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With over 3000 tribes across 54 countries, Africa’s cultural diversity gives its music industry a rich blend of melodies to sell to the world. The Afrobeat, Congolese zouk, and South African Kwaito genres, to mention a few, have drawn massive attention to the continent’s entertainment scene over the years. And recently, Warner Music Group (WMG), the second-largest record label, bought a majority stake in Africori. Africori is a prominent African digital music distribution, music rights management, and artist development company.

According to a media release by WMG, Warner’s move to buy Africori could make it the top music distributor in Africa. On the other hand, it will open up more opportunities for African artists to penetrate the global market. Importantly, Warner is not new to the African market. It first invested in Africori in early 2020. The original deal gave WMG access to what it calls “Africa’s largest catalogue and A&R network” and enabled WMG to establish a presence in many African markets for the first time. In the same year, WMG’s publishing division, Warner Chappell Music, inked a global deal with Africori. WMG also tied partnerships and deals with Chocolate City, Diamond Platnumz and his label WCB-Wasafi, Coleske and Ziiki Media.

An increasing global appetite for African music

Africa’s music industry is on the rise, boosted by a youthful population and a plethora of talents. Its expanding internet economy is also igniting competition among local streaming services such as uduX and Boomplay. On a global scale, platforms like YouTube, Spotify, Shazam and social media platforms such as TikTok and Twitter are fast-tracking the industry’s growth.

As a result, WMG, Sony Music, and Universal Music Group— music’s Big Three— are signing African artists, hiring employees for their African operations, and signing deals with local labels and streaming companies. In 2018, Universal acquired a majority stake in Kenya’s AI records, giving the global record label access to one of the largest catalogues of East African music.

According to the most recent Global Music Report by the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, which featured Africa and the Middle East as regions for the first time, recorded music revenues grew in every world region last year, including Africa and the Middle East. This data only accounted for 2020, and gains are poised to grow in these regions in 2021, as many African artists broke streaming records in the said time. “K-Pop continues to make great strides, of course, but I would argue the most exciting development this year has been how African music and African artists have been embraced by fans worldwide,” Simon Robson of Warner Music Group said in the report, citing global megahit ‘Jerusalema’ by South Africa’s Master KG and Nomcebo as an example. (The label purchased the rights to Master KG’s Jerusalema album after its release.)

Policy hiccups

The potential and opportunities in the continent’s music scene are evident. However, weak copyright laws and poor enforcement remain challenges. Anyone who wants to purchase music in cities like Accra or Lagos can simply head to the market and find young men with laptops who will stock up customers’ USB sticks or cellphones with music or even movies. This long-standing practice has slowed down the monetization of music in the continent and deprived African artists of revenue from licensing their music and giving their performance and branding rights.

Importantly, the problem of copyright infringement is not limited to Africa. A global survey by the IFPI says that almost one in three (29 per cent) of respondents admitted to using illegal or unlicensed methods to listen to or download music, with stream ripping being the most prevalent form of online copyright infringement. But since music streaming is becoming more popular in Africa, it will become easier to use technology to curb this problem. Streaming platforms generally have copyright policies to protect artists from losing their revenue.

Written by Oluwatosin Ogunjuyigbe

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