Last week Thursday, Warner Music Group and Nigeria’s Chocolate City Record Label announced an “innovative (partnership) deal”. You can read the press statement below but before you do, here are my thoughts on the deal:
1. Nigeria’s music industry has been open for business for a long time, and this partnership deal reaffirms the obvious. As I have said before, music follows the money and right now, all roads lead to Nigeria, and the African continent at large. It is no surprise, therefore, that the likes of Sony, Universal, Spotify, Tidal, Warner, etc. have done what I predicted on the blog, years ago, that they would i.e. make Africa a focal point in maximizing shareholder profits.
2. Chocolate City has been trying to secure a deal like this with diverse partners over the years. It is good to see them finally find a relationship that they deem a fit.
3. The deal tells us nothing really and uses the vague terms we have seen over the years in similar announcements where western brands team up with African entertainment brands. To be more specific, Warner claims, “The partnership will dramatically grow the reach of African artists around the world, and will create new opportunities for global superstars in the region.” What does that mean? How does it “dramatically” “grow the reach” of African artists? What new opportunities are there for how many global African stars? These statements are in my view painted with such broad strokes and when truly drilled down with a look at the realities of the current marketplace, appear exaggerated. Warner just signed a licensing deal with Boomplay in Africa to stream Warner’s catalog of over 1 million songs to users in 10 African countries, including Nigeria. Is it really trying to “dramatically” grow the reach of African artists when it appears its focus is on its western catalog?
4. I note the press statement does that all too familiar historical re-routing of partnerships by major western brands with African brands to its African division. The spokesperson for this deal is a Warner Africa/Middle East/European executive, not an American executive. Again, we’ve seen this script too numerous times to count and often it means the western brand needs the local African partner more so than the other way around, usually to access the very large and growing consumer youth population.
This is not a bad thing per se, except that the Africans doing business with them generally want the recognition and penetration in mainstream western music markets, particularly America. Ultimately, despite all the pageantry and news reporting that goes with it, the end result is often an outcome that yields no true advancement of the local African brand, or its music ecosystem. Maybe this time it will be different?
5. The above ties into my next point which is, getting into a business partnership/marriage is the easy part, albeit the courting, wooing took a minute to happen. The harder part is making the relationship work. The details of this deal are largely obscure and as it stands it reads more like a brand affiliation with a license to use each other’s tradenames and marks in each other’s markets. The relationship is yet to be tested to see whether there is indeed mutual respect and profitability for both parties, not just one party. Until that happens, it is just a signed paper, and hype, from where I sit.
6. Speaking of hype, there is a little bit of an overhype in my view, in the press statement from Warner. They call Chocolate City the “the most influential independent record label in Nigeria?” Chocolate City has made a lot of impact in Nigeria’s music industry and one that should be greatly applauded, but is it really the most influential? If yes, by what metrics? I think a little bit of caution should be used when describing and positioning African brands to the world, particularly to avoid setting them up for unrealistic expectations.
7. This is a wait and see relationship. We are in the honeymoon phase. Let’s wait and see how the relationship plays out.
In the meantime, revisit my recent roundtable discussing music streaming in Africa, and a past interview with Chocolate City’s Audu Maikori.
READ PRESS STATEMENT BELOW
Partnership Creates New Opportunities for African Talent Around the World, as well as for Global Superstars in Africa
Warner Music Group (WMG) has announced a pioneering partnership with Chocolate City, the most influential independent record label in Nigeria. The partnership will dramatically grow the reach of African artists around the world, and will create new opportunities for global superstars in the region. Chocolate City will continue to be led by Co-Founders Audu Maikori and Paul Okeugo, and EVP of Imprints, Jude Abaga, and Aibee Abidoye, EVP of Recorded Music.
Chocolate City is home to a diverse roster of local talent from various genres including: Femi Kuti, four-time Grammy-nominated son of the Afrobeat pioneer Fela; hip-hop artist and record producer M.I. Abaga, Afro beats sensation Dice Ailes, Nosa, ClassiQ, Ruby Gyang and promising new acts Blaqbonez, C Kay and Street Billionaires. In addition, Chocolate City’s catalogue includes celebrated acts such as Brymo, Ice Prince, and Jesse Jagz.
Under the terms of the proposed deal, music from these artists will join Warner Music’s repertoire, and they will receive the support of the company’s wide-ranging global expertise, including distribution and artist services via ADA – WMG’s independent label services division. The Chocolate City team will continue to develop local artists and support the management of WMG’s global superstars across Sub Saharan Africa, including a strategic, reciprocal marketing agreement with WMG South Africa. WMG will also provide financial support for Chocolate City to help achieve its mission of signing and developing the best local talent in this fast-growing market.
Audu Maikori, Group CEO of Chocolate City, comments: “At Chocolate City, we have always been passionate about discovering and developing the best talent across Africa and giving them a platform for global growth. The partnership with Warner Music Group is unique in the sense that our clients get the best of both worlds – curated and bespoke services by a highly experienced team across Africa and a dedicated global team to further push their music and their brands.”
Paul Okeugo, Group COO and President of Chocolate City, adds: “Our music is truly global and it has long been our vision to create an ecosystem through which the boundless talent in our region can be experienced across the globe – this groundbreaking partnership with WMG provides both the access, and capacity to achieve this objective. We are enthusiastic about the opportunities this partnership presents.”
Hakeem Belo-Osagie, Chairman of Chocolate City, states: “This kind of pathbreaking alliance is critical for entertainment companies in Nigeria as they begin to make an entrance unto the world stage. I congratulate the management of both WMG and Chocolate City.”
Alfonso Perez Soto, EVP, Eastern Europe, Middle East, and Africa, Warner Music, says: “The music scene in Nigeria is so rich and diverse that it’s important that we develop bespoke entrepreneurial strategies. At the same time, we’ll keep in mind the lessons learned from other emerging markets, for instance, Latin America where we successfully broke local artists globally. We have great affinity with Chocolate City’s creative and ambitious approach and we’re excited about Warner’s role in bringing to life their vision of taking their music worldwide.”
Temi Adeniji, Director, International Strategy and Operations, Warner Music, concludes: “Nigeria is one of the most exciting music markets in the world and Chocolate City’s trailblazing role in it over the years cannot be overstated. The label will provide us with valuable insight on best practices in the region, as well as on-ground expertise in scouting and developing emerging talent. Our partnership allows for a free exchange of ideas and music that will promote and support local artists, exemplifying WMG’s primary objective in determining our approach to emerging markets.”
Today’s news follows the recently announced deal for WMG’s repertoire to be distributed by local streaming service Boomplay.
Sub-Saharan Africa is an exciting emerging market for music companies. It has a largely youthful population of some 1.1 billion people with increasing access to streaming services thanks to rising smartphone penetration. At the same time, the popularity of Afrobeat and local hip-hop is surging worldwide, attracting the attention of international artists and producers.