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29 Nov 2002: Africa's music market needs to be Africanised  
Youssou Ndour, Papa Wemba and Manu Dibango - African artists established in a global market.
pic (c) Steve Gordon 1999

Africa's music market needs to be Africanised
first published in Rootz magazine
By Steve Gordon

FROM Osibisa to Salif Keita, the major names of African music have long been based in the Northern Hemisphere. Africa’s stars entered the world stage abroad, and returned home, celebrated like astronauts between space missions. Wined and dined at society functions, but seldom affordable or routinely accessible to Africans.

If Africa’s stars used to shine from afar, the exciting challenge of the new millennium is to ensure that they shine equally at home. This is possible, and imperative. Africa’s music market needs to be Africanised.

Conditions at the start of this new millennium bear little similarity to those faced by the young Miriam Makeba, Manu Dibango or Salif Keita faced when they left to forge their international debuts in strange lands. Society, technology and distribution mediums have set a new playing field.

Not yet Uhuru

It’s Africa 2002, and there’s possibility. But, it’s Not Yet Uhuru. The circulation, exchange and flow of African music on the continent remains blocked.

To understand the networks and forces underpinning the contemporary flow and distribution of African music, it is essential to realise how closely they have been shaped by colonialism and the relationships between what now are known as “developing?and “developed?countries. Such understanding is all the more important as we confront the realities of globalisation, and the massive impact it has on both culture and economy.


A home away from home, and an anchor in foreign markets

itical settlement in South Africa (1990’s), a combination of studio locations, record deals, tour itineraries and the inevitable “permits and papers?issues rendered it opportune for Africa’s artists to be resident in countries such as France, England or even the USA to build and sustain their music careers. For many others, circumstance prompted or forced exile from their homeland.

Under such conditions, artists naturally gravitated towards host countries with which their native lands had strong links. Not only did this offer the potential benefit of being able to converse in the host language ?but typically, business, travel and financial links with home. The presence of local immigrant communities provided some support network, a family-away-from-home, and a crucial core audience. England and France are best illustrative of the manner in which third world music forms flowed North after colonies attained independence.


Jamaica’s Rocksteady, Ska and Reggae were the first to flow to the international market through England in the late 1960’s, followed by the music of Nigeria, Ghana and other ‘Anglophone?African countries. Nigerian artists Osibisa, King Sunny Ade, and to a lesser degree the outspoken Fela Kuti ?are key names when tracing the build up to the ‘World Music?phenomenon of the 1980’s.

France has been pivotal to ‘World Music?for the past 20 years. The colonial legacy in Africa and the Caribbean, coupled with the presence of some of the world’s most developed arts infrastructure and cultural industries rendered the country a well equipped host to African music. The presence of a socialist government which prioritised arts and culture programmes did no damage.

Paris is the de facto African music capital of the world. Not only has it been home to icons such as Manu Dibango and the late Francis Bebey (both natives of Cameroon), but its studios have spawned distinctly Parisian hybrids, drawing on sounds from the African Diaspora.

Thus African Music emerged as a product which followed closely the neo-colonial trade relations of the 1970’s: The raw materials came from Africa, the product from Europe. While the Beatles or Rolling Stones did it at home, Africans went abroad, and by the turn of the Century, ownership in the bulk of African Music catalogue was resident abroad.

Headed home

If African music was just an ethnographic curiosity during the 1960’s, by the mid 1990’s, a consumer market for what became known as “World Music?had established globally.

Sporadic as the markets in developed countries were to prove, they existed: Cultural space had been won. African music was circulating outside of Africa, but its artists also realized a need (and desired) to be back home.

With international profile and momentum established, an increasing number were able to locate their operations back home: Ismael Lo, having studied in Spain and worked in France, is now based in his native Senegal. Salif Keita lives in Bamako in his native Mali. Political settlement in South African paved the way for Hugh Masekela, Miriam Makeba, Abdullah Ibrahim, Letta Mbulu, Jonas Gwangwa, Caiphus Semenya and others to repatriate from their forced exile.

There are new opportunities and challenges for the new generation - Youssou Ndour is a prime example. Having established himself internationally, he works from Dakar, where he has set up both studio and nightclub; Femi Kuti, assuming the mantle of his late father Fela, operates from Lagos.

The new technologies for music production require far less capital outlay than those of a decade ago, a scenario which has contributed to a proliferation of small studios in Africa. It’s no longer just “raw talent?coming out of Africa, new expertise and technology propagate local product.

Straddling markets

Straddling the divide between developed and developing economies in the new millenium, the established African music acts need to maintain profile and presence globally. There is market up north, and a market at home - different needs, different tastes. All tour extensively internationally, but while the occasional tour or protocol event allows circulation in Africa, the African market, audience and performance networks remain underdeveloped, and at times unreliable.

Circulation and presence in Africa comes at a price. Many of the groups backing established artists are multinational. Just add airfares to hard currency, and bringing an African “name?into Africa can be just as much a venture as importing a Euro pop act.

Local markets in Africa cannot sustain such movement without significant private or public sector finance, and aside from an elite few, consumers cannot afford the price of African music cds imported (or manufactured under license) from Europe.

The globalized African sound often contrasts starkly with that which artists perform or release back home: Some battle with the contradiction, whilst others have reconciled parallel worlds and audiences. Youssou N’dour’s domestic Senegalese releases ?mostly on cassette ?are a counterpoint to the multinational catalogue on Sony; Papa Wemba at times operates two backing bands ?Viva la Musica and Molokai, for African and European audiences respectively.

African audiences consume international media, and African music is but a small part of MTV, CNN or BBC programming. At home African music competes for ears, eyes and dancefloor feet with the full array of international pop music products. African audiences do not yet have the level of access to their music which the rest of the world enjoys. African audiences need to be Africanised.

African Challenges

From an African perspective the challenges are both cultural and economic: African music has a massive role to play in Africa of the new millennium. Music cannot just be a soundtrack to Nepad, it must be integral to Nepad.

What of artists living and popular within Africa, and their chances of surviving and forging careers with their home continent as their primary operating base? An integrated and unified Africa can certainly facilitate this, allowing circulation of artists and music, overcoming the colonial and linguistic divides which have fragmented its audience.

The rallying cry now should not be to repatriate all things African. We need to acknowledge the multiplicity of markets, and attach value to the profile which has been built with international audiences. We must be conscious of, but not captive to the legacy of music ownership, and associated obstacles.

The recent OCRE Conference, hosted by AFAA (French Association for Artistic Action) and the Centre for Creative Arts at the University of Natal, addressed some of the issues of cultural networking, including music. The stark imbalances between different African zones were explored. At the conference’s conclusion, a “Letter from Durban?was tabled, calling on policy makers in Africa to consider these factors when formulating policy for the next decade.

Priority areas identified included the need for intra-African co-operation, the promotion of regional and internal markets and audiences, the facilitation of mobility within Africa, and skills and curriculum development. A cohesive policy to stimulate inter-African cooperation is needed.

Ultimately, there’s a lot of catching up required. African music has to transform from being a niche market of imported product, to its inevitable and rightful role as the mainstream soundtrack of our continent. In short, African music’s primary market needs to be Africanised.

? Steve Gordon, 2002.

Steve Gordon is a sound engineer and writer from Cape Town. He manages the Re-connection project of Making Music Productions.
ROOTZ Magazine is published in South Africa, and available at news stands in the SADC region.
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