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The Business of Music is our Business

Kizito Okechukwu

Kizito Okechukwu | May 10, 2024

Photo: Vocalist and saxophonist Amber Navran of the American neo-soul/jazz group performing at the Cape Town International Jazz festival on Saturday night in a packed Kippies venue at the Cape Town International Convention Centre. Picture: Ian Landsberg/ Independent Media.

Reflecting on my own musical journey, the nuns and priests made us sing our lungs out in early days of school. I always believed I was a good singer, but my music teacher said that I frequently switched – without warning – from tenor to bass or soprano.

In school, I decided to try the Djembe (drums) after my fate was dashed on the singing part and I thought I was pretty good at it. I spanked those Bongos relentlessly! Alas, leaving school and forgetting those skills after many years has made my drumbeats clumsy and totally uncoordinated. I recall that during one of our music lessons in school, our principal (a catholic priest) noticed I was not paying much attention to the music lessons. I was punished by him forcing me to learn the full version of the Latin song ‘Vidi Aquam’ within three hours and then recite the song to him. Failure to do so would have led to my suspension.

Enough about my doomed and meandering musical past. Last week, I attended the Joe Thomas concert, (actually it’s Joe concert, because when I told a mate that I was going to a Joe Thomas concert, he made sure I never say Joe Thomas, but just Joe). The only track of his that I knew well was his famous “I wanna know….it’s amazing how you knock me off my feet”. What a show! He pulled out all the stops at a sold-out vibrant performance, which saw both young and old, of all creeds and cultures, dancing their feet off. I guess R&B genre still got its ‘mojo’.

A few days later after Joe’s concert, I found myself at the Cape Town jazz festival. First, I tried to figure out who most of the artists on the line-up were. I always naively assumed that I would make a great jazz muso because I had a great melodic singing voice and jazz musicians are epitome of what am made of – switching from tenor to bass to soprano. But in truth, the reality is that there’s so much art and craft that goes into jazz singing – I’ll bet even when they burp, they do it in perfect harmony which I cannot dare to coordinate.

From the Kokoroko music group and Yussef Dayes from the UK, to our local stars Thandi Ntuli, Zoe Modiga and Judith Sephuma, to Moonchild from the US and many more, the jazz fest was a show that many of us were glad to have returned after a four year hiatus. I was surprised to see that Moonchild was a group. I always thought it was a person.

After the weekend watching all these great talented musos, I started thinking about the value chain of the music industry. From the songwriters, record labels and producers, to the artists and promoters, the industry is a vast and diverse environment that also brings a wide variety of stakeholders together, not to mention the live performances, royalties and the streaming and digital platforms used to distribute music. It’s an industry that continues to unite and inspire on a global scale but also generate millions of jobs.

The entrepreneurship ecosystem sometimes neglects – or is hesitant to – interact with this industry because of the celebrity status that comes with it, but it’s an environment rife with boundless opportunities and undoubtedly one of the most lucrative in the world – and it’s not going anywhere! The global recorded music industry was worth USD$28.8billion in 2023 according to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry annual report with Sub-Saharan Africa recording the second fastest growing region in world led by South Africa and Nigeria. The hip-hop and R&B genres still dominate the industry but there are new genres that are proving to become a force in the industry. This includes the Afrobeats which the Nigerian music industry is arguably leading and Amapiano which first started in South Africa but has now resonated with music lovers all over the world.

In general, the creative industry, not just the music industry presents untapped potential to leverage this industry to drive job creation for a lot of young people. Creative sector like the gaming industry have shown huge potential and there is massive opportunity to leverage this to address Africa’s unemployment challenges.

The saying that “the power of music is the universal language” really rang true for me for this past week and it’s a realisation that the business of music is our business.

Kizito Okechukwu is the Executive Head of 22 On Sloane and co-Chair of the Global Entrepreneurship Network (GEN) Africa.

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