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On Tuesday the Washington Area Music Association announced the nominees for the 26th annual Wammies, which take place Feb. 19 at the State Theatre. It’s no secret that I and others have long been critical of the local awards ceremony’s mistakes, omissions, and policies. I’d hoped this year would be very different but, alas, I remain frustrated.
But first, some background: This past November, WAMA board member and musician Diana Quinn asked me to suggest some nominees. Each year, WAMA members select most of the nominees, but the organization also contacts “experts” for additional assistance. I sent her an extensive list of local performers and recordings in the areas of rap, pop, rock, EDM, world music, blues, soul, jazz, roots rock, and metal, and included links from a variety of publications covering those artists and recordings. On the jazz front, I urged her to contact Washington City Paper critic Michael J. West and DJ, writer, and recording engineer Larry Appelbaum.
Quinn said she’d bring my suggestions to WAMA’s board. She said WAMA compiles the votes of its dues-paying members, and if there are not enough nominees in some categories, they consider the suggestions of the experts, which have to be seconded by someone in WAMA to make it on the ballot. As for the number of experts contacted this year, WAMA president Mike Schreibman says “anywhere from 2 to 10 depending on the category.”
Obviously, I’m pleased to see some of my suggestions made it. For the first time, rapper Fat Trel, experimental-pop act Bluebrain, Mariachi Los Amigos, and eclectic indie label Sockets Records were nominated. Oddisee, Zenizia Allstar, Orquesta La Leyenda, The Caribbean, Deleted Scenes, Kid Congo Powers, and Edie Sedgwick also are included. The Wammies will be that much more diverse this year. The addition of these artists helps make the rapper, electronica artist, record company, Latin duo/group, and pop/rock duo/group categories more reflective of what D.C. had to offer in 2011.
Now for the bad news. The go-go categories almost entirely ignored younger musicians, such as popular and critically lauded bounce beat groups like TCB, XIB, Reaction Band, TOB, and ABM. (I suggested go-go talker Killa Cal, but he didn’t make the list.)
The omissions continue. Maryland-based Haitian band Rafrechi may have played Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage recently, but they weren’t nominated. Maryland soul singer Jim Bennett won a southernsoulrnb.com award, but he didn’t make the cut, either. There is no heavy metal category. Sockets Records got a nomination, but indie-rock acts associated with that label, like Hume and Laughing Man, were not (nor was the Sockets hip-hop band The Cornel West Theory). Few of Michael J. West’s favorite local jazz musicians are included—where are Brian Settles, Nasar Abadey, and Brad Linde? Volta Bureau , Protect-U, and Outputmessage released acclaimed EDM recordings, but they’re not applauded here. I’ve made the case for many of these musicians in earlier articles on the Wammies, but WAMA doesn’t seem interested.
Real talk: In the end, my complaint isn’t that individual artists I like are ignored by the Wammies (although plenty are), but that the Wammies need to reach out to a truly wide variety of experts, and do a better job demonstrating they care about all styles of music. It was nice that Quinn reached out to me and included some of my suggestions this year, but it’s still disappointing how much impactful local music—-much of which is heralded by local media—-is ignored each year. While time and time again, WAMA insists it does its homework and that it’s the responsibility of skeptics to become paying members of WAMA if they feel a sound needs more attention, the hit-and-miss nature of this year’s ballot shows that WAMA’s approach is not working. After a quarter century, WAMA has not convinced many local musicians that it is worth it to join the organization.
To get a sense of WAMA’s biases, look at the general music awards at the bottom of the ballot. WAMA’s “musician of the year” nominees include roots rockers, folkies, and a klezmer musician, but no modern jazz, reggae, R&B, go-go, metal, or indie-rock players. It should probably go without saying, then, that the category is disappointingly homogeneous—it includes 10 white men and one white woman. Since the Wammies include a wide range of genre categories honoring musicians from all walks of life, you’d think the “musician of the year” prize wouldn’t seem limited to such a narrow few.
But that is WAMA. Dues-paying members have until Feb. 5 to vote for their choices.
*correction-This blogpost originally said there were no metal bands nominated. While there is no metal category, Periphery was nominated for best modern rock group, and Pentagram for best modern rock recording.