Business

‘Now is the Time’: Africa Takes Center Stage at Midem Virtual Conference

Davido
Courtesy of Davido

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As the African music market continues to attract global interest, France-based music business conference Midem this week launches Midem Africa: A free, virtual spinoff of panels and events highlighting the continent’s flourishing music industry from June 28 through July 1.

The conference delivered a packed first day of panels and events, with a welcome chat from Midem director Alexandre Deniot, conversation about major-label investment strategy and a look at the data behind African artists' success, among other topics.

“Africa is a booming music market,” Denoit said during his conference-opening talk. “Now is the time for the global music community to invest in and take notice of what’s happening in the continent, as more and more international companies take an interest in the region. We need to educate ourselves about local realities and the differences between one market and another.”

His last point was a major focus of a panel later that day, where Warner Music Group (WMG) executives gathered for a panel discussing the company’s approach to the region. (Ed. Note: The panel was moderated by this reporter.) While Africa is a diverse continent of 54 countries and nearly 2,000 native languages, WMG managing director South Africa and senior vp strategy, Sub-Saharan Africa Temi Adeniji expressed that she has long been frustrated by outsiders’ view of Africa as one homogenous region.

“A lot of people tend to see it as one, which is quite frankly very reductive,” said Adeniji, who is Nigerian. “It’s been really important and a cornerstone of our strategy to start from an understanding that this is a challenging market because of its complexity and its diversity."

For WMG, that has translated to long-term relationships with local experts, such as its partnership with Nigerian record label Chocolate City in 2019 and investment in independent music distributor Africori last April. Most recently, WMG announced a partnership with Tanzanian artist Diamond Platnumz and his independent label WCB-Wasafi in May.

WMG president, emerging markets Alfonso Perez-Soto added that he learned the importance of partnerships with local companies and talent during his former role as WMG vp of business development for Latin America and U.S. Hispanic markets. “I experienced the shifting importance of Latin America” to the Western music industry, he said, “and I tried with the help of the team to put all this knowledge and experience into our development in Africa.”

Adeniji also noted that Africa is “not just having a moment now -- it’s been a creative center since the beginning of time.” But internet access has only recently become widely available to Africa’s youthful population -- 60% of Africa’s 1.25 billion people are under the age of 25, according to the Brookings Institution -- “which means that there’s a potentially monetizable audience,” WMG managing director North Africa & Middle East Moe Hamzeh added.

The same day, MRC Data vp global Helena Kosinski offered a deeper look at the current music trends on the continent, with a particular focus on the Afro-pop genre also known as Afrobeats.

Among the top 10,000 most-streamed artists globally, African artists make up 0.3% of the total streams so far in 2021. “It’s all about the potential,” Kosinski said, adding that collaborations have long served as a tried-and-true strategy to expose African artists to new audiences. Hits like Master KG’s “Jerusalema” featuring Nomcebo (both from South Africa) and remixed by Burna Boy (Nigeria); Justin Bieber’s “Loved By You” featuring Burna Boy; Brent Faiyaz’s “Gravity” with DJ Dahi (Ivory Coast); and Robin Schulz's “Alane” with Wes (Cameroon) are all recent entrants on Billboard’s Global Excl. U.S. chart. The African diaspora is also a huge driver of African music consumption across the world, she said, with large populations in Brazil, the U.S., Europe, France and the U.K.

Africa's success in the U.S. is dominated today by three Nigerian artists: Burna Boy, WizKid and Davido, who are responsible for nearly two-thirds of all African music consumption in the U.S. All three predominantly sing in English and have notched key collaborations with Western stars.

MRC Data also recently conducted studies asking music consumers around the world whether they listen to Afro-pop music. In France and Spain, almost a third of respondents said yes, although in Japan, only 7% did. In the U.S., 10% of music consumers surveyed said they had listened to Afro-pop in the last two weeks, and have primarily discovered it through social media (including short-form video apps like TikTok and Triller) and streaming services.

Drawing comparisons to the global growth of K-pop in the time since PSY’s 2012 hit "Gangnam Style," Kosinski went on to predict that Afro-pop will be music's "next global growth engine." Several factors to make it happen are already in place, she said: Strong collaborations; a runaway, non-English global hit (such as “Jerusalema”); the influence of the African diaspora; the sound hitting the mainstream (in songs like Drake's "One Dance"); and the demographic power of Africa’s enormous, youthful population.

“We know that pushing boundaries and developing musical styles comes predominantly from young people, and the continent has that in spades,” she said. “It’s really only the very beginning of what is a very exciting time.”

The Midem Africa program continues through July 1, with panels like a behind-the-scenes look at East Africa's underground music scene presented by SoundCloud, a keynote chat by rising Nigerian artist Joeboy and a discussion about synch opportunities for African music hosted by Sheer Publishing, CD Baby and FUGA. Event registration is open to the public here.