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Collaborations are the key for the future of Africa’s music industries


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The fourth track at this year’s NY:LON Connect conference focused on Africa, with a particular emphasis on the collaborations – between artists and businesses alike – that are going to take the continent’s music industries to the next level of growth.

The track began with Helena Kosinski, VP global at MRC Data, showing some of the research firm’s latest data on Africa, as well as how African music is spreading globally.

She set the scene with some more general stats. In 1980, one in 10 of the world’s population was African, but by 2050 that’s predicted to be one in four.

The median age across Africa is 19.7 years old, compared to 42.5 in Europe. And Africa has the highest “regional female entrepreneurial activity rate” in the world: one in four women starts or manages a business.

“That of course means that Africa is only going to become more important, more central to world affairs, and more central to the music industry,” said Kosinski, before explaining why the western music business is excited about Africa in 2022.

“Is it about the revenues? Not necessarily, and not just yet from a global perspective. But is it about the growth? Absolutely! And is it about the potential? Increasingly so, yes.”

Recorded music revenues in the Africa and Middle East region grew by 8.4% in 2020 according to the IFPI, with streaming revenues up by 36.4% “from a small base but increasing rapidly”. However, South Africa and the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) accounted for 86.7% of the region’s revenues.

‘There’s certainly room for discovery and room for growth’

Kosinski then presented an exclusive snapshot of data from a single week at the end of 2021 (Week 51 to be precise), when Nigerian artists accounted for 34.1% of the total on-demand streams tracked by MRC Data in Africa. US artists were close behind, with Ghanaian and Tanzanian artists also popular.

Kosinski also talked about the key African artists in terms of global streams, noting that they hail from across the continent: Mali (Aya Nakamura); Nigeria (Burna Boy, Wizkid and Ckay); Algeria (Soolking); South Africa (Master KG); Egypt (Amr Diab and Tamer Hosny) and more.

“It’s not just one or two markets that are really getting their music out there. We’re seeing lots of different countries represented,” she said, while noting that African artists only accounted for 0.5% of on-demand global streams in 2021.

“While we’re hearing more and more about African artists around the world, still as a percentage there’s certainly room for discovery and room for growth.”

Much of that discovery is happening through collaborations and remixes. Wizkid, Tems and Justin Bieber, and Fireboy DML and Ed Sheeran being two recent prominent examples.

These collaborations are sparking communities of fans of Afro-Pop, Amapiano and other African genres across the world. MRC Data’s surveys show that in Brazil, 39% of music consumers listen to Afro-Pop or Afro-Beats, with countries like Italy (38%), Germany (34%), France (30%), Colombia (29%) and Mexico (27%) also scoring highly, although it’s only 6% in the US.

Kosinski warned that the demographics of these listeners differ between countries. For example, the gender split is roughly equal in Italy, skews much more female in Brazil, and much more male in the US. Age varies too.

“The Afro-Pop fan is not the same in every market around the world. You should not make that assumption,” said Kosinski, before summing up.

“Is Afro-Pop the next global growth engine? Is it the new genre that’s going to be taking over the charts more and more? Quite possibly,” she said.

“Collaborations, of which many are happening… certainly bring exposure. Big runaway hits always help in terms of focusing the global music listener’s ear on a particular region, and ‘Jerusalema’ a couple of years ago was definitely one of those.”

In some countries, African music is already mainstream, she concluded. “It’s becoming a much more fundamental part of the sound of those countries.”

And remember that demographic profile of the populations of Africa…

“I can’t overemphasise how young a population the continent has, and how much of an impact I think that’s going to have on music and artists, and how exciting it is, the sounds that we have coming out of the continent.”

‘Africa will grow in terms of what it’s doing from a revenue perspective’

Kosinski’s presentation was followed by a keynote interview with two of Universal Music Group’s key executives in Africa: Sipho Diamini, CEO of UMG South Africa and Sub Saharan Africa, and Franck Kacou, managing director of Universal Music Africa.

The interviewer was Yinka Adegoke, editor for strategic initiatives for nonprofit journalism organisation Rest of World.

Diamini picked up on MRC Data’s numbers on streaming. “36.4% increase in streaming revenues in 2020. That’s great news. It just shows what we’ve known and suspected for a while,” he said.

“That Africa will grow in terms of what it’s doing from a revenue perspective, and as the streaming services launch and stabilise and do local billing and all those important things, it will grow.”

“This is the beginning of being able to track and get data that is meaningful, that will hopefully also help increase investment into the continent, because very often in the creative space, there isn’t enough data for companies to say ‘we’re gonna pump in’.”

Collaboration was the theme for the keynote, and Kacou said that for UMG, this is about collaborating with other business units around the world, as well as collaborations between artists.

“Connecting those dots using the inner network is really part of the story that is being told now from the continent,” he said.

In Africa, UMG is much more involved in businesses like live music than it is in some of the western markets: producing concerts and festivals to generate revenues for artists while streaming continues to grow.

“These are important revenue streams for the artists. And we can’t sit back and expect it to happen on its own without us being involved,” said Diamini. “We’re doing a lot more work outside of the traditional record label mandate that you would see in other markets. And I think that’s key.”

‘The time duration of a hot single is longer today’

“It’s all about looking at the revenue streams,” agreed Kacou. “We’ve talked [about the] streaming market, and as you can see the potential is definitely here… But while this whole thing is growing, and everybody’s feeling it and seeing it grow, we still have to secure business and secure the artist environment.”

“If you look at the different revenue streams, it has become natural to us to put together all types of collaborations, and businesses around opportunities around our talents. Around their masters, around their image rights, around their live rights, to make sure that the ecosystem around the artist, around the talents, around these projects, are safe enough, are secure enough, and it’s benefitting the whole industry.”

Diamini hailed the giant steps being made by African artists who are not just performing across the continent, but also selling out venues and proving big draws at festivals in the US, UK and other big western markets.

What is working for UMG in helping its artists to break through? Kacou said that remixes have been an important strategy. “The time duration of a hot single is longer today, thanks to the remix,” he said. A couple of years ago, a hit might have had a hot period for three or four months, but now that can be extended through remix releases to keep the song fresh.

Diamini is keen for more collaborations between African musicians and the biggest stars in the west.

“We had a call with the Roc Nation team last night, and I keep saying ‘guys, if you can get Rihanna to jump on an amapiano track, that’d be amazing!’. There is nothing like that authentic collaboration from a cultural perspective, but that also works commercially,” he said, citing Drake and Wizkid’s pioneering ‘One Dance’ as inspiration.

“Yes, if we can get a Rihanna on an amapiano track or if we can get Justin Bieber on it or Drake or whoever: if we can get a few A-list stars to really embrace… and I think we’re close! If we can get some of them to jump on it and give it the attention and the love and the passion that it needs, in an authentic way that connects with their audience, then it will work.”

‘A lot of people do not know how to collaborate with Africa’

The final session in the track was a panel discussion about the power of collaboration, moderated by Godwin Tom, founder of the Music Business Academy for Africa (of which Music Ally is a partner).

His guests were YouTube’s head of music, sub-Saharan Africa Addy Awofisayo; 1020 Group of Companies’ executive director Nothando Migogo; and Sallam Sharaff, manager of popular Tanzanian artist Diamond Platnumz.

“Right now, a lot of eyes are on Africa, and a lot of attention is on Africa, but a lot of people do not know how to collaborate with Africa,” said Tom by way of introduction.

“A lot of people don’t know what’s going on in the markets, or there are misconceptions about what’s going on in the markets. A lot of people are doing things the wrong way.”

Migogo summed up what she sees as a key challenge for Africa’s music industries: ensuring the structures around artists are evolving as rapidly as the artists and their music’s commercial appeal is.

“You’ve got artistic output that’s on a continuous trajectory up. We’re growing, the artists are growing, they’re globally growing outside the continent. You’ve got consumption on the continent growing with the increase in streaming numbers, and DSPs and producers are investing on the continent,” she said.

“For the business side of the industry, our challenge is to ensure that that doesn’t lag behind. It has to follow the same trajectory. And when I say the business, it’s the entire engine behind the artists. The business professionals, the management, business affairs and legal. And then of course publishing comes in there as well.”

‘How are we growing ourselves an organic industry?’

The problem she sees is when star artists emerge from Africa and get interest from overseas, too often the team is left behind. Migogo would like to see more collaborations to ensure this doesn’t happen.

“We need to be with our peers both on the continent and abroad, collaborating from a business perspective. It’s not just about the output: about the artists. It’s about how are we growing ourselves an organic industry? Getting into collaborations that benefit and grow the African industry?” she said.

“We have these amazing artists that are breakout artists, but what happens is that they get transplanted outside the continent, and then they grow outside the continent.”

“The African music business industry is still in a very infantile state, for the most part. I’m not talking about where we have majors who have at least got the support from outside the continent… Let’s find opportunities to work really well together at a business-to-business level, so that everyone is empowered in that space.”

Technical problems at this point in the panel meant that Sharaff could not be heard (and was not captured on the recording), although his fellow panelists could hear. Tom summarised his views to ensure they registered.

Sharaf said he believed that there were many conversations about music from southern Africa and West Africa, but not enough about the music from East Africa, because there are fewer big media platforms there shouting about the success stories. He’s keen for more businesses to look for partnerships in East Africa to get those stories out.

Awofisayo offered some lessons from YouTube’s perspective, including the important of localisation rather than treating Africa as one homogenous market.

“Each country in Africa is quite different… When we go into Nigeria, what are the needs in Nigeria? What are the opportunities in Nigeria? What are the challenges in Nigeria? Which is very different when you go into South Africa, Kenya or Tanzania,” she said.

“Just having a lens to understand the market and know that the continent itself is super-diverse. Each country had its own challenges and its own opportunities, and the solutions that we’ve implemented or the partnerships that we’ve done in each country have been tailored to the understanding that we have.”

‘The copyright should remain here for as long as possible’

Migogo was asked what advice she has for international music companies going into Africa, and she warned that the motivations of investors do not necessarily match the needs of Africa’s artists and music ecosystems.

“Let’s do business, but please realise that for example, the outcome of this engagement shouldn’t be the full export of talent or the export of value. There has to be a reinvestment. Those are the kind of corporate social investment policies that these businesses that are investing on the continent [need], be it DSPs, be it label-to-label collabs.”

For example: “One of my biggest passions is that the copyright should remain here for as long as possible. If there is an artist like Diamond Platnumz, at the end of the day, if we can have an ecosystem where the copyright and royalties and publishing does not leave the continent wholesale, that for me is a win,” she continued.

“Being able to negotiate those kinds of deals, it may not be the easiest win for the investor, but I think it’s the right way of doing things.”

Migogo also said that a lack of data is one of the biggest challenges in Africa, and she would like to see much more collaboration on that front: for example the recordings side of the industry sharing data with the other parts of the business.

“We are still struggling with a lot of data in terms of royalties and copyright. When you see statistics like the presentation we had [from MRC Data’s Kosinski] where there’s an increase in X, Y, Z, but when you look at the global publishing royalty and copyright royalty numbers, it’s not reflecting,” she said.

“If we see we have got five breakout artists in a year coming from Nigeria, coming from South Africa, coming from Tanzania, from wherever, and we’re seeing these amazing numbers on the Billboard charts but it’s not translating to actual long-tail copyright royalty revenue numbers on the continent, the question is then, well, what are we doing?”

“It looks like we’re doing well, but are we really doing well? What is the sustainability what is the long tail for us as a continent?”

‘We find organisations who are focusing on building the music ecosystem’

Sharaff, with his audio feed restored, said that the African industries must not forget that there are 1.2 billion people on the continent itself, with lots of room to grow music listening and royalties.

“We should conquer these numbers here!” he said, citing Latin American music as inspiration. “They don’t even need Americans! They make their own money from their own roots… We need to conquer the whole of Africa.”

But he noted that this requires more infrastructure for promoting music, drumming up streams and revenues and ensuring that the popularity of African music on its home continent is properly rewarded.

The session closed with a discussion of the importance of education for people in Africa’s music industries. Awofisayo said that this has become a growing emphasis for YouTube.

“We find organisations who are focusing on building the music ecosystem. The music ecosystem does not involve just the artist… for an artist to be successful, he or she needs a whole bunch of people around them: manager, lawyer, PR person… That’s something we started looking very closely at last year,” she said.

“We’ve done a lot of things to support emerging artists. We’ve done a lot of things to help artists break out of Africa in terms of putting them on a global stage. But how about supporting the people and growing the ecosystem of the people who are working with that artist, and making sure that that artist is successful?”

“So we started focusing on that! How do we support organisations that are building up the next manager, the next lawyer, the next brand person, the next PR person? For that artist to be successful, they need that army of people around them.”

The Africa track at NY:LON Connect was sponsored by MRC Data. You can find our full coverage of the conference here.


Written by: Stuart Dredge