Pushing African music beyond borders

Having worked as a journalist and PR professional in the music and entertainment industry for over 10 years now, I have found over the years that there’s a similar thread of concern or quest for knowledge coming from various musicians, creatives and people reaching out to me, irrespective of the region they come from. They want to know how to make it big, how to break new markets, how to have a number one record, how to stay on top, how to build your brand, how to grow your brand into a business and so on, so forth. 

To be honest, it’s always difficult to navigate these conversations because there’s no one-way of doing all the above things and a specific rule of the game. However, knowing your self, brand and fan base will always be key to factor in the road to success. For this reason, you should never downplay your personal branding and how you communicate pretty much anything and everything you do; from your releases, strategy or even social media postings. This is part of how to create a fan base, and with consistency you will have longevity. 

Another thing artists and industry people in Africa generally take for granted is the fact that as much as we share a lot of similarities and tastes in Africa, how things work or run in various music markets and industries is very different. There are different structures, genres, trends, languages and cultures that govern and influence preferences, and ultimately the reason why you see different artists using different models or experiencing different types of success in different regions. Of course, there are exceptions to the rule. For instance, mainstream artists and brands enjoy success across the continent and beyond. Which also begs the question – what does success look like for you as an individual artist or brand? Many times, artists are so harsh on themselves expecting their own success to meet standards set by the industry or the so-called gatekeepers. 

Times and a lot of other factors have changed. While some like covid-19 pandemic made it harder for artists, others like various platforms and avenues to reach your fan base via social media, streaming platforms and event spaces, benefited the creatives. 

Why do we sometimes try so hard to westernize our craft? That was a big question in the past decades. Now more and more, Africans are asking their own country folk why they are either trying so hard at fitting into the now-global Afrobeats genre or popular Nigerian lingo, if not a hand at Amapiano – Africa’s latest and biggest emerging genre. If we are going to move the African music industry forward, we can’t expect all artists to sound a particular way or box artists to the genres that define their regions. As much as we fight to protect our authenticity, we must find room to allow individuality, creativity and imitation; after all it’s the sincerest form of flattery. This is the way forward for the industry. 

More on more, I find that my answers, observations and experience always lead to the same path. What I find most unique is our individuality and strong African identity. This is timeless, inherent and natural. Every artist needs to recognize this and be able to use this to his or her advantage. 

I am ready and willing to work with similar-minded industry professionals to move the industry forward. It’s a lot to think about conquering the entire content but not so much to start with knowing your brand to customize your game plan. There’s a lot of untapped talent, and various uncharted paths when it comes to opportunities. Let’s find them and secure them fiercely. Let’s open doors for the women in music and entertainment. Let’s be the change that we crave for. 

Words by Anyiko Owoko