Arts Desk

The Wammies: Are Good Performances and Good Intentions Good Enough?


Once again last night, the Washington Area Music Association’s 24th Annual Wammies at the State Theatre in Falls Church exhibited the inspiring and  troubling aspects of  this self-described “umbrella organization of Washington area musicians, concert promoters, lawyers, recording engineers, managers, graphic artists, and related businesses working together to address areas of common concern.” Hosted by WAMU’s Kojo Nnamdi, XM-Sirius’s Bill Wax, and Westwood Radio’s Jim Bohannon, the lengthy program featured nine acts performing multiple songs plus numerous local musicians presenting awards. Categories included Best Electronica Vocalist (Bob Mould won) and Artist of the Year (Patti Reese won).

The most positive aspect of the night was the fairly diverse live roster. While the lineup slightly overemphasized veteran roots and Americana performers, it’s hard to quibble too much with a bill that included the mountain stream vocals of bluegrass combo the Dede Wyland Band, the upbeat charismatic flow of rapper Tabi Bonney, the powerful hornwork of the Afro Bop Alliance, the bouncy Afropop of Elikeh, the roots twang of singer Marti Brom, the funky go-go of Be’la Dona, and the country rock of the Rosslyn Mountain Boys.

Unfortunately, a handful of the awards given out last night, and the noticeable absence of certain artists from the nominations, demonstrated some of the same problems the Mike Schreibman-run WAMA has struggled with since its 1984 founding. While WAMA occasionally consults “experts” (critics and others involved with local music) to suggest nominees, it largely relies on suggestions from its paid membership, who also then vote in the various categories. In 1998, I wrote an article for the Washington City Paper on WAMA, in which I pointed out some of the problems related to its approach—a singer who bought memberships to the organization for friends for the purpose of getting votes; the neglect of certain genres; and several artists winning awards again and again and again.

Confession time: In 2009, after several years of e-mailing WAMA board member and singer Janine Wilson regarding my more recent complaints about the Wammies, I was contacted by Wilson shortly before this year's nominations were announced. She asked me for some ideas.  Alas, many of my suggestions—Ethiopian vocalist Hana Shankute; Latin outfits Zeniza Allstar, Orquesta La Romana and  Joe Falero and the Latin Jazz Allstars—did not make it, even as nominees. A quick look at the nominees displays many other omissions. While I am a fan of Richmond, Va.’s Bio Ritmo, it seems odd that WAMA would nominate two of that group's members for best Latin instrumentalist while leaving out the likes of Dan Sheehy and his fellow bandmates in Mariachi Los Amigos.  Maryland’s southern soul Hardway Connection won a 2009 “Carolina Beach Music Award” but were not nominated.  Southern soul combo Jim Bennett and Lady Mary did not make it. The critically acclaimed afropop band Extra Golden (with members from D.C. and Kenya) were also overlooked. WAMA’s longstanding failure to follow the area's indie/alternative/experimental rock scene meant that it did not find room in its Modern Rock category for the likes of  Screen Vinyl Image, the Shirks, the Points, Rustbuckit, Title Tracks, or any metal or hard rock bands. WAMA’s omissions year after year suggest that critics like me are not merely nitpicking; we're pointing out structural flaws in the nomination methods.

WAMA's voting history and the omissions from its nominations taint some of this year’s actual winners, deservedly or not.  Should bar-band roots rocker Patti Reese have beaten out Wale and others for Artist of the Year, and should she have won Album of the Year, Songwriter of the Year, and three roots rock awards as she did?  Oh, and did I mention that her label, Azalea City Recordings, tied with Smithsonian Folkways for Best D.C. Label?  Should all five blues/traditional R&B awards have gone to white musicians? Was Bob Mould an electronica vocalist in 2009 even though he used his guitar somewhat? Should singer Margot MacDonald have won three out of four of the modern rock awards? Are Hotspur, a Killers-style pop-emo band, really the Best New Artists? In addition, the noticeable absence of many of the winners at the event, as well as the loud conversations among audience members while trophies were handed out, demonstrated that after 24 years, these awards are still struggling for respect. I recognize, as WAMA board members have pointed out to me for over a decade, that the organization has good intentions, but perhaps it's time to reconsider the selection and voting process, and use that good will in a more productive manner.

Photo of Tabi Bonney courtesy of Jan Keskinen.

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  • anonymouse

    The problem with the Wammies is it's always the same 15 or 20 people who win EVERY SINGLE YEAR. Really great, amazing music comes and goes in D.C. all the time and yet the wammies NEVER acknowledge them. It's always been the SAME PEOPLE ever since 1980-whatever. But that's cool. It's Schriebman and Carrico's show so they can honor whomever they choose, but it's almost as if they enjoy excluding people. I guess they have to take care of their friends. Too restrictive for my tastes. What we need is another awards show to acknowledge everyone who is left out of the wammies.

  • Laura Baron

    I think Mike Schreibman is missing vital categories in the WAMMIE awards.

    Where are the awards for those musicians who are doing "good" with their music (regardless of their talent level) in the DC area. Is WAMA so interested in awarding the talent of local favorites that they have forgotten in my opinion to honor those who demonstrate what I feel is the most sacred mission of an artist- to use their power and influence to help those in need. Raising money and awareness to benefit those in need in our city. Where are the awards that celebrate not only talent, but the musicians or organizations that help provide music education for at risk kids in DC? Example- Guitar Not Guns. What about an award for artists who help to fight for the arts in our schools? What about an award for an organization who has given scholarships and opportunities to DC's musical future-our youth?

    I have felt honored to be nominated for Wammies, however the fact tha WAMA doesn't recognize the contributions artists make to our hometown leaves me with the feeling that WAMA has missed the boat and is not completely relevant in the DC arena.

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  • Guido

    WAMA is nothing more than a club for asshats like Schreibman.

    "Proud of it," eh? Why do I believe you're arrogant enough to be truthful when you say that?

  • Guido

    I see the lifelong members of the mutual-admiration society have weighed-in!