What it means to build bridges in the African music scene

As one of Africa’s leading Entertainment and Music Publicists, I have had the pleasure of working on various Pan-African music projects with many artists, record labels, and cultural institutions for more than 10 years. In that period, the East Africa music scene has made tremendous progress and milestones, with various record labels, streaming services and music distribution platforms either launching in the region or investing in marketing their artists and projects in East Africa. As an insider looking out with a global view I tend to feel that many outsiders, artists and record labels approach East Africa simply because of its fast growth, the massive potential and internet penetration, all this making it easier to reach bigger audiences.

Outsiders should not only look at the region as a territory to conquer. More than numbers and opportunity, East Africa is home to a diverse people with various other languages, music genres, cultures and unique talent and artists. Outsiders always tend to focus on Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda but Rwanda, Burundi and Ethiopia are also part of the East Africa region. It’s understandable that it’s easier to pitch tent in already established industries but it’s very important that more established record labels and industry practitioners with the financial backing to also be part of the change and development required. There is need to develop the industry by creating more opportunities, providing more music equipment, technical skills and access to event and touring venues.

The few professional labels, managers and publicists who really want to focus on East Africa need to have a more collaborative and insightful approach towards East Africa. Don’t just invest to market your non-East African talent in our region but look to connect your talent with East African creatives. The East African artists and creatives also must play their part. Don’t just wait for investors or outsiders to come solve our problems – we must provide solutions to each hurdle, step by step. The fans also have a role to play. You must do your part in discovering East African talent and spotlighting and sharing them with your counterparts around Africa and allover the world. We are all simply a click away from reaching a global audience and potential collaborators.

Issues of East African musicians being underpaid in their respective countries, with their West African counterparts mostly collecting more money at shows bring out the imbalance that supply and demand has created in the African music market. While local promoters need to return this balance, the local artists also need to reevaluate their value and fees structure. There are many other issues like ignorance on copyright and dysfunctional music royalty collection societies that are a disservice to the industry and artists. The music industry in each one of the countries must fight to undo this and demand for better policies and law governing creatives and intellectual property. East Africans still have a long way to having a unified industry but its achievable. There is no real reason why only a handful of East African artists can be counted among Africa’s top artists or most bankable. The real reason is the state of development and support on ground and the perceptions that have been created by placements. Because artists from Southern African and West Africa are more established at branding and marketing or are backed by more established institutions and infrastructures, they have been able to reach global audiences and create massive hits in Africa. The whole game isn’t complete without serious PR and marketing. Period. This is why I formed Anyiko PR – an avant-garde PR & Talent Management agency executing PR & campaigns for social impact across the continent. There is so much work to be done and I am ready to work with similar-minded people or labels.