Major labels are very keen on building their businesses in Africa, but African artists and managers are just as keen to build their businesses as independently as possible. They have said as much in numerous conference panels in recent times. A contradiction? Well, perhaps more a dynamic that the majors will need to be flexible enough to work with.
An example of that is UMG’s launch of Virgin Music Label & Artist Services Africa, which will focus on independent artists and labels across the continent. It’s starting strong too, launching with more than 50 label partners in Africa, and music from more than 100 artists drawn from across the region. It won’t just be about frontline artists and new music however.
“We intend to give new life to forgotten songs, our investigation will go as far as digitizing them to make them accessible to as many people as possible, everywhere in the world,” said Universal Music Africa MD Franck Kacou.
“The creation of this label services will make it possible to preserve, distribute, structure, and promote the African musical heritage of yesterday, today and tomorrow, whilst also providing global distribution services to Africa’s most exciting artists, labels and entrepreneurs.”
It’s part of an expansion that for UMG has included launching Def Jam Africa in 2020; launching rap label 92i Africa in 2021 with Senegalese-French artist Booba; and extending licensing deals with African streaming services like Boomplay. Meanwhile, rival Warner Music Group struck a deal last year with Tanzanian artist Diamond Platnumz’s WCB-Wasafi label, while Empire launched its Empire Africa subsidiary this February.
Just as relevantly, this week’s services-focused announcement by UMG comes at a time of intense competition around music distribution in Africa. WMG bought a majority stake in distributor Africori earlier this year; TuneCore and CD Baby both opened new African offices in February 2021; and local firm Freeme has ambitious plans too.
All this, on a continent that (with North Africa included) is predicted to grow its annual music streaming revenues from $92.9m in 2021 to $314.6m by 2026. Perhaps all this competition could even ultimately help Africa outperform that forecast, if all goes well.