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‘AFRIMA Could Become A Version Of The Grammy For This Continent’

By Chinonso Ihekire
05 November 2022   |   4:20 am
I think I like that question to be honest. There is a reason why Lagos is sort of like the center of everything in Nigeria. For example, laws favour Lagos. Entrepreneurship favours Lagos.

Alake

The obvious success of Africa’s music scene is the harvest of sacrifices made by many great individuals over the decades. Having become a multi-billion dollar industry, attracting the highest level of global attention since its inception, the African music scene has now become a pride of the continent.
With A-list artistes and even producers bagging platinum certifications by music communities abroad, as well as a huge chunk of major music companies, including Sony Music, Def Jam, Universal Music, among others, now investing in the ecosystem, the spotlight has been drawn to one core aspect of it all: structure.
With lesser ownership within the music infrastructure like record labels (financial powerhouse), major recording studios (paid for), talent management, publishing/licensing, PR support, events/festivals, streaming services, editorial playlisting, music charting, among others, it is glaring that Nigeria’s music scene might be racing towards the apogee of global success, without any clear-cut plan to localise ownership and funnel a sustainable future for itself.
On today’s Guardian Music special, we catch up with Motolani Alake, a lawyer, music critic, and member of the West African jury in the All Africa Music Awards (AFRIMA), as he delves into insights on possible ways to overcome our current problem spots, while discussing the current realities and growth of African music. 

A large part of music infrastructure in Africa is based in Lagos, which is considered Africa’s entertainment capital. What are your thoughts on this? 
I think I like that question to be honest. There is a reason why Lagos is sort of like the center of everything in Nigeria. For example, laws favour Lagos. Entrepreneurship favours Lagos. And number three, Lagos historically, because there are ports in Lagos. There is an international airport in Lagos. It is very easy for people to carry on business in Lagos.

Over time, the ability of Lagos to attract investment and to make things happen has only increased overtime. Now, is it disadvantageous? We could say that, but in every part of the world, there is a particular place that is like the center of culture in every country. If you go to or you see France for example, it’s Paris. If you look at Italy for example, sometimes it depends, but it is usually Rome. So, the problem with Nigeria generally is that people in other parts of the country have not done enough to make their certain parts of the country more attractive.

For example, there is no reason why Uyo can’t become another Lagos, because there is a port there. They could obtain a license for an international airport. How about Abuja? There is no reason why Abuja cannot be that.

Another problem that we have in Nigeria is tribalism. Tribalism is one of the major reasons why Lagos remains what it is, because other parts of the country are not as accommodating as Lagos is. It’s not the worst thing in the world but it’s not the best either. What I am saying is we should have a better structure.

So, what should we do better?
There is a way things work here. Either it’s legal, illegal, reasonable or unreasonable, there’s a way things work here. It’s just not the way things should be. First, I think we need to create laws; our laws are so backwards, they are so dated. Some of our laws in Nigeria still punish people with N500 as an option for one-year imprisonment. Who would not pay N500 to avoid prison? For some of those laws to be changed, there has to be a lobbying system. That’s one thing I’m trying to start.

Lobbying is a 30+ billion industry in America. I’m currently working on that with some eminent people in the Nigerian music industry. You need to create a relationship with higher laws in the Nigeria parliament and legislature, to make sure that they can create laws that could safeguard intellectual property, create appropriate punishment for certain laws that are broken, establish bodies and regulate those bodies in a way that could benefit the Nigerian entertainment industry. So, we are looking at collective bodies, nomination bodies, management bodies, touring organisations that stay connected individually. From lobbying to the laws to the establishment bodies, that’s when we can create a pyramid system that creates a revolution in the music industry.

Every four years, it lets people into the industry to make sure they administer the activities and affairs of the Nigerian music industry. We can then go into how we can revitalise local touring. How can we lobby the state government to create better roads, to build event centers where artistes can go, to create better security for artists when they are going across countries? In America, people are going auto-buses, but in Nigeria, if you go auto-buses, people are going to kidnap you. So, lobbying some of these things is going to be how we are able to create solutions moving forward.

What about localising some core parts of the music business, like streaming services and publishing/licensing, among others?
We have some local distribution companies already. MAD Solutions comes to mind, Jungle comes to mind, Ejoya solutions come to mind… there are a few others. EmPawa is also local. Even the emPawa has a lot of international clients right now.

I’m going to start with the distribution before I go to the streaming part. The major differences between some of our local companies are two. First, international companies have a lot of funding. Secondly, they also have a name and a reputation behind them. For example, before EmPawa came to Nigeria, they had been working with people like Joe Budden; the same thing goes for Orchard. They have existed since the 90s as distribution agent for Sony. The same thing goes for ONErpm; they’ve been around for like a while, but let’s say they don’t even have a catalogue in America, they do have some catalogue in Europe. They also have leverage.

One other thing that these international companies have is access. So, there is funding, there is reputation, there is leverage and there is access. You can’t say the same for local companies where you have reduced funding and some other problems.

Another problem that we have with this situation is that Nigerians don’t respect the things that are Nigerian anymore. Like, even if a major executive in a homegrown company were to bring the same money that an international company is bringing to the table, there are chances that Nigerians would go with the international company, even though the homegrown company offers the same leverage and all of those things. So, homegrown companies need to start hiring people with a lot of leverage and access, and they need to find funding. You have to compete with money.

Coming back to these conversations about DSPs, I don’t see the point in a local DSP streaming platform rising right now. It’s not a smart idea, because what are you bringing to the table that other foreign companies are not bringing? What is the USP or attraction of me using a Nigerian DSP over Spotify or YouTube music? What are you offering me that they are not offering me? Nothing. There is simply no incentive for someone starting a new record label, a new streaming platform in the last seven years for the African market, on the same model that Spotify music, YouTube music are operating on. The Grammys recently said it was considering an Afrobeats category. Should Afrobeats become the new moniker for all African music?

So, I’m going to start with the definition part of what Afrobeat is. I was listening to an episode of a podcast by Jon Caramanica of New York Times; he did a podcast where he was breaking down the essence of Reggaeton, the Latin pop genre. What I realised was that when I hear Reggaeton like it’s just Reggaeton to me, but when people who are from Latin American countries start breaking it down, you would realise that Reggaeton is just an umbrella term; there are other sub-genres. There are like twelve other sub-genres from different countries including Puerto Rico, Columbia, with their own different types of Reggaeton. They have their own different types of pop, but because the essence of the music is the way the drums sound, it is classified under an umbrella. To me as an outsider, when I hear it, I’m just going to say it’s Reggaeton. It brings me to Afrobeat.

African music is also like that. If White people who didn’t grow up in Africa were to listen to either Amapiano or Soukous, the person is just going to tell you that this music is African. The person will not know if it’s Amapiano or whatever. When African music started crossing over to other climes, in the late 2000s, where products of immigrants, especially in Europe like England, France, Netherlands, Belgium started developing an affinity. And none of these things started when music blogs in Africa shot up, right?

Before, you had to come to Africa before you could buy CDs, as not a lot of labels were shipping CDs abroad. Even if they were shipping CDs abroad, you might not get it in real time, as the album is dropping. Now, with music blogs, all of those things have changed. Access changed. Now, you can download Olamide’s album on the day it drops.

When African music started crossing over, white people couldn’t tell the difference. The unique identifier for African music is in the way our drums sound; our percussion is our unique identifier. You can mimic African pop music sometimes, but it’s not the same. The original sound of African music is the percussion. So, it’s unlikely that a White person is going to understand the differences. We don’t have a name for our contemporary pop music in Africa. We call it street pop or whatever, but we don’t have a unified name. Just like maybe South Africans can have Amapiano or Kuwaito, we don’t have those names that we could use to identify our songs. So, we just call anything that is pop music an Afrobeats.

Also, because our artistes were the biggest, everybody started thinking by default that Afrobeats was Nigerian. However, it’s not. It’s not Nigerian; it’s a cultural movement. So, that’s the problem that we have right now. If all Africans agreed on the term Afrobeats, to describe all our pop music, it would not be a problem. But because as Africans, we are so divisive, we will not have it as so. Now that there is a division, you can understand why someone like me is saying, ‘look, let’s not call it Afrobeat. Let’s call it African music so that there will be peace.

TurnTable is our first major digital charting system in Nigeria. What good does this bring for the industry? 
I still think there’s a lot of work to be done for TurnTable. I mean, a lot of work has been done already, but I think a lot of work still needs to be done in terms of solidification and all of that. But the good thing is where TurnTable is right now, I’m not sure they could have projected that they would be there in two years. It has taken them two years of intense works.

The good thing is now, there is industry acceptance, which is the most important thing. Before, there was a lot of deferment to Apple Music chart. Now, a lot of labels are not adopting TurnTable to celebrate number one. Part of what they have done is the plaque thing that they are giving to artists for number one singles. They give them to artistes to producers and songwriters and even A&Rs. So, those things give you visibility and brand equity. Who is this company that is giving people plaque? Now that the industry acceptance has started, the work has only just begun, because now, the flexibility of the system has to be open. The inclusivity of more data has to be done and some of these data that are necessary.

There is also a case of certification that has to be explored. So, it’s a very nice time to be in Nigeria, because now, the industry is starting to push into platforms. For example, in 2018 and 2017, it must have been very hard to get streaming data for Nigeria, but now, TurnTable can have meetings with streaming platforms and say, ‘okay, we know you guys have X amount of users in Nigeria. You guys can start giving us data, because we need to create a charting system for our country.’ In the past, we couldn’t have that conversation. It’s a testament to how far the industry has come and how far the industry could go.

So, finally about TurnTable, it’s a lot of things that they are planning that I can’t even say right now. There are lots of things at work and I’m looking forward to some of the things that will be done over the next six months to one year and in the future. But I think one thing that needs to happen to TurnTable is fund raising.

A lot of companies are raising funds and I think they have to raise funds. TurnTable is big enough to raise funds. You can see the assets, and the brand equity growing. I believe that TurnTable should be able to raise money going forward. I can see that happening.

You just joined the jury panel for AFRIMA. Can you share some of the lessons so far with us? 
AFRIMA is a very unique place. I mean, I was an admirer of AFRIMA and the entire movement, because again, Africa is a very large industry. So far, AFRIMA has been a learning curve for me. I thought I knew a lot about African music, and I still think a lot of people would say that I knew a lot about African music, but some of the things that I saw though, like the videos and quality of the videos from different parts of Africa like the Northern African region were enthralling.

I knew North Africa was dope, but seeing it first hand, seeing suggestions from people like artistes that you never knew about, and some of the music that they are doing was intriguing. It made me realise that AFRIMA has not even scratched the surface of what they could become. AFRIMA could become a version of the Grammy for this continent where nobody has to be reliant on validations from the Grammys. The Grammys will always be important, but I am saying that AFRIMA is already building itself to be something similar. The award itself and its acceptance are growing. It is not just an award; it’s a documentation and discovery channel for African music. A lot of people are going to discover new artistes through AFRIMA.

Do you know the amount of Shazams that I did during the adjudication this year? You will be shocked. My Shazam is full. Every week, I uncover new artistes because of AFRIMA. I also love the fact that AFRIMA is so inclusive. A lot of people, when they think of Africa, they just think of Nigerian artistes. But you are seeing artistes that you don’t know. I am so excited about the work that’s going to be done moving forward.