Opportunities for UK gospel artists to access African markets By Segodi Leshalabe, Global Music Link Editorial Team

Globalisation has been the buzz word for a number of years now. Every other industry is impacted, and the music industry is no exception. The good news is that most artists in various countries have always had, as one of their long-term goals, the desire to expand beyond their country’s borders.

One of the untapped opportunities for UK gospel artists is that of expanding into the African continent. South Africa, although the furthest from the UK (compared with other African countries) still presents one of the best gateways for gospel artists to extend their footprint into the African continent. 

South Africa is numbered amongst the biggest economies on the continent, and gospel music is its biggest selling genre. Its annual Crown Gospel Music Awards not only ranks as the second biggest awards in the country (surpassed only by the country’s main music awards, the South Africa Music Awards), but it is also the biggest Gospel Music Awards in the whole of Africa. Furthermore, in recent times the industry has seen significant growth with various new artists coming to the fore, contributing to the already huge market share this music genre holds. 

In the past, ensembles like the multiple Grammy Award-winning Soweto Gospel Choir and the popular Joyous Celebration (who even recorded one of their live DVDs in the USA) used to lead the industry’s growth, but now solo acts are taking centre stage. Recently, one of the country’s major artists for over three decades now, Bishop Benjamin Dube, recorded his live DVD at a sell-out 10,000-seat venue. Two years ago, new entrant to the industry, Dr Tumi, filled one of the iconic venues in the country: the 12,000-capacity Dome in Johannesburg. He followed that up with his next DVD recording, attracting over 30,000 people to the country’s capital city, Pretoria. This year, Dr Tumi has announced that his next recording will be at Loftus stadium, where a 50,000-capacity crowd is expected.

All of these expansions represent unique opportunities for UK gospel artists to enter the market through various avenues, some of which involve collaborations. In recent years, various American artists have recognised this opportunity – and have made use of it. Artists, like Grammy award-winning Israel Houghton and Donnie McClurkin; Stellar Award-winning Vashawn Mitchell and Todd Dulaney, and Dove Award-winning Jekalyn Carr have all gone to South Africa and collaborated with local artists on various projects. JJ Hairston featured two Nigerian artists on his Miracle Worker album that was recorded in Nigeria and the USA.

The UK, closer to South Africa than the USA distance-wise, has not made significant use of these avenues, meaning there are still lots of untapped opportunities. One major advantage is that South Africa’s biggest Gospel TV station, One Gospel, also broadcasts to various other countries across the African continent, so this presents a big marketing opportunity. With many SA artists using One Gospel to premiere their projects, this means many other African territories can be accessed simultaneously. South Africa is the new gateway to continental Africa.

With so many opportunities, one can only hope that UK gospel artists and recording companies will make use of them – either through collaborations or live events in the country. For such partnerships to work they should include opportunities for SA artists to enter the UK market, thus creating a reciprocal win-win situation. With SA and UK enjoying longstanding ties, one can be certain that support for such initiatives can come even from various organisations, like The British Council – the UK’s international organisation for cultural relations and educational opportunities.

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