Saturday, February 11, 2012

The West is shopping for stars in Africa

PHOTO/FILE  Sony Music Entertainment Africa last week signed gospel artiste Rose Muhando to its roster of artistes.

PHOTO/FILE Sony Music Entertainment Africa last week signed gospel artiste Rose Muhando to its roster of artistes. 

By PHILIP MWANIKI

It was without a doubt a shocker when word went round that Nigerian rapper D’Banj was doing a collabo with Hip Hop legend Snoop Doggy Dogg.

Many brushed it off as a mere joke wondering how he may have managed to pull off such a major deal.

But when the video to Mr Endowed (remix) was released, jaws dropped and now people really wanted to know how he did it.

What was impressive was just how “real” D’Banj was when meeting one of Hip Hop’s greatest.

He still maintained his cool, did not adopt a Black American accent and he was not intimidated in the presence of greatness.

That the video was of international status and was reportedly paid for by D’Banj showed that this kid knew what he was doing and raised his status to international and not just Nigerian or African.

That Snoop Dogg was willing to work with an artiste probably not known beyond the continent was telling.

That, plus the two were introduced to each other by a Hollywood jeweller in a 2010 fashion fair, shows that he understands music’s next frontier, Africa.

But it was D’Banj’s next move that had everyone shocked. He announced that he was signing a recording deal with one of the biggest names in music today, Kanye West.

Dapo Daniel Oyebanjo, that is D’Banj to the uninitiated, was now in the big league, he was now hobnobbing with people everyone in the music industry admires and would wish to at least meet if not do a song with.

Kanye made it a big deal signing D’banj into his G.O.O.D. music family that he gave his new artist his G.O.O.D. Music chain in front of the crowd in a moment similar to his own induction to Roc-a-Fella by Jay-Z.

He then told the crowd: “I don’t know if y’all heard or not, but D’banj is a new artist on G.O.O.D. Music.”

That two major artistes, who have no business – or so we think – working with artistes from Africa shows a certain trend.

The global commercial music business is shining it’s light, and money, on Africa.

Everybody else is looking into Africa to further their business from oil to telecommunications and first world nations are scampering to get a slice of the dark continent that is slowly starting to enjoy its time in the sun.

Sony Music, the second-largest global recorded music company is also venturing deeper into Africa market.

Last week, they signed gospel artiste Rose Muhando to its roster of artistes.

That was the first of many deals by Sony Music.

“We’re so excited about the wealth of talent we are discovering literally daily in Africa.” said the managing director of Sony Music Entertainment Africa, Sean Watson.

“We feel that Africa creates enormous opportunities for our artists and for taking our artists to the world.”

Tanzania, added Sean, is really the beginning of a long term strategy and plan that will require the development of partnerships and relationships across the continent!

“Sony Music Entertainment Africa is in this for the long run and with the skills and expertise that we have on a regional and global level we want to work with local artists and talent to forge relationships and create a platform to bring African Music to the world,” he told Buzz.

It is only obvious that music would also be a target as the youthful population in Africa takes over the economy with their spending.

MTV Base may have noticed this trend before everybody else by launching a channel “MTV Base” that is exclusively African and would play mostly music from the continent.

That gamble seems to have paid off as they launched the MAMA Awards which also proved to be a success.

Today, Kenyan artistes like Camp Mulla and Habida are played extensively on Trace Urban, a French music video television network.

Even BET has started warming up to Africa and it plays a few African acts and now invites a few to its award shows.

While it is too soon to celebrate, it should be noted that major award ceremonies still lump African music in one category so when an artiste wins, there is really no bragging rights.

But with Kanye West and his celebrity ilk’s influence, this is bound to change in a big way and now African artistes need to up their game to attract more big names.

But not everyone is just waiting for the cheques from the West.

One of Nigeria’s biggest music labels, Chocolate City feels that artistes can break into the international market without necessarily riding on the wings of an artiste like Kanye West or Snoop Dogg.

“We love what D’Banj has done because it helps in aspirations as you have something or someone to look up to and show people that it can be done.

"D’Banj has shattered the glass ceiling and we can only grow bigger and go further but we don’t feel like being signed to an American label is in our dreams,” says Audu, one third of the trio behind Chocolate City made up of Audu Maikori, Yahaya Maikori and Paul Okeugo.

His partner, Okeugo agrees: “We can work with the American labels but we think that if we maximise Africa, then we will be truly global.

"We have to be careful not to be exploited because these major labels are trying to get into Africa because this is an unexploited market and we have to show them that we are independent.”

Chocolate City is home to some of Africa’s biggest acts, rappers M.I and Ice Prince.

While there are many well known African acts from the past like Angelique Kidjo, Salif Keita, Oliver Mtukudzi, Youssou N’Dour, Femi Kuti and his father Fela, this new generation carries the African flag but they do not come holding our past like the artistes of yore.

This is obvious in Akon, the Senegalese born, American based singer who is one of the most sought after producers and musicians and has signed the world’s biggest star of this generation Lady Gaga to his label.

The new breed of African singers are independent and may sound and look like their American peers until they start singing.

D’Banj has not and will not lose his African appeal as this is what got Kanye West interested in him and this is obvious in his new song Oliver Twist which was a major hit through the continent and will feature D’Banj’s boss Kanye West.

It looks that for now, the West is trawling West Africa for artistes to sign but it just a matter of time, depending on how our artistes work, before they come calling in East Africa.

pmwaniki@ke.nationmedia.com