Music prize show ended in scandal

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Norway’s annual music industry awards show called Spellemannsprisen started off with complaints from top classical artists like pianist Leif Ove Andsnes, and ended in scandal over the weekend, after one winning pop band made a racial slur against their prize presenters. Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) held a crisis meeting on Monday over whether the slur would have consequences for their production of Melodi Grand Prix, Norway’s run-up to the Eurovision Song Contest.

This year's Spellemanns music prize show attracted more controversy. PHOTO: Facebook

Local media and online debates were full of coverage and comments on the behaviour of Lars Erik Blokkhus, lead singer in the band Plumbo, which won the Spellemann’s (Artist’s) prize for the hit song of the year, called Møkkamann. “Møkk” in Norwegian means dirt, rubbish or manure, depending on how it’s used, and a “møkkamann” can literally be a “dirty man.”

The band, from the town of Sande in Vestfold County, southwest of Oslo, bounded up on the stage at the prize awards ceremony Saturday night that was broadcast live by NRK from a theater in Oslo, where they were handed their prize by the popular Norwegian hip-hop duo, Madcon, made up of Yosef Wolde-Mariam and Tshawe Baqwa.

And that’s when the trouble began. Blokkhus, speaking for the group, immediately turned to the Madcon men and said (roughly translated)  “You know what? When I look at you two, I feel I can call  you Mokkamann,” making a play on words from their own song about “møkk” to the Norwegian word mokka, or mocha, clearly referring to the Madcon duo’s skin color.

Baqwa and Wolde-Mariam initially appeared to go along with what Blokkhus later claimed was his attempt at a joke, but their facial expressions quickly changed, and members of the audience started booing. Madcon walked off the stage in disgust, and the damage was done.

Blokkhus, who would likely be dubbed “blockhead” in some circles, seemed to realize his blunder and admitted that “I’m not good and making speeches.” But he went on to read some prepared remarks, accompanied by a band member on the accordion, before the band left the stage themselves in disgrace.

Blokkhus later apologized profusely for his racial slur, but not before another musician from the band Kaizers Orchestra dumped a glass of champagne over him. Blokkhus also seemed to make it worse when he told website VG Nett that “we’re just a band from a small town that’s not used to being here in such a big arena.” That made several commentators wonder what the citizens of Sande thought about being unwittingly included in the blame for Blokkhus’ blunder.

He spent most of Sunday apologizing, and Madcon eventually said they simply wanted to bury the issue and try to forget it. They apologized as well, after Baqwa had slung out an obscenity of his own directed at Blokkhus. Both Baqwa and Wolde-Mariam claimed they’d gotten over the incident “15 minutes after it happened.”

Classical pianist Leir Ove Andsnes was also unhappy with this year's show, after several awards presentations were dropped from the televised portion. PHOTO: Festspillene i Bergen

No consequences
NRK, which also broadcasts the annual and upcoming Melodi Grand Prix music competition, nonetheless discussed the issue Monday after what NRK officials “quite strong reactions from both the public, the press and those involved.” Some were speculating that Plumbo may be banned from Melodi Grand Prix, others thought that would be an extreme reaction itself.

NRK ultimately decided to let Plumbo take part in the Melodi Grand Prix show due to be broadcast from Larvik in two weeks. “We decided they had laid themselves flat and their apologies are so credible that all parties have reconciled,” said NRK’s director of entertainment Charlo Halvorsen. “There will be no consequences.” Halvorsen, incidentally, is married to Kristin Halvorsen, the government minister and head of the Socialist Left party (SV), which takes a strong line against racism and discrimination and currently controls the ministry in charge of equality issues.

“We’re really happy,” Blokkhus told NRK. “We’re all putting this behind us and looking ahead.” He added, though, that it had been a rough weekend and that “I’ll think twice” if ever called on to make an acceptance speech again.

Meanwhile, the top prizes at the Spellemann show went to veteran rock musician Jan Eggum, who just celebrated his 60th birthday and won the equivalent of a lifetime achievement award. The Årets Spellemann (Artist of the Year) award went to singer Jarle Bernhoft, who also won the prize for best male artist. Ane Brun won the prize for best female artist.

Around two dozen awards are handed out when Norwegian musicians celebrate themselves, and among them was internationally renowned pianist Leif Ove Andsnes, who won the award for the best classical album of the year. His competitors were other well-known classical artists including Truls Mørk, Henning Kraggerud and Vilde Frang.

But their prize was awarded on a morning radio show on NRK, while some others in the “open class” and hip-hop categories were awarded on other NRK channels. Andsnes and several fellow artists felt that undermined the value of their prizes, and, in Andsnes’ words, “contributed to making the Spellemann prizes irrelevant.” NRK defended its decision to spin off awards presentations, to cut down the televised length of the show.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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