Top African artists played to small crowds at the Kora All African Music Awards in Durban at the weekend.
South African jazz veteran Hugh Masekela was among the winners
International stars Shaggy and Missy Elliot drew a crowd of 1,000 people in a 50,000-seater stadium.
African artists on side stages reportedly performed to audiences as small as 10 people.
South African artists netted awards in four categories but local newspapers asked why public money was spent on an event that drew so few people.
Prices had been slashed to as little as $6 in a vain attempt to woo the crowds but some performances were cancelled because the audiences were so small.
"I'm not very pleased the way this music festival has gone," said Nigeria's T-Mac.
"We came to do something, we came to represent our country and show the world that we have come of age in Africa. So I'm very disappointed to see all these fantastic stages, everything is done with detail and love but no crowd."
The BBC's Mahlatse Gallens in Durban says many believe the event wasn't properly marketed. Only a couple of posters could be seen in the city's streets.
However, our correspondent says for the awards ceremony itself, it was all glitz and glamour, as the red carpet was laid out.
Benin's Angelique Kidjo and American reggae artist Shaggy hosted the event, the 10th annual award ceremony.
Veteran South African jazz man Hugh Masekela was among the artists from the host country who won awards, taking the prize of best male artist in Southern Africa.
Adja Soumano from Mali won the prize for best female artist.
Kenya's Kaz, who was named most promising artist after releasing her debut album of Afro-fusion, said the ceremony was like a "dream".
"They call your name, you go up and you get the award and you go back to your table and you are like: 'Did that really happen?'. It's unreal. It still hasn't sunk in yet.
Ladysmith Black Mambazo took the best traditional group award, while fellow South Africans Malaika were judged best group from Southern Africa.
Nigeria's 2 Face Idibia bagged the award for Revelation of the Year.
The Best African American Diaspora Artist went to US rapper Will Smith for his song Switch.