I conducted this interview a few years back with Wale Ewedemi who is now founder and Director of Creative Entrepreneurs Association of Nigeria. The article has since been republished on many platforms and has also been licensed and reproduced in a South African book on Africa’s music industry; and distributed by one of the larger publishers in South Africa. I find the interview relevant after all these years and a way to kick off this week.
A few things to note: 1) There are a few and key changes. I believe NMIA is no longer active. COSON instead seems to be more active and is pushing aggressively for some of the issues Wale and I discussed; 2) COSON made history last year with the payments of royalties distributed to Nigerian artists. There are also many inroads that have been made by COSON but many of what we discussed a few years ago, remain relevant; 3) Wale continues to also push for the creative industries through his aforementioned company in the first paragraph of my introduction. Read on. . .
In this exclusive interview, with the help of music industry insider, Wale Ewedemi, I shed light on the business of music in Africa. I cover the current state of Africa’s music industry, intellectual property rights [IP], technology, distribution, advocacy, infrastructure, music authenticity and social media.
Briefly, Wale Ewedemi commonly known as BIG W has over [fifteen] years experience in radio. A graduate of the Nigerian Institute of Journalism, Ewedemi has practiced journalism, both radio and print, in Ghana and Nigeria. (In 2009), he resigned as General Manager of the very popular 96.9 Cool FM Station, in the state of Abuja which is the capital of Nigeria, to pursue his newly formed company, M54 Entertainment. While at 96.9 Cool FM, Ewedemi discovered over a hundred  music talents, while presenting the most popular radio show on the station “Good Morning Nigeria.” In addition, Ewedemi served as a judge for numerous national music talent searches including: the MTV Base Search for a music presenter in Nigeria, the Rhythm Council [which has discovered the biggest artists in Nigeria] and for three years, he has also served as Chief Judge for “The Broadcaster.”
In 2008, Ewedemi did what most said was “impossible.” He produced the first ever Nigerian International Music Summit in Abuja [the capital of Nigeria] under the umbrella of another of his newly formed organization– the Music Industry Association of Nigeria [MIAN]. For his work, he received numerous awards including a United Nations recognized “Youth Peace Ambassador.” Ewedemi strongly believes African musicians need to be equipped to make good music with proper training, exposure, mentorship and a sense of belonging. Since its inception, MIAN has actively enlisted the help of experts across the globe and intercontinentally for seminars and workshops to empower its mostly musician member base. Ewedemi, in 2008, won the British Council International Young Music Entrepreneur of the Year Award.
STATE OF AFRICA’S MUSIC INDUSTRY
Ms. Uduak: Wale, thanks for agreeing to this interview. Let’s get right into it. What is the current state of Africa’s music industry?
Ewedemi: Africa needs to be looked at contextually. I mean let’s look at industries and professions generally in Africa; that will give you an idea of the music industry that has not reached any considerable appreciation levels within African governments. The music industry in Africa is filled with talents and new vibes yet, it is under funded and under utilized. Like all industries, they are not protected. The pirates own the record labels, they sign you up and still pirate your work, depending on how profitable you get.
There are no independent companies to determine sales by the marketing companies. You rely on their handwritten books. No royalties are paid by TV and radio stations for your works . . . intellectual property rights are constantly flawed; and while a government organization is in place to curb this, you wonder what they are doing?
Ms. Uduak: On the radio station point, since you also worked in radio for so long, can you tell us whether your newly formed Music Industry Association plans to address the use of copyrighted works of artists’ without pay?
Ewedemi: That is major on our agenda. The Broadcasting Organization of Nigeria has taken the “collecting societies” to court for lack of proper documentation to claim funds from them. They are playing legal cards and stalling for as long as they can. The Music Industry Association intends to get the national assembly to look at this situation critically and get the case out of court to an arbitration panel. In the meantime, we might need to ban the stations from playing our songs till they start paying.
INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY RIGHTS
Ms. Uduak: What is the current compensation scheme for artists, record labels and music publishers in Nigeria/Africa? How much cut/royalty fees do they get?
Ewedemi:[Currently], in Nigeria [for example], nobody pays royalties. [Major] artists get signed on as brand ambassadors sometimes and they get paid for that, but royalties, none at all.
Ms. Uduak: That is tough! Out of curiosity, does Nigeria have retail outlets like Tower Records in America?
Ewedemi: [Yes.] The biggest we have is Nu Metro, a South African franchise in Nigeria. They are not effective because pirates sell the CDs at 35% off the shelf price, so everybody buys on the streets.
Ms. Uduak: Speaking of the rampant piracy, do you agree with the position by many that if an artist makes good music, the people will buy rather than pirate so that piracy is [the] result of artists not delivering on what is promised. i.e. only one good song in the whole album?
Ewedemi: That has changed. Our artists [referring to Nigerian artists] are fantastic now. Artists like Asa, 9ice, 2Face, P-Square, Rugged man, Ty Bello e.t.c. You actually buy the album and feel good about the songs. In the past, people just looked for excuses not to make them face the actual problems. Now that the industry has developed, the problems are getting worse. The pirates fixed the prices, at the expense of the artists and the labels, and because they own the distribution chain we are stuck. Record labels are becoming obsolete because an artist can go directly to the marketer and get a contract for himself. Why share it with a record label? So the labels have to discover fresh artists and get them to sign killing contracts, 20 -30years.
Ms. Uduak: 20-30 years? Wow! Wale, we talk a lot about intellectual property rights but it usually comes through the lens and framework of Western laws and industries.How does Africa create music IP rights specific to its needs, [to deal with issues like a 20-30 year contract]?
Ewedemi: Where we are now, the radio and TV stations do not even pay royalties much less dj’s e.t.c. Music is universal. The Western laws actually guide us here.
Ms. Uduak: Within the Western framework, the current reality and structure of IP laws is that record labels and music publishers make the big monies. How do you respond to those who say advocating for copyright laws benefits everyone but the artist?
Ewedemi: I believe in structure. I believe in planning. Without the big wigs, with the big names, the creative economy will be docile. So they are needed maybe the laws have to be regularly overhauled to make everybody happy.
Ms. Uduak: Give us some examples of how technology is changing Africa’s music industry?
Ewedemi: The GSM has really helped with ring tones and caller tunes. As a result, artists are able to make money. The bluetooth technology, however, allows sharing of music without payments. But, things are happening. Like the latest Nokia phone comes out with an African artist listed as a ring-tone on the phone. The studios are cheaper to run because of software that replaced the actual analogue studios. With a laptop, a four channel consul, a keyboard and a microphone, your home studio is ready at average price of $1,500.
Ms. Uduak: In the West, there have been strong opposition, particularly by music publishers and record labels to the whole digitalization of music via ITunes, Rhapsody, and Amazon movement. Does that hold true for Africa’s record labels/music publishers?
Ewedemi: For us in Africa, that’s not yet a big problem because most of the population cannot afford blue-tooth phones, Ipods, laptops, MP3s and MP4 players. We still sell lots of CDs and tapes. That is a futuristic problem for us.
Ms. Uduak: Technology has made it easier for African artists to produce, reproduce and distribute music directly to their consumers on the internet, bypassing all the bureaucracies/politics of record labels/music publishers. But, what are the pitfalls of such a “distribution” system?
Ewedemi: For the African, technology has reduced production cost with compact studios and softwares that can do much in little time. The problem is the payment system. We are just evolving an online payment system. So, Africans [in Africa] cannot buy online like that. . .
Ms. Uduak: I have said so many times that Africa needs to be at the world’s table lobbying and pushing policies that benefit Africa’s entertainment and fashion industries. What can African citizens within and outside Africa do to help develop their music industries to make them a force to be reckoned with; and earn a sit at that table?
Ewedemi: First, we need to step up to the standards acceptable internationally. You have to understand that even African banks are finding it hard to get serious recognition. So, the music and fashion industry has to be restructured like the other industries are doing.
INFRASTRUCTURE & LEGISLATIVE ADVOCACY
Ms. Uduak: Sierra Leone’s Chosan and Congo’s Kaysha have said infrastructure is needed in the industry. Explain from the angle of artist, manager and record label the current infrastructure and the changes these artists speak of?
Ewedemi: The thing is, there is no structure right now. The definition of artist, manager and record label is subject to the personalities involved. That’s where an organization like mine needs to step in to create this structure through worldwide consultation . . .experiment with it and share this structure with other African economies.
Ms. Uduak: Speaking of your organization, how do you propose to balance issues of accessibility with fairness and proper safeguards as NMIA, for example, tries to create an infrastructure in Nigeria’s music industry?
Ewedemi: I guess this is where we have to learn from other creative economies, the structures and safeguards they have put in place to help as we restructure our industry. NMIA is open to music industry legislation and safeguards from around the world.
Ms. Uduak: Does NMIA include a Governmental Affairs body that can advocate and lobby for the interests of the industry within and outside Nigeria
Ewedemi: That is perhaps one of our strongest arms because we are able to have the Government Corporations listen to us. We are presently working on a bill with some members of the Federal House of Representatives to move this industry further.
Ms. Uduak: I find African musicians that create unique identities through the use of their native tongue juxtaposed with unique/African beats inspiring and authentic .How do we encourage African musicians to do more of this? I feel that the authenticity has a global appeal and frankly is where the money is, especially in the world music categories.
Ewedemi: I must tell you that the best Nigerian Musicians are fusionist, artistes who have being able to mix local and foreign elements together. The underground advice is rap in your local dialect, infuse a traditional rhyme or do a hook in Pidgin-English. I must tell you we know what the people listen to now.
HOW DO WE REDUCE THE HIP-SLOPS?
Ms. Uduak: Today, everyone is a musician. You got folks going into studios, spitting a little “hip-hop” and then releasing it to the masses. A lot of it are hip-slops and lack appeal inter-continentally and globally. How do we educate people and let them know just because you kicked it in the studio does NOT make you a rapper/artist/musician?
Ewedemi: Having been on radio for twelve  years I understand this [problem] very much. The structure we intend to create will also include trainings and certifications to get people on the right part of their creative destinies.
Ms. Uduak: There is no doubt that social media is making a huge difference today in how music is marketed i.e. blogs, myspace, twitter, facebooks e.t.c. Do you see these social media replacing the roles of record labels in terms of being the ones that filter the “flops” and declare, the “hits?”
Ewedemi: I must say that the social media is bringing people together and generating discussions around the industry. In Africa it takes you over two hours to download a song from the internet . . . and 90% of the populations cannot afford to stay that long on the internet to download a song. We still rely on radio and TV to determine hits.
Ms. Uduak: Thank you Wale Ewedemi and congrats on your award and also having the foresight to build a Music Industry Association.
Ewedemi: Anytime . . . thanks for caring enough to want to know the issues from an insider.