Accompanied by his manager Canam Vusha and his Maliza Umaskini boss Sadat Muhindi, gospel star Papa Dennis checked in at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport last Saturday at noon ready for his flight.
The rather small built and naturally shy singer had his headphones on and as the clearing at the immigration que went on, he could be seen humming to a tune.
“Just pray for me that I win this award,” he told the Pulse team that had accompanied him to the airport as he left for the Afrimma Awards in Texas, USA, where he had been nominated in the Best Gospel Act.
“I did win the Pulse Music Video Awards (PMVA) last year and I think this is the next frontier that I need to conquer and so may God help me,” he said before the team enjoyed a cup of tea at the airport lobby, said a little prayer and off they went.
Unknown to many, Papa Dennis was one of the performers slated for the big night at the The House of Blues, Dallas, where the gala was taking place.
It had been a month of intense lobbying by Kenyan and African artistes who had been nominated for the prestigious diaspora awards.
The awards bring together talents from all over Africa with the aim of appreciating artistes’ good efforts in the music industry; recognising different talents and placing them on international platforms.
Top Kenyan deejays Joe Mfalme and Crème de la Crème were going head to head for the Best Deejay Act – Africa, in a list that featured Spinall (Nigeria), Black Coffee (South), Cuppy (Nigeria), Dollar (Senegal), D-Ommy (Tanzania), Helio Baiano (Angola), Slim (Ghana) and Neptune (Nigeria) while three other Kenyan deejays; Fully Focus, Poison Ivy and Shinski were up for the Best African DJ, USA.
Enos Olik was the only Kenyan in the Video Director category, just as Khaligraph Jones and Arrow Boy were in the Best Rap and Best Newcomer slots, respectively.
Victoria Kimani and Akothee were up against Vanessa Mdee (Tanzania), Leyla Kayondo (Uganda), Knowles Butera (Rwanda), Rema (Uganda), Nandy (Tanzania), Sheebah Karungi (Uganda), Juliana Kanyomozi (Uganda) and Charly & Nina (Rwanda), in a competitive Best Female award slot.
However, the spoils seemed destined to slip Kenya in a category that had three Kenyans. Papa Dennis was pitted against fellow gospel award-winning stars Willy Paul and Gloria Muliro.
Having the three celebrated Kenyan gospel bigwigs nominated in one category would mean that the county’s votes could easily be split to give the other nominees in this category; Frank Edwards (Nigeria), Beejay Sax (Nigeria), Miguel Buila (Angola), Joe Mettle (Ghana), Icha Chavons (Congo), Nikkie Laoye (Nigeria) and Winnie Mashaba (South Africa) an edge against them.
However, Papa Dennis, whose new single with Cecile, Blessed, is about to be released, proved himself the big force after he was announced the winner.
On the big night, Papa Dennis walked into the auditorium looking simple and almost unnoticed. He had on fitting tight blue pants, white sports shoes, a pink top and dark glasses.
His trademark neck chain, an expensive bling collection on his neck. How many could take notice of the diminutive singer with Africa's singing giants making their presence known right from the red carpet?
“It was a humbling experience and I thank God, my management team and all my supporters for the win. It is not an easy thing to win an international award and this goes a long way to prove to all that through God, all things are possible,” Papa told Pulse after the win.
“I was full of hope and I think faith put me on the top. I have been in the industry for about four years now and my growth has been consistent.
“My management team has a good plan on how we will take over the industry and I believe this is the one thing we wanted to achieve at this point of my music career,” he added.
Just like Papa Dennis, Khaligraph Jones, the other Kenyan shine at the awards who brought home the Best Rap Artiste gong has had a progressive music career that has now put him at the top as the best rapper in Africa.
The rap category has always one of the most hotly contested categories and with the likes of Shane Eagle (South Africa), Olamide (Nigeria), Zoro (Nigeria), Sarkodie (Ghana), Tha Dogg (Namibia), Casper Nyovest (South Africa), MHD (Senegal), Phyno (Nigeria) and Nasty C (South Africa) in the running, Khaligraph Jones looked unlikely to be the favourite of them all.
But the rapper proved that he had the killer sting as he buried the big names to win the accolade, a category no other Kenyan has won before.
This could bring to an end the long beef and debate that has been going on among Kenyan rappers as to who among them owns the keys to the throne.
The feud on who is the real ‘baba yao’ has been mostly between Khaligraph Jones the ‘OG’, Kaka Sugura and Octopizzo.
That notwithstanding, the Kenyan music flag now flies high with the two wins as the two join other elite musicians across the continent who have received international recognition.
Popular among Kenyan fans, Yemi Alade from Nigeria won the Best Female Artiste of the Year at a time when the battle on who the biggest Nigerian female singer is at an all-time high between her and Tiwa Savage.
It was a big night for Nigeria that also saw Wizkid’s Soco win the Song of the Year – which also won the Video of the Year - with the Humanitarian award also going to a fellow Nigerian singer, Flavour.
Uganda too had its share of the pie as Ykee Benda walked away with the Best Newcomer award and Eddy Kenzo scooping the Best Male East Africa trophy. The Artiste of the Year award went to Fally Ipupa from Congo.
Afrimma nominees are usually picked on production quality, talent and creativity, melody, originality and authenticity as well as composition and arrangement.
It was a bad year for Tanzania’s showbiz superstars Harmonize, Ali Kiba, Juma Jux, Diamond and Ommy Dimpoz who failed to impress. The artistes have been controlling regional airwaves for year.
And so was it for Nyashinski and Sauti Sol, arguably Kenya’s most sought after stars this year and Victoria Kimani who has also had a good wave in 2018.
Nigeria's Davido and Tiwa Savage also fell before their rivals Wizkid and Yemi Alade, respectively.
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