Business

African Music Enters the World Stage: Industry Leaders Ring In New Era at AfroChella, Afro Nation

Wizkid
Stevenson Opoku

Wizkid

Global power players gathered on the continent in December for a whirlwind tour of festivals and events spotlighting African artists.

Over the past couple of years, Africa has exploded as a major player on the global music scene. From U.S. labels scooping up breakout African artists such as Burna Boy, Tiwa Savage and Davido to the ascendancy of African streaming platform Boomplay and the inroads of majors Universal, Sony and Warner Bros. on the continent, the stage is set for a lucrative new future for African music.

Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that a host of U.S.-based industry power players traveled to the continent in December to attend some of Africa’s hottest festivals, from Flytime in Lagos, Nigeria to AfroChella and Afro Nation in Accra, Ghana. The attendance of so many influential figures only underscored the point: Africa is a new frontier for the industry, and a potential hotbed of future mega-stars on the world stage. 

Below are a few of the highlights from the whirlwind month, along with photos of the luminaries in attendance.

Kenny Obimgway
Tiwa Savage at AfroChella

Kicking off the December festivities was the Flytime Music Festival in Eko, Lagos, Nigeria, put on in celebration of festival producer Flytime Promotions’ 15th anniversary. Commencing on Dec. 20 and running through Dec. 25, the festival featured an intriguing mix of A-list African artists (Burna Boy, Tiwa Savage, Koffee, Tomi Thomas) and U.S. stars (Megan Thee Stallion, Mase, Boyz II Men).

Among the luminaries in attendance were EMPIRE CEO and COO Ghazi Shami and Nima Etminan, both of whom were spotted backstage at Day 3 headliner Meghan Thee Stallion’s concert. Meanwhile, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey was seen at the nearby Moist Beach Club during the festival along with several Twitter employees, including head of U.S. sports partnerships TJ Adeshola.

The action moved to Ghana later in the month with the third annual AfroChella festival, which kicked off with music panels (powered by Audiomack) on Dec. 26 that included Audiomack co-founder and CMO David Ponte; Spotify global lead, African music Tunde Ogundipe; Aftown marketing and artist relations head Antoine Mensah; Ms Naa, radio host on Ghana’s YFM; Ghanian guitarist Joey-B; and Ghanian music producer JULS

Kenny Obimgway
Ebro Darden and friends at AfroChella

Like Flytime, AfroChella (sponsored by Visa, Twitter, Audiomack and Bacardi) was a star-studded affair featuring a who’s-who of African artists. The festival, which ran from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1 (the main event took place on Dec. 28 at El Wak Stadium in Accra) featured headliners Tiwa Savage, Sarkodie, Samini and Wande Coal, along with Distruction Boyz, Mercedes Benson, Neya Music, Amarachi Nwosu and more. Notably, Beyonce’s mother Tina Knowles was spotted out and about, including backstage at Tiwa Savage’s set and eating breakfast the following morning at Accra’s luxurious Movenpick Ambassador Hotel.

Simultaneously taking place at Accra’s Laboma Beach was Afro Nation, billed as “Africa’s Biggest Urban Music Beach Festival.” That event, which was co-sponsored by Audiomack, also featured its share of big-name headliners, including Burna Boy, Davido, Rotimi, Wizkid, Shatta Wale, 6lack, Alkaline, D’Banj, R2Bees, Olamide and Stonebwoy.

On Dec. 29, Atlanta-based label and management firm LVRN (a.k.a. Love Renaissance) -- which brought 6lack and Santi to the festival -- celebrated the soft opening of their new flagship clothing store software by Love Renaissance in Accra, which includes an exclusive collection of wearable products, some from local Ghanian brands. The opening was personal for LVRN co-founder Justice Baiden, who spent part of his childhood in Ghana.

Stevenson Opoku
Rotimi

That evening, Audiomack sponsored a special party at Accra’s exclusive Twist nightclub with frequent WizKid collaborator DJ Tunez providing the music. Among other notables, Nigerian artist D’banj and friends rubbed shoulders with executives including Hitco Entertainment’s Chayce Cheatam, Motown Records’ Tomeka Kolleh, Snapchat’s Trisha Nicolas and Airbnb’s Charles Kuykendoll. The raucous party reportedly went until 7 a.m.

Closing out the month, year and decade in Accra on Dec. 31 was the Sony Music & Friends event (in conjunction with Melanin Unscripted), which kicked off at The Woods with a panel featuring RCA/Keep Cool executive Tunji Balogun, IJEOMA founder Dimplez Ijeoma, Trace marketing head Lanre Masha, Ghanian singer-songwriter Amaarae, ALU Education's Danai Mavunga, music journalist Stephanie Smith-Strickland and Ghanian filmmaker David Nicol-sey. Later that evening, a New Year’s Eve celebration was attended by a who’s who of record and media executives including Columbia Records co-head, urban music Phylicia Fant; Viacom’s Maya Peterson; and Hitco’s Chayce Cheatham.

Stevenson Opoku
Tunji Balogun, Dimplez, Lanre Masha, Amaarae, Danai Mavunga, Stephanie Smith Strickland and David Nicol-sey
Stevenson Opoku
Davido Sony Music and Friends
Davido at Sony Music & FriendsStevenson Opoku

On New Year’s Day, a morning prayer led by WME chief marketing officer Bozoma St. John was followed by breakfast on the beach, while later in the day Audiomack co-hosted a Women’s Empowerment Brunch attended by Atlantic Records senior director of marketing Brianna Agyemang, Epic Records senior director of publicity Ayanna Wilks and Audiomack’s David Ponte, among others. ?

Additional reporting contributed by Carrington Harris.