Midem Africa Wrap: The Building Blocks for the African Music Industries

If there was a central theme to this year’s inaugural Midem Africa conference, it was the building blocks that are already being put in place – or which need to be put in place in the future – to ensure that Africa’s music industries thrive in the coming years.

The continent’s rich music cultures has never been a secret, but there is also a drive to build the necessary structures and skillsets around them, and give artists the best platforms to create, reach fans and generate sustainable incomes.

The base on which this is all being built is firm: the music itself. “I feel like music is one of the biggest exports out of Africa, and Nigeria in particular. Like, a natural resource now, because once you step into Nigeria there’s always that new sound, there’s always a new song,” said artist Joeboy during his appearance at the event.

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“I keep discovering new Nigerian acts, African acts, every day, and that’s so amazing. A lot of great music is definitely coming out of Africa.”

A new generation of artists from East Africa are innovating a range of sounds that are challenging and changing music culture with its underground electronic scene that is thriving and exploding on the world stage. “Producers nowadays grew up with no boundaries on their listening. People don’t want to be bound by genres, and Djs sort of have to incorporate that diversity into their sets and programming.” said Kampire, the groundbreaking Ugandan DJ, about the genesis of the scene.


Reaching new audiences through collaboration

There was also a strong sense of the creative dots being connected across Africa: of artists collaborating, remixing and finding new audiences together, fuelled in part by the streaming and social media platforms that are proving as popular in Africa as elsewhere in the world.

“South Africa will kick it off, and then Nigeria will take it up and they’ll do their remixes and they’ll do adaptations of songs. Angola will do the same, and we will see different versions, and then you will see the diaspora also follow suit,” said Phiona Okumu, Head of Music, Sub-Saharan Africa at Spotify, during a session exploring the huge success of Master KG feat. Nomcebo’s ‘Jerusalema’ – viral TikTok dance challenges included.

“Primarily the song is incubated on the continent. So this is very much the way the music is travelling.” Another breakout star, ampanio artist Focalistic, explained how artists are knowingly tapping in to this spirit of collaboration.

The word of advice that I would give to anyone is open up your palette! Open up your ears, open up your heart, and start featuring someone from Zambia, start featuring with someone from Congo, and that’s the only way,” he said. “If your vision is to push the barriers, to make a pan-African smash hit… it’s collaboration over competition. That’s the only way.”


Africa’s music stars support the next generation

This is not just about musical peers collaborating, but also about artists who have made it big looking behind them and extending their hand to provide a platform for the younger musicians who are emerging in their wake.

Afrobeats star Mr Eazi explained how his emPawa Africa initiative started as a way to give grants to emerging artists, but has evolved into a talent incubator that invests in their careers, modelled on his experiences in the world of venture capital.

“I’ve been in that VC world. I’ve always thought of artists as startups,” he said. “In the end, it just was a natural progression from starting out as giving grants to artists to trying to figure out how to have a business model that is different, that works for African creatives, and it’s been beautiful since we started in 2019. We’ve been able to give funding to 122 artists, in terms of grants, and then we’ve been able to invest in about 10.”

Joeboy is one of the young artists mentored by Mr Eazi, and he in turn wants to pay it forward to the next generation of African musicians. “I want to be involved in the growth of young people across Africa. I think that’s one of my dreams, because there’s so much untapped potential and talents in Africa,” he said.


Forging links within Africa is crucial

Midem Africa highlighted a number of challenges that have yet to be tackled. Among them was forging as successful collaborations between the continent’s music industries and companies as we are seeing between its artists.

“We’re not one homogenous body as people seem to believe, on the continent. It’s very different what happens in the east, what happens in the west, what happens in the south,” said Michael Ugwu, CEO of Freeme, during the Fostering a Pan-African Music Industry session. “Fostering better relationships across the continent is something I’ve worked on over the years, but it hasn’t proven to be easy… We still have a lot of work to do from my perspective.”

That was backed up by Andile Masaku, Executive Producer at African Tech Roundup, talking during the session giving an Overview of the Music Tech Ecosystem in Africa.

“We’re not a monolith. We’ve got many, many countries on the continent, there are many things about each other we barely understand, and properly know, in how to firstly understand each other, and then how to exchange value and extract commercial value from those interactions,” he said.

Organisation and better structures will be key to ensure that artists are paid fairly for digital use of their music. In some parts of Africa, they still get a raw deal, with artist Salatiel describing copyright as a “big wound” for the music communities of Francophone Africa in particular. “There is a large number of people who take advantage of the fact that it is not organised at all, to scam artists in Francophone Africa,” he said.

This was during a session on How a New Generation is Putting Francophone Africa Back on the Map, and Michèle Beltan, Music Strategy and Digital Marketing Consultant at Anthezic, agreed on the key gap that needs to be plugged.

“Professional training. There is a huge lack of it, and it’s not just on the continent, but I think it’s a big gap on the continent that people are not trained in the job of manager, in the job of administrator, understanding copyright,” she said. “I think it is a huge gap. People need to know what they are getting into, what they are doing, why they are doing it, and that there is real transparency.”


Avoiding the colonial mindset and backing local expertise

If the training and knowledge gap leads western music companies to import business leaders, that will be another challenge for Africa’s music industries.

“Have local people, or have people who lived locally, or somebody who’s familiar with the culture,” said Empire’s VP, Strategy and Market Development Suhel Nafar in his The Afro Arab Sound session.

“At a lot of companies, labels or any companies, you would see a western person who just lived there for a little bit, running the company, and that already is not localising it… even if it’s a European platform coming to my region… we have enough people to do it. And if you didn’t find anyone qualified, well, get someone less qualified and make it happen and help to grow it.”

“I do want these companies to understand: let us build it for you. Don’t come from a western world telling us what to do. Which is a tricky thing, but it’s a typical colonialist mentality that happens a lot in our daily life in a lot of companies, and that’s something that has to change.”


Better data will help Africa’s music industries to grow

One topic that came up during several sessions was that of data: from the analytics on how artists’ music is being streamed and shared on various digital services, to data on the size of the African music markets themselves.

“For us we look at it in terms of getting reliable, accurate data which can enable stakeholders in the industry to plan,” said Adipo Otieno, Licensing and Policy Lead, Sub-Saharan Africa, IFPI, in the Fostering a Pan-African Music Industry session.

“Because without proper data, you are not able to plan. And we believe that investors are incentivised to invest in sub-Saharan Africa with the proper data. If there is data that gives market certainty and proper projections and focus, then they’re able to invest.”

Nothando Migogo, Director at SOSELA, agreed. “I would like to see us as a continent regionally identifying or pinpoint the fact that data is such a core element, a core aspect of the copyright ecosystem. And I think it’s one of the biggest weakest points for our copyright music,” she said.


Finding a bright future for African music

Discussing and then tackling these challenges is part of healthy growth for artists and the industries alike across Africa. The overall sense at Midem Africa was of optimism for the future, and that these challenges are growing pains rather than critical flaws.

“The same thing was said for Latin America five to seven years ago. Latin America was a completely wild-west market that was not structured at all, and today, after five to seven years, we see that it is one of the markets that brings in the most money,” said Michèle Beltan. “I hope for the same for Africa in three to five years.”

Munya Chanetsa, A&R Manager: Africa at Sony Music Publishing, brought things back to the core of Africa’s potential: the music itself; the creativity of the people making it; and the potential demand for that music across the world.

“I’m a firm believer that it is Africa’s time to be recognised,” he said. “To tell our stories and to make the world dance to our music!”


Midem Africa – the first pan-African digital music event dedicated to the continent’s most vibrant music markets, with Kenya as Country of Honour. The digital platform with all content produced remains accessible to all, free of charge.

Learn about the African music industries, discover the exciting trends and opportunities, and benefit from key insights and practical tools to foster networking and accelerate careers and business among key local music players and their regional and international counterparts.

Register here


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Stuart Dredge is a freelance journalist, and a regular contributor to Music Ally, The Observer and more... including midemblog :)

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