UMG Beefs Up Leadership in Africa, Promoting Sipho Dlamini to CEO Role

Courtesy of UMG

Sipho Dlamini

The major label signals more expansion to come on the continent in 2021.

Universal Music Group has promoted Sipho Dlamini to a CEO role over the label’s operations in South Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa, as part of a wider strategic expansion of its Africa leadership team.

Dlamini, 46, who formerly served as managing director over the African territories, will continue to oversee Universal’s operations within English-speaking Africa from Johannesburg. In his new role, which he assumes effective immediately, Dlamini will continue to work closely with Adam Granite, UMG’s evp, market development, to identify opportunities for artists signed to Universal Music Africa to reach audiences around the world.

As part of the strategic expansion announced on Monday (Jan. 4), Universal also appointed Elouise Kelly as chief operating officer, Universal Music South Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa. Kelly joins UMG from advertising and media agency Ogilvy, where she was managing director for South Africa. And UMG named Chinedu Okeke as managing director for Universal Music Nigeria. Okeke, who is based in Lagos, will lead the development and expansion of UMG’s Nigeria operations, and other English-speaking markets in West Africa. He joined Universal from the live-music industry, where he founded Eclipse Live, a live entertainment company focused on affordable live entertainment for African youth.

All three executives will work closely with UMG’s French-speaking operations principally in Côte d’Ivoire, Senegal and Cameroon, which are overseen by Franck Kacou, directeur général, Universal Music Africa.

The strengthening of its Africa leadership team is the latest move in Universal’s big bet on the continent. With an emphasis on A&R, UMG has been aggressively expanding its operations in Africa. Rather than licensing or distributing existing indie labels, Universal has invested in building lasting local infrastructure, including establishing divisions in Nigeria and South Africa, such as Def Jam Africa, which is focused around hip-hop, Afrobeats and trap. In 2018, UMG became the first major label to license its catalog to Boomplay, Africa’s largest local streaming platform. (In Sub-Saharan Africa, Spotify is only available in South Africa.)

Universal signaled Monday that it may be poised to expand even further in Africa soon. “This presence will continue to grow throughout 2021 and beyond, as UMG continues to further extend the company’s ability to support domestic artists across Africa and globally,” the company says in a press release.

Other major labels, including Warner Music Group, are also expanding in Africa through partnerships. And Apple Music announced in April that it would move into 25 new markets in Africa. The tech giant is using its South Africa-based artists services company, Platoon, to strike licensing and service deals throughout the continent.

Dlamini, who joined UMG in 2016, previously served as chief executive of the South African Music Rights Organization (SAMRO). He is a member of Universal’s Task Force for Meaningful Change, which the label created last year to promote inclusion and social justice within the global music industry. (He chairs TFMC’s Global Committee.) In 2019, Billboard named Dlamini to its International Music Power list, making him the first African-based executive to make the list.

Under the new leadership structure, each territory in Africa will continue to focus on domestic A&R and talent development. Local talent can access UMG’s marketing, promotion, bespoke brand partnerships, recording facilities and live music promotion and booking through UMG’s ULive Africa division. Universal is also working with parent company Vivendi, and several of Vivendi’s divisions, to develop Africa’s live music industry, UMG says in a press release.