, I’m Shawn Thwaites. I’ve been with the Academy as an employee, going on two years, but I joined th eAcademy as a member in 2017. I am a Genre Manager. I oversee the African performance category, both of the global music categories. That’s our main performance, new age and contemporary instrumental, and I’m an instrumentalist, as well. I play steel drums, as my parents are from Trinidad and Tobago. I was born in Washington, DC, [studied] at Howard University. I went to Berklee College of Music, and now, I’m here with the Recording Academy.
Richardine Bartee: Welcome, welcome. Welcome. Well, I’ve been with the Academy for six years. I am on the Global Committee with Reggae & Global. I also help book the talent for Herbal Teas & White Sofas for a lot of the artists on the continent, adding Global Spin recently. We’ve had Focalistic on there. And also on Press Play, the series that was was done At Home. So we are in great, great, great, great company.
Alright, so the “Best African Music Performance Category”, like I’m sure you know, like as you were working on this, like it’s been a long time coming. And I was part of the meeting where we were getting the African Music Leaders to speak about, you know, what it should be? We wondered, “Should it be called Afrobeats?” Then, there were people on the call, was saying that, you know, we are from various countries on the continent, and we’re not Afrobeats. So, it shouldn’t be called Afrobeats. And it was that, you know, thing, tit for tat going on. But now, we see that it’s all of these genres here. Like, how did you arrive to making it an award that encapsulates all of these genres? And what does that mean when someone wins? How do you determine [the winner]? Is it one for each genre? Or is it just everyone going against each other for this award?
Shawn Thwaites: I’ll start, and I know Joanna will follow up, for sure. Well, first of all, before that, that meeting that you were on with African Leaders, I had several meetings before kind of on my own, just kind of, rallying the troops, and getting the conversation going and seeing what it would look like, what it was, you know? Just how it would feel, what should we do: A track category versus the album category. And there was a lot of discussion around it, you know? The room was divided, several times. So, we brought it to the Academy and had the leaders of the Academy, like Harvey Mason, was on the African leaders. And, you know, we all just listened and took it in, and then I went back to the drawing board, because this was two years in the making.
So, I would say, I’m losing my train of thought. You said a lot here. But it was really, it was a real good conversation. The conversations were good, because we got to narrow it down to a performance track category. Right?
Shawn: And right now, we have 94 categories at at the Academy.
Shawn: And it was really tough to get a new category added. So, it was a lot of strategic—you have to be strategic in doing proposals for the Academy to get an award surpassed, right? You said, “What would the award say?” [The award will say, “Best African Performance”… Well, Joanna, you [will] probably correct that for me, but it will just say “Best African Performance Track Category…”
Shawn Thwaites: From my understanding, so it won’t, it won’t say, like, “Best Amapiano Recording” or anything of that sort. Because we have word competence in the whole continent, which is, you know, as you know, is 54 countries.
[insert image of signatures for world music award]
Richardine: That’s hard. But, yes.
Shawn: Yeah, but like, I always state that it’s just the beginning. Yes, you have to somewhere, you know, you can’t just… I knew we couldn’t go for track and album categories because we wouldn’t be here now, right?
Shawn: Right, it wouldn’t pass. So, you know, you have to be strategic and start, you know, small and try to see how this goes. And you know, time will tell?
Richardine: Yeah, yeah.
Because it is such an important milestone that means a lot to millions of people around the globe, we thought it was crucial to have this conversation that would help bring clarity to the change we’ve all witnessed. Once the rest of the interview gets transcribed, we will spread the news for everyone to come back and learn more about the new global category directly from the Recording Academy and its members responsible for getting it passed.