It’s widely acknowledged that Africa is the future of business; this is the same with entertainment.
Sometime around 2009 there were rumors that Jay Z is looking to expand his music business empire to Africa, this was around the time the Afrobeats sound was beginning to take over Africa at the same time the music was being heavily embraced in the UK and other parts of Europe.
Around 2015 it was widely reported that the Hip Hop mogul was scouting for talent across Africa with focus on West Africa and to be specific Ghana and Nigeria, two nations who have for the longest time valued art and with a history of great artists who have enjoyed international success since the 60s read Fela Kuti, Tony Allen from Nigeria, Manu Dibango (Cameron) and Ashanti Brothers or Osibisa from Ghana. Their music and popularity would only be rivaled by the Congolese Rumba.
Flashback to 2011 Kanye West was all over major African publications with reports indicating that the singer had signed a number of African artists to his G.O.O.D MUSIC label, they included the likes of D’Banj and Don Jazzy, both of whom are Nigerians. Fast forward to 2018, the American singer was reported to have opted to record his album in Africa. Similarly, many international music companies have set up base in South Africa and West Africa. Universal, Warner Music Group, and Sony Music are among the recent entities that have set up shop in the continent.
The dominant music industries and regions in Africa are: South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, North Africa region, Mali and Senegal, most recently one would add Tanzania to list (of the Bongo and the electronic Singeli sound). The Kenyan music industry for example was so advanced in the 60s, 70s up to the 80s but due to poor leadership, a government disinterested in the arts and a science oriented curriculum followed by the exit of major record labels. The arts were forgotten resulting to a falling music industry. It is only in the late 2000s that the industry started gaining ground championed by the youth. While this was the situation in Kenya which is considered a powerhouse in East Africa, in West Africa the industries remained relatively stable both commercially and had influence politically. Thanks to the streaming era the African music industry has seen tremendous growth and international success.
According to a PWC report dubbed ‘Entertainment and media outlook: 2018 – 2022: An African Perspective’, South Africa’s total music revenue was R915m slightly over US$60 million in 2017 while Nigeria’s total music revenue was at US$35 million in 2017 projected to hit US$65 million in 2022. For Ghana the report places total music revenue at US$6.3 million in 2017 with a projection of US$10.3 million in 2022.
Kenya on the other hand, overall revenue projections are expected to reach US$35 million in 2022. The report recorded total music revenues for the Kenyan music industry at U$ 22 million. Tanzania’s music revenue is projected to be below the U$10 million mark in 2022, the report suggests that the industry’s year-on-year growth will reach double-digit figures over the next four years. Total music revenue will amount to US$6.5 million in 2022, an increase from US$4.0 million in 2017.
The report paints a positive picture of the African music industry in many aspects and also reveals regions that would seem lucrative for any music business player, with those figures in mind South Africa and Nigeria record highest music revenues compared to say Kenya and Tanzania. various factors would lead to this either the countries provide for a more stable industry compared to the East African region. South Africa for instance hosts some of the biggest music labels and has clear royalty structures compared to Kenya and Ghana where they are in a process of establishing clear royalty structures and struggling with rampant piracy which is the case for most of African countries. This perhaps would explain the reason why said international entities prefer these regions.
Nigerian Afrobeats-which is a corruption but not to be equated to the iconic Fela Kuti’s formation dubbed Afrobeat-music has taken over the African music industry and no doubt began to reshape urban pop music around Africa and globally, take a listen to pop music from the contemporary acts from Africa and you wouldn’t fail to notice a sample of Afrobeats in their music, either through the sound or choreography.
The impact and influence this sound has on the global music scene is not something to ignore, it’s predictable, simple, adaptable, attractive and has a huge fan base and most of all lucrative. Music being a business, the sound fits profits.
Beyonce’s decision to make this album was purely business, nothing to do with the many sounds the great continent has to offer or which region one feels was left out. The singer being a great entrepreneur herself chose the right time to tap into this African wave and how else if not executive producing an album featuring some of the biggest and popular stars from Africa, reshaping global trends and leaving a legacy at the same time make profits? Who knows being a savvy business woman, she probably will have other versions packaged with all regions in mind or however she chooses to. But on this one, she made a great business decision.
A number of East African artists the likes of the legendary band Them Mushroom member John Katana Harrison and Victoria Kimani and others took issue with the compilation on and off social media, in their observation the American pop star would have featured at least one artist from the region taking into consideration that The Lion King film which is not linked to the album has its setting in Kenya. One would agree with them on this but then again for a personal curation you tend to be biased, for Beyoncé her bias was South Africa and West Africa and she picked the commercially successful artists from these two regions.
The singer is performing on 10 of the album’s 14 songs, the featured acts include; Nigerian artists Burna Boy, Mr Eazi, Tekno, Wizkid, and Tiwa Savage; South African singers Moonchild Sanelly and Busiswa; Cameroonian singer Salatiel and Ghanian star Shatta Wale; and American acts Tierra Whack, Pharrell, Jay-Z, and Kendrick Lamar.
A keen listen to the album would reveal that the pop icon was not just working together with random African acts on a single project with that ‘Africa’ in mind but trying to blend the Afrobeats sound which has its roots in West Africa with pop, R&B and mainstream Hip Hop. The singer is out to sell her ‘unique’ blend of sounds to the world at the same time identify with the African music scene if not heritage, elevate and expand her brand influence by tapping on the African music entertainment wave.
The album might not be so diverse in terms of the African sounds and certainly not featuring some of the best talents in the continent but fits the current trends and at the same time puts the Afrobeats, Afropop and Afrofusion acts on an even bigger platform internationally, this as many would expect may open up the continent to other big international artists who are keen on African sounds and would invest in the continent’s music industry. Just to point out, this would not be the first time, the continent is attracting global interest. What we should be focusing on is how successful will the international entities be with the ‘Bey’ approach? Or will African artists and itself create its own path to global prosperity?
The African music industry cannot however be described as a single entity it is difficult to talk about Africa as a whole. It is not a country. The continent’s music industry may be classified into regions, languages based on colonial influences and the socio-economics or either north, West, East and Southern Africa, the Anglophone and Francophones. Probably Beyoncé would have packaged and marketed and publicized the project differently?
The Gift Album by all intention is for Africa on that general perspective but not wholesome it has excluded other areas and regions which is true thus the above observation that it should have been publicized as differently or otherwise. However to claim that it was wrong or unfair for Beyoncé to leave out other regions or the East African artists on this project is an invalid argument, the artist being a creator and a curator of this project had her biases as indicated above and being a businesswoman chose what would fit her books.
Why Kenyan artists missed out… The album is a different project from the Lion King film, a personal project. So to claim they are one is false. To claim that South Africa and West Africa Nigeria to be precise, the two regions who have featured prominently in the project have the best artists compared to others from the continent is equally false, probably the most popular but certainly not out-rightly the best therefore Queen Bey would claim that she chose to work with the most popular.
The Gift album nevertheless, in many ways opens up the continent to the global music aficionados and stands to benefit each artists on this compilation. It’s a win for the creator, featured African artists and the continent’s music industry to a certain extend.
The album would only be marketed as ‘a gift to Africa’ perhaps if it featured sounds from across the continent and if she worked with artists probably representing the different regions appreciating the continent’s diversity, but as it stands its personal and purely profits oriented.