The 2019 edition of the South By Southwest Music Festival will position Africa as the new frontier of the global music industry, writes Ojo Maduekwe
The world, it appears, has fully warmed up to African music. It’s no longer unusual watching videos on social media of random white people dancing to afrobeat, or for clubbers in Africa to be thrilled by the club DJ, from midnight till dawn, with catalogue of songs entirely by African artists.
Afrobeat is fast moving from being an alternative music into the mainstream. Popular Nigerian artists such as Davido and Wizkid are making inroads into the American pop culture, performing on music festival stages alongside popular artists like Beyonce, Eminem, Cardi B, Nicki Minaj, The Weeknd, Meek Mill, SZA, French Montana, DJ Khaled, Miguel, Migos, and many others.
Some of the internationally sought after and sold out music festivals that has seen Africa’s finest grace the stages include Coachella,
South By Southwest (SXSW) Music Festival, Jay-Z’s Made in America, and the One Africa Music Festival.
Of all these shows, performing at the SXSW has proven rewarding for African artists, with the organisers introducing an African stage of this scale and size for three nights. With there being an explosion of the afrobeat genre globally, it was only a matter of time before international music festivals like SXSW began giving African artists and music more deserving prominence.
SXSW Music Festival is an annual showcase of music, film and interactive highlights enjoyed through performances, showcases, talks, and screenings, and is one of the biggest music festivals in the United States.
The festival is a cultural showcase where artists submit their application to be featured, and the organizers review and consider the work before inviting the artist to play on one of the stages. Unlike some other music events, no artist is paid to perform. Each performing artist and band rely on the support of private organisations to sponsor them.
The first SXSW held in March 1987, and by the standards set by the organisers, it was a huge success. An expected 150 attendees increased to 700 on the first day of the event. There were 177 artists performing at over 15 venues. 32 successful years and counting, it is an entirely different story.
Now, over 10,000 artists apply online to showcase on the musical stages of SXSW every year, with less than five per cent getting accepted. For last year, the different events of the SXSW had about 289,000 attendees from 66 countries, with some of the biggest names in the global music industry in attendance.
Africa to the World
Prior to now, when African artists performed at foreign concerts, they did so to an audience of mostly Africans in the Diaspora, but with their own stage at music festivals, their audience will be a creative mix of different nationalities, with the benefit of growing their fan base, and brand recognition.
In an interview with THISDAY, Hakeem Condotti, the CEO of Bavent Street Live, one of the partners organising Africa To The World, said it was time for African artists to “make new fans and network with other industry experts” by taking advantage of the international labels and production teams always attending such festivals like the SXSW.
37 artists that include Falz, Mr Eazi, Simi, Cassper Nyovest, Sauti Sol, Victoria Kimani, and many others from seven African countries will perform for three days of the seven days allotted to the music festival segment of the SXSW. 12 artists will perform daily, culminating with a show stopping performance from the day’s headlining act.
All 37 African artists have in excess of 70 million followers on their different social media accounts, and over 500 million YouTube views collectively.
Bavent Street Live was given the exclusive mandate to handle the African stage being co-produced with Digiwaxx Media USA. The selection process for the artists were done using the SXSW criteria, one of which was that every selected artist must have a good body of work and top-class stage experience to perform to a neutral crowd.
It was Bavent Street Live that organised the ASA Live in Lagos Concert to much critical acclaim by industry experts, the highly successful 2017 Adekunle Gold ‘One Night Stand With Adekunle Gold’ and the Simi Live in Lagos 2018.
There was a time when it was a puzzle for African artists to meet big record labels, or artists for collaboration. But record deals and collaborations have been struck at SXSW backstages by labels looking for new artists that they can sign and musicians looking to sample new beats for an upcoming album.
Artists have seen their fan base increased exponentially. Audiences attending music festivals like the SXSW don’t go to see already established artists, but to discover new ones that they’ve probably not heard of before. For the listeners and labels, it’s like they’re constantly searching for the next big thing.
Artists looking to breakout into the international music stage or those already known but seeking more collaboration go to the SXSW to showcase their art to other artists and international labels. In essence a lot of business also gets done there. This event will open up Africa to the world and vice versa.
Successful artists like James Blunt and Katy Perry met their breakthroughs at SXSW. In 2004, at the SXSW, while performing to an almost empty room, Blunt was said to have met the producer of his best-selling debut album, ‘Back to Bedlam’, and Perry, after a failed stint as a Christian singer-songwriter, struck a recording contract at SXSW that made her a household name.
How it all began
Kamal Ajiboye and Deji Adeniji approached Digiwaxx Media about presenting an all African showcase. The project started following a conversation between Kamal and Deji from when both attended last year’s edition. Prior to that time, the team had, for 6 years, been regular attendees of the SXSW music festival. They then brought in Condotti because of his track record and experience working with African artists, and organizing large scale live productions.
Kamal is a professional A&R, writer, talent manager and developer with over a decade of experience managing some of Africa’s biggest music superstars.
He has managed the music careers of artists D’banj, Don Jazzy and Davido, who he managed from the start of his career until 2017. He now manages Seyi Shay, DJ Neptune, Alexx Ekubo, and celebrated media personality, Toke Makinwa. He runs Twenty 20 Media, a talent management company.
Deji has vast knowledge in electronic media, television production, television brand management, content development, acquisition, media sales, event production and solutions. He’s been involved in some industry’s successful endorsements and partnerships such as Flavor & Harp Larger, MI and Burna Boy & Martell, Wizkid and CIROC, including the production of the coca cola world cup theme – ISSA GOAL, GTBank larger than life advert for 737.
On the International scene he’s been a major player in the music and event production management producing and directing some of the top rated events like Africa Music Concert South Africa, ONE Africa Music Fest, and the ONE Africa Comedy Fest. Being a leading live event and experienced producer in Nigeria, in 2018 alone, he was a part of over 40 live events and tours.
The idea according to Kamal was to have proper representation of African music at the SXSW. “We’ve had African artists such as Adekunle Gold, Seyi Shay and a host of others featured before, but never has there been a multi-day all African stage. So we felt it was time to have a proper representation, so as to be able to showcase African music from across the continent, to a whole new set of fans”, he said.
The partnership between SXSW and Bavent Street Live is an ongoing one. A lot of African artists wanted to perform at this year’s edition but Adeniji said for logistics reasons for the first edition, including funding, they had to trim them down to 37.
According to Condotti, “We had enough qualified artists to even do a fourth day this year but because we would like to cater to the logistics of flight and accommodation for the first edition of the Africa To The World Stage, we’ve decided to make do with the number of artists we can manage for the three days. I’m positive that for next year’s edition, we will be able to accommodate all, and even get more days to showcase”.
The Bavent team, while going all out to ensure the African contingent deliver world class performance, are striking strategic sponsorship deals with companies looking to position their brand to a wider audience.
“Because it is the first time there’s this large an African stage, and since we are trying to encourage every African artist, we feel it is a good opportunity for us to talk to sponsors that would like to get mileage from these artists by covering logistics such as flight and accommodation.”
Smart and PR centric companies can easily key into this offering for the simple reason that the African stage, appropriately tagged ‘Africa To The World’, is estimated to have thousands of revellers coming through, and over 1,000,000 viewers on live streaming and broadcast, according to Adeniji.
The United States Embassy in Nigeria has supported the Bavent team by agreeing to expedite visas for the African contingent. “The SXSW Music Festival is very well known to the US government and so when we reached out to the Embassy here, it was easy to get their buy in. We appreciate the assistance they’re giving us”, said Condotti.
Soundcity Africa and OkayAfrica are media partners, even as more brands are looking to come on board as partners, in exchange for extensive social media campaigns and engagements by the artists across Africa. The organizers of the Africa To The World stage are welcoming strategic partnerships from brands that understand the mileage their business will benefit from this.
There is no doubt that the SXSW Music Festival is an opportunity for the world to experience Africa beyond the sampling of beats and music from African legends like the late Fela Kuti, and, it is evident that this wave of African talent has positioned the continent to be the new music frontier.