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My editor suggested in a post yesterday on the Wammies awards ceremonythat I might want to add my two cents regarding this year’s nominees, and he’s right. The slate of nominees for the 25th anniversary Wammies contains a familiar ratio of impressive choices, mind-boggling omissions, and troubling mistakes (2008-formed Baltimore band Mama’s Black Sheep as “New Artist of the Year”), given what I and others have documented over the years (WCP Arts Editor Jonathan Fischer’s post from yesterday and Sarah Godfrey’s piece at TBD.com). I’ll get to specific artists that have been ignored (despite receiving media acclaim and fan support) shortly, but first want to address the Wammies process and the reaction any comments on that process engender.
As made clear in my 1998 and 2010 articles, the Washington Area Music Association (WAMA) largely views any suggestions regarding changing the Wammies nomination process, or the organization itself, as simply sour grapes, naïve, or an undemocratic attempt to impose someone’s else’s opinion. Write WAMA a check, become a member, and we’ll listen to your opinion on nominations, they say, while WAMA critics wonder why they would want to join an organization that ignores widely heralded musicians, has a history of embarassing mistakes, and dispenses juvenile insults (see the reactions to the two prior pieces) in response to criticism that is meant to be constructive.
WAMA board members have told me in the past that they on occasion consult “experts” to fill the nominations slot, rather than simply relying on the suggestions from members. My point continues to be that WAMA needs more experts, and that WAMA needs to do a better job making their organization useful and helpful and demonstrating that it cares about all styles of music. WAMA members may still not vote for expert-suggested names, but getting more such names on the ballot would at least be a start. I am not talking about substituting my own view; I mean consulting various participants in the area music scene, including critics, promoters, bloggers, and academics. WAMA needs these experts because, frankly, numerous musicians and others do not see the organization or its Wammies as being valuable, and therefore do not want to join and nominate artists themselves. The list of well-regarded artists not nominated under the current process for the Wammies is simply too extensive to be dismissed in the manner that WAMA partisans have done for 25 years.
(An aside: WAMA should update its website, which contains a number of out-of-date items including a link to a list of D.C. venues that contains the long-since-closed Warehouse Next Door, Capital City Pavilion, and Ellington’s on Eighth, but not various facilities that are open.)
As for this year’s ballot, the Wammies have ignored all metal bands, including Northern Virginia’s Salome, a favorite of The New York Times, The Washington Post, and the City Paper. They have again neglected bluesy soul artists such as the Hardway Connection, Jim Bennett, and Little Margie. The world music category contains virtually the same choices as last year while again overlooking Haitian band Rafrechi and all Ethiopian performers (despite this area including one of the largest Ethiopian populations in the U.S.). Rapper Fat Trel may have the support of Wale and the Washington Post and the City Paper and be on the WKYS list of hot area hip-hop artists, but that’s not enough to get nominated for a Wammie. The Latin list again contains no mariachi bands, including Mariachi Los Amigos, whose membership includes the Smithsonian’s Dan Sheehy, one of the organizers of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. The Latin roster also omits again Zeniza, Orquesta Romana, and Orquesta La Leyenda. Roots and country guitarist Jim Stephanson’s Say Go album was recorded with members of NRBQ and made a WFMU DJ’s top 10 for the year, but WAMA did not mention it. Electronica vocalist nominee Bob Mould moved to San Francisco in 2009, and electronica vocalist nominee Ultra Nate is based in Baltimore. Electronica DJ act Nadastrom is wrongly listed as a performing act while DJs Dubfire & Sharam are listed together, when they have rarely DJed together since releasing solo projects several years ago. Where are electronica act Bluebrain and D.C. rock bands like Title Tracks, True Womanhood, Imperial China, and Medications, which The Washington Post, City Paper, DCist, Brightest Young Things, and other local media hailed as top acts last year? Michael West and others can surely name more ignored jazz participants, but it’s obvious to even a non-fanatic of jazz like me that veteran players such as Bobby Felder, Jacques Johnson, Sr., and Nasar Abadey deserved to be mentioned.
Sure, it’s nice that artists such as Warner Williams, the What ? Band, Joe Falero, Wale, Lena Seikaly, and others have been nominated in various genre categories, but when the water glass is so empty year after year, it’s hard to appreciate the water that’s there.