African music has only the next three years to capitalize off the western market before people’s attention drift said music producer Rab Bakari to an audience at Social Media Week Lagos.

Rab Bakari spoke on the panel “Afro-Beats Abroad: Western Perceptions & Why We Should Care,” as part of the #SMWMusicAfrica conference.

Topics included copyright law, finance in the music industry, and the business of touring.

Afrobeat panel

The Afrobeat panel included Ngozi Odita, executive director of SMW Lagos; Catherine Luckhoff, CEO of HQAfrica; Rab Bakari, founder of Rabsworld and Briant Biggs, director of mobile strategy at Roc Nation. It was moderated by Tolu “Toolz” Oniru (far left).

While Bakari believed musicians on the continent had a limited time to tap into the western market, other speakers disagreed.

“I think the music is only going to grow,” said Briant Biggs, director of mobile strategy at Roc Nation, an entertainment company founded by Jay-Z.

Biggs said African musicians who do want to collaborate with western artists should focus on developing their audience and brand at home.

Ngozi Odita, executive director of Social Media Week Lagos, said audiences are looking for something new in music and Afro-beat can provide that outlet. She said musicians in Africa serve as cultural ambassadors for those who are curious about the continent. And that curiosity is only going to grow. Whether it’s music or fashion, Odita said these cultural ambassadors challenge stereotypes of AIDS-stricken Africa.

She further said that artists don’t need the West to distribute their music. Artists in Nigeria have figured out how to do that for years. But she did offer advice if a musician does wish to collaborate with western musicians and labels.

“Branding and packaging are important in the West,” she said. She asked musicians to think about how their website looks and are they using tools like SoundCloud to feature their music.

“There are so many cheap tools out there to build a website.” She said lack of money can be a hindrance but it’s not an excuse.

She also said that you have to make your story relevant to international markets. She recalled a time when she was doing public relations work and tried to get the New York Times interested in the artist D’banj, one of the continent’s most famous stars.

“They never heard of him before but when I said he’s like Michael Jackson, he can fill a stadium of 50,000 that’s when they became interested,” she said.

“Outside of Africa, no one knows who you are,” she said artists need to keep in mind when approaching international collaborations.

The panel was sponsored by The Beat 99.9FM and Billboard Music.


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