Native American Music Awards

In late January or early February, unless the pandemic postpones, people around the world tune in to the Grammy Awards to see their favorite musicians compete for these coveted music prizes. The awards have long been criticized for not honor artists of color. Adele’s refusal to accept the award for album of the year in 2017, because she thought Beyoncé deserved it Lemonade, does not seem to have radically changed this state of affairs.

One approach to exclusive arts awards has been to create new, more specific award organizations. Founded in 1998, some 40 years after the first Grammy Awards were held, the Native American Music Awards (or Nammys) honor and showcase the best native music by musicians across North America.

Writing in 2006 about the Eighth Annual Nammys, ethnomusicologist James E. Cunningham said:[t]he ceremony was not just a celebration of achievements, but an important opportunity for the industry to consolidate, identify and define itself.

“Unlike the mainstream recording industry, which is controlled by a small number of very large corporations, the nascent Native American music recording industry is a diverse collection of small independent labels and self-produced projects” , and therefore the awards put Indigenous artists first. Indigenous communities, which are scattered across North America.

“Instead of major record sales or support from the mainstream music industry, recognition at the Nammys is one of the few routes to stardom within the industry,” Cunningham wrote, describing the Natives. American Music Awards as foremost a show that recognizes the work of Native musicians for the impact of their work in Native American communities.

In turn, bringing Indigenous celebrities working in traditionally popular genres to the Nammys helps validate the awards. “Native American celebrity guest presenters at previous ceremonies have also included non-musicians such as actor Wes Studi and professional golfer Notah Begaye II,” Cunningham explained.

As COVID-19 has led to many music events going online, the Nammys has already used its website to help create a more unified Indigenous music community. Its website promotes the work of nominees and winners through audio and video playlists.

“By providing an organizational framework and uniting its diverse members via the World Wide Web [sic]the Native American Music Awards organization has created a virtual music industry,” Cunningham wrote.

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By: James E. Cunningham

The World of Music, Vol. 49, no. 1, Indigenous peoples, recording techniques and the recording industry (2007), pp. 155-170 (16 pages)

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