South African Artists Building International Brands by Segode Leshalabe

The entrance of technology into the music business ecosystem in recent years has helped open up the industry to globalisation. Fuelling this evolution are music festivals and conferences that take place in various cities around the world. One of these is an event called South by South West (SXSW) which is held annually in Austin, Texas in the US. Over 32, 000 participants from some 80 countries across the globe flock to this 10-day festival and conference that also includes Film and Interactive.

Amongst the attendees at the 2019 event was a group of artists and music professionals from South Africa. They were part of a programme by an organisation called the Independent Music Exporters South Africa (IMEXSA), which is funded by the South African government. This writer joined the group as they undertook the almost 20-hour journey to Austin via Atlanta. This wasn’t the first expedition by IMEXSA, having brought several delegations to the event in the past. It’s part of the programme’s initiative to help increase music exports from South Africa to the world, and to help artists learn and experience how to build international brands for themselves. Various music professionals from other countries continue to assist in those endeavours. They include the likes of Mr Allen Johnston, aka the Music Specialist, who has travelled to South Africa to speak to more artists and music professionals at IMEXSA’s annual conference called the SA Indies Music Week.

For this year’s participation, IMEXSA had, for the first-time, set up a South African house, where business and networking discussions took place during the day, and live performances took place in the evenings.

The support the house had, signalled the viral impact and importance of African music in our global music ecosystem. Some of the artists in the delegation got to perform internationally for the first time, which constituted a learning curve they will certainly cherish for years to come. Some even received invites to perform in other countries. Many guests that came to the house shared their vast knowledge and interest in South African music – an experience, which was quietly humbling.

The rest of the conference included panels and workshops that touched virtually every aspect of the music industry – from legal to touring and live performances; to branding; how to make money from music; latest technological trends in music; music in film, and many others. There were also several keynote speakers, who shared their music journeys, lessons they’d learnt, and also offered tips on how to become a global success in the business of music.

Even though this was not the writer’s first visit to the event, it still remained an eye opener, as one got to learn of the many technological advances and trends in the music industry. One company demonstrated an app that is set to enable instant royalty payments to artists and companies in the future – a world first!

By the time the 10-day event had come to an end, this writer’s vision for my music business career and for the artists that I represented expanded significantly. One was once again shown the endless opportunities for growth that the global music business ecosystem continues to offer. Indeed, we are living in a global world, where music business borders have been broken by technology, and those that rise up to stay ahead and make use of the latest trends and opportunities will get to profit from the expected continuous growth and expansion of the industry. One thing is for certain: Africans are certainly amongst those in the forefront of learning and taking advantage of those endless opportunities.

Indeed, it has been a long time coming. Many well-known artists across the globe have had various African music elements incorporated into their music. Take, for example, Shakira’s ‘Waka Waka (This Time for Africa)’ song that sold 15 million downloads worldwide, which made it one of the best-selling singles of all time, garnering over 2.2 billion views on YouTube. The song’s chorus sampled an African song, ‘Zangaléwa’, by a Cameroonian band called Golden Sounds. Markets like London, UK – where African artists still fill the iconic O2 Arena – continue to showcase the global nature of African music. In 2018, one of the world’s largest and oldest music conferences, Midem, chose to make Africa its focus for the event. This included holding roadshows in several African cities, including Johannesburg, Lagos, Abidjan and Brazzaville, as a run-up to the event. The same is happening this year, with forums set for Dakar, Douala and Lagos, leading to an African-dedicated day on 5th June at Midem in Cannes, France. Even the annual Canadian Music Week chose to have a ‘Spotlight on South Africa’. The impact of African music is real. It is substantial and tangible on a global scale. More is yet to come.

Segodi Leshalabe is Marketing Director for the Independent Music Exporters South Africa (IMEXSA) and for the annual SA Indies Music Week.

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