Universal Music is further growing its operations in Western Africa with the launch of its first dedicated label in Nigeria.
Based in Lagos, Universal Music Nigeria will be headed by veteran executive Ezegozie Eze Jr., who has previously held roles at South African-based Channel O Television, Nigerian independent label Empire Mates Entertainment and was a founder of Pan-African creative companies, Republic 54, Alore Group and Duma Collective. He will report to Sipho Dlamini, managing director of Universal Music South Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa. In addition to Nigeria, the label will cover neighboring English speaking-markets Ghana and Gambia.
Among its first signings are Banku singer-songwriter Mr Eazi, Nigerian artist Tekno (in partnership with Island Records U.K.) and Tanzanian singer and songwriter Vanessa Mdee, who is additionally represented by AfroForce1 Records, Universal Music Central Europe and Universal Music South Africa.
The latter two artists mark the first time that UMG labels from the two continents have combined to sign and release African artists globally, says the major. Other inaugural signings include WurlD, Odunsi (the Engine), Tay Iwar and Ghanaian-born artists Cina Soul and Stonebwoy.
“In recent years there has been an increase in visibility of Nigerian and Ghanaian music and its influence on contemporary music around the world,” commented Dlamini, eyeing the label playing a key role to “support, nurture and help develop artists and musicians from the region” and create new opportunities for international exposure.
General manager Eze added that the launch of Universal Music Nigeria at “such an exciting time for African music” was a “huge statement of belief in our local music talent” and said the label’s first signings demonstrated its “ambition to help our artists reach the widest global audience.”
To support its Nigerian operations, Universal is planning to open a recording studio in Lagos to sit alongside its existing facility in Johannesburg, South Africa. The major’s merchandise arm Bravado and its two Africa-based live companies — talent booking and management agency UMG Live and events and production business ULive Africa, both of which launched within the past two years — will also work in close partnership with Universal Music Nigeria, helping grow its clients’ merchandise and touring business.
Artists signed to the imprint will also be able to tap into Universal’s global marketing, promotion and distribution network, says the Vivendi-owned label, which last week opened a new office in Côte d’Ivoire’s largest city, Abidjan, tasked with boosting the label group across markets in French-speaking Africa.
Earlier this year, Universal Music Group acquired, through its Dutch subsidiary, a 70 percent stake in Kenya’s AI Records, giving it access to one of the world’s largest catalogs of East African music. UMG says its latest expansion is part of an accelerated focus on growing the “entire African music ecosystem” across recorded music, publishing, live and brand partnerships.