The entire world thinks that Africa is the last land grab opportunity. Wyclef Jean started the ball rolling and now Universal Music Group has brought out the big guns with Def Jam Records following hot on the heals of Blue Note Records.
As the Universal CEO put it, “it is a historic achievement that we are able to bring this iconic label to Africa.”
The historic achievement will not be bringing America here. Africa has had this for decades and are an enormous consumer of American content, particularly outdated content. The historic achievement will come when we take Africa to the rest of the world. There is nothing like home-ground advantage and knowledge of the working conditions of Africa. Let's show the world Africa is ready for music business.
How will Africa achieve creative sovereignty?
Take a leaf out of the US playbook. 90% of US recorded music consumption is of US locally created works.The rest of the world squashes into 10%, and Africa’s market share of that would require a magnifying glass to find. So, the first step is to consume locally produced works. And this is happening fast. In 2020 South Africa recorded a 50% independent music in the top 100 played songs!
The publishing environment in Africa is unfortunately in some regards still cut-throat and certainly fragmented. It is what a music industry insider has called a “Patchwork quilt of young cowboys and old dogs,” as he described how “major publishers are not making moves in Africa, as they are sedentary and established, parochial and short-sighted.”
The bad practice of publishers taking lifetime assignments from artists has resulted in a history probably best summed up in this little quote from the book Kill your friends. The record executive is describing his business model: “We’ll manufacture your records and put them in the fucking shops. We’ll try our best not to spend a red cent unless we’re sure we’ll get it back with interest. We’ll second guess you and interfere at every conceivable stage of the artistic process. We’ll edit and remix tracks without your permission. We’ll force you to appear on appalling degrading kiddies’ TV programmes where you will shake hands with Dobbin the Donkey and have to explain yourself to a teenage VJ with the attention span of a Ritalin-fuelled infant. We’ll work you until you can’t stand up. In collusion with your publishers we’ll try and license your music to TV adverts for everything from banks to multinational petrochemical companies. (We’d license it to whaling fleets and arms dealers too if only they advertised on TV). We’ll under account to you and charge you for every recoupable expense from the staples used to knock your horrendous contract together to the Coke you had from the fridge in my office. And if it doesn’t work out you will be dropped faster than a Plymouth hooker’s knickers when there’s a big ship in town.”
Change will come and in fact change is coming. The major label dominance in Africa has manifested in a publishing approach that has been top down with zero investment, zero marketing, and an attitude centered on enticing the market to secure international catalogue rights in Africa. Africa is the land of the free and mighty. Africa is not going to buy that kind of dominant approach forever. And the facts stand up to this as the reaction to the historical dominance of the majors has been a large number of independent labels and artist owned publishers now dominating the market. It is time for the indepedents to get PAID: