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Def Jam Africa will not move the needle forward for African music, says Ugwu

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Music label executive and CEO of Freeme Digital, Michael Ugwu, has said that the recently laucnhed Def Jam Africa will in no way benefit the African music industry.

The former General Manager of Sony Music West Africa made this known through his Twitter handle, @iam_magicmike, when he tweeted: “This is 2020. Def Jam Africa will in no way move the needle forward for the African Music industry. Let’s check back in 5 years.”

Asked what informed his position, Ugwu in a recent interview with OkayAfrica, said: “I get that from a PR perspective. Def Jam is a signature US hip-hop label and Africa is a potentially important hip-hop market, hence why the Def Jam imprint was launched here.

“I’d rather they left Def Jam as it is with its storied history in the US and set up new labels/partnerships like RCA did with Keep Cool and Interscope with LVRN. Personally, that’s about the forward, partnerships.”

According to him, Def Jam should seek out African entrepreneurs with vibrant labels and teams and broker partnership deals with them, instead of simply trying to replicate what was.

“They are ignorant of the fact that we have been the creative driving force behind the growth of our own industry; Def Jam didn’t blow Don Jazzy, 2Baba, Wizkid etc. This is likely one of those ideas initiated by a white exec whose boss thought they needed to establish a presence in Africa. There has been a paradigm shift in the industry; it is no longer business as usual.”

He urged the heavyweight label to find young African music players, invest in small independent music companies and grow them. “It may seem like a utopian view, but I’m all about empowering local business and would always want to see our Mavins, Freemes, Choc Cities succeed,” he stated.

On why organisations managed by foreigners in a local space are more successful than those manned by Nigerians, Ugwu explained that asides few Lebanese, Indians and Chinese, the rough terrain of Nigeria makes it hard for non-Nigerians to succeed.

“Nigeria, like many African countries is culturally complex, familial or relationship-based, which is somewhat foreign to whites. A white executive can appreciate our sound but I don’t think they can really understand it the way a black or African exec would.

“From a commercial standpoint, Nigeria is still not a mature streaming market yet which impedes local success. We have numbers from a fundamental perspective but we don’t have a large streaming subscriber base paying for music services like Apple Music.

“In America, UK, Indonesia or Turkey, they have developed streaming markets with relatively large numbers of subscribers paying for premium music subscriptions monthly. We make excellent music that is of export quality and for now if you’re a label in Nigeria, it’s the export opportunity that you need to be looking at for recorded music.

“I reckon we need about 5-10 million monthly paying subscribers to be deemed a mature music market ripe for real investment. I would be positively surprised if Nigeria has up to 500,000 paying subscribers presently. Our artistes and labels need to double down on efforts to encourage this culture change.”


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