African entertainment is booming globally. But at what cost?

29 Mar 2024

Tems, Rema and Burna Boy Credit:

‘In 2021, Afrobeats generated revenue totaling $14.5 billion, $4.4 billion, and $1.8 billion across South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya respectively’

The narrative of Afrobeats traces back to the 1960s when Nigerian music icon Fela Kuti birthed a revolutionary genre fusing West African rhythms, jazz, funk, and political activism, christened Afrobeat. Its resonance transcended Nigeria’s borders, echoing globally.

By the late 1990s, a new wave of Nigerian artists emerged, leveraging digital technology, hip hop, and dancehall to craft catchy, upbeat tunes catering to an evolving audience. Thus emerged “Afrobeats” (with an ‘s’), distinct from Fela’s Afrobeat, symbolizing a dynamic evolution of the genre.

In the 2010s, this evolved sound attained global acclaim as artists like Wizkid, Davido, Burna Boy, Tiwa Savage, among others, collaborated with international icons such as Drake, Beyoncé, Ed Sheeran, and Major Lazer.

Their music dominated global charts, setting unprecedented records. For instance, Wizkid’s historic sell-out of London’s O2 Arena in under two minutes and platinum certifications in the US underscored Afrobeats’ global ascension. This global boom infused excitement among Nigerians and Africans, signaling prospects of increased investment and development in the continent’s entertainment industry.

By 2021, international entities recognized the potential of Africa’s entertainment sector. Warner Music Group’s acquisition of a majority stake in Africori, a key African digital music distribution and artist development firm, exemplified this trend. Netflix’s substantial investments in African content from 2016 to 2022 further underscored Africa’s rising profile in global entertainment.

This trend not only spotlighted African entertainment but also drew attention to other significant African contributions in diverse sectors like sports, science, and technology. However, this global growth seemed to parallel a concerning trend of diminishing resources and opportunities for local markets.

Nigerian artists increasingly embarked on international tours, leaving the local entertainment industry at a crossroads. Events headlined by artists like Asake, Rema, and Ayra Starr in major global cities exemplified this trend.

While international tours yielded higher profits due to earnings in stronger currencies, challenges like insecurity and inadequate infrastructure plagued local endeavors. Consequently, Nigeria’s entertainment landscape witnessed a shift towards brand-sponsored events and the emergence of the “Detty December” culture, focusing on year-end festivities.

This dilemma surfaced prominently after the Headies, Africa’s premier music award show, was held in Atlanta, USA, for the second consecutive year. While initially justified as a cost-effective choice, hosting such a significant event abroad posed risks of depriving the local economy of substantial benefits like ticket sales, advertising revenue, and hospitality services.

Moreover, it risked disconnecting the local audience from the opportunity to celebrate their favorite artists in person, fostering a sense of alienation.

The African entertainment industry, comprising music and film, emerged as a formidable economic powerhouse, generating substantial revenues across South Africa, Nigeria, and Kenya.

Beyond economic metrics, the industry employed approximately one million individuals directly and indirectly, highlighting its socio-economic significance. With forecasts predicting significant revenue surges by 2026, the industry appeared poised to elevate Nigeria’s international standing, attract foreign investment, and bolster tourism.

However, concerns loomed regarding the industry’s cultural integrity and diversity, reminiscent of challenges faced by Caribbean music. The commodification and dilution of Caribbean music by foreign entities served as a cautionary tale.

The global boom in African entertainment also raised apprehensions about cultural appropriation, exemplified by instances like a Korean musician’s use of Afrobeats sound without proper credit or compensation.

Looking ahead, balancing Afrobeats’ global appeal with its local relevance remains paramount. The industry’s projected growth underscores its potential as a driver of economic prosperity and cultural diplomacy.

Safeguarding cultural authenticity, nurturing local talent, and fostering equitable partnerships will be essential in ensuring the sustainable development of Africa’s entertainment industry in the global arena. As Africa’s cultural influence continues to expand, leveraging this momentum for inclusive growth within the continent becomes imperative.