The big global labels are looking to Africa for the next big thing - here’s why

12 March 2018
It's all eyes on Africa and especially its music. There's no clearer indication than Universal Music Group acquiring 70% of Kenya's AI Records via its Dutch subsidiary. So what does an American multinational like UMG care for Africa anyway?
 
Well, for one, this gives the label access to the single largest catalogue of East African music. There's good reason why AI would be interested in the deal as well - it finally gives them the upmh they need to get their artists playing on the international stage.
 
There have been other acquisitions as well.
 
So where to for African music? A new Billboard report offers some insight.
 
"The [African music] industry is still waking up to its full potential," Sean Watson, managing director at Sony Music Entertainment Africa told Billboard. "If you look at some of the African artists that have broken through to an extent, they have done so [through] European markets or the U.S., because we're not fully connected to the ecosystem. Once we are plugged into the global network that digital services provide, it's only a matter of time before we break our own superstar."
 
But there are challenges. Africa isn't a country. It's a massive continent with insane diversity to match. There's also the fact that streaming is really at infant stage with most regions still relying on prepaid phones and data costs remaining a barrier to entry.
 
"Sub-Saharan Africa, where we operate, comprises 900 million people and over 1,000 different languages," says Watson. "It's not as simple as [duplicating] what you do in South Africa in Nigeria."
 
But there's even more challenging factors. Piracy is still commonplace within the continent and attitudes around it are completely guilt-free - it's just the way it is, just the way it's always been. But when artists want to export their sounds to markets where that isn't the case, there are more challenges.
 
Randall Grass, GM of independent label Shanachie Records, known for his work pioneering acts such as the Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Fela Kuti had this to say. "It's tougher than ever. Immigration officials tend not to grant a visa if an artist doesn't fit their definition of noteworthy in terms of chart numbers, sales, major press and performances at key venues."
 
The potential is there though. Right here at home, streaming revenue exploded from $1.9 million in 2015 to $8.1 million in 2016 (per IFPI's 2017 Global Music Report)  - that's a 334.2% increase.
 
One thing's for sure: Africa will continue to produce music. What we should focus on right now, is making sure that the ownership of that music remains with Africans. That way, the music we make will benefit the continent its from.
 
Head over to Billboard to read the full report.
 
Rifumo is a music writer and the founder of FDBQ Music who pretends to be a copywriter for his 9-to-5. Twitter: @rifvmo
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