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How Nigerian Pop Music Is Attracting Global Attention And Money

One of the biggest exports coming out of Nigeria right now is music, with Afrobeats stars such as Davido and Wizkid making it big on the international stage.

It's no surprise that global music giant Universal Music Group (UMG) has expanded its tentacles and set up a new venture in Nigeria.

The world's largest music firm is home to many popular international artists, including Drake, Eminem, Kanye West, Rihanna and Taylor Swift. 

It also has record labels like Def Jam Recordings, Island UK, EMI and Cash Money Records.

Nigerian music is permeating playlists across the world, and its stars have a huge fan base. 

Last month, Davido performed in front of thousands at the Wireless Music Festival in London and is due to embark on a US tour later this month. 

And Wizkid made history last year by being the first Nigerian solo act to have a sold-out show at London's iconic Royal Albert Hall. 

Universal Music Nigeria's new general manager, Ezegozie Eze Jr, says there is "no better time to invest" in the West African state.

"The talent on ground is burgeoning and blooming and the international market is yearning for more," he told the BBC.

"The strategy is to take West Africa, and African music in general, to the world. "

The company already has an existing establishment in South Africa, has set up an office in Ivory Coast and has bought Kenya record label AI Records. 

"Our presence in the market also means that the doors are now open for partnerships, collaborations and opportunities for our talent, both in Nigeria and across all other markets we operate in," Mr. Eze says.

So far Universal Music Nigeria has signed Nigerian artists WurlD, Odunsi the Engine, Tay Iwar, and award-winning Ghanaian artist Stonebwoy. 

In partnership with other UMG labels, Nigerian artist Tekno and Tanzanian singer Vanessa Mdee are also on their books.

UMG's arrival has created a buzz in the music industry in Nigeria.

Beyond this, there's also the financial value of their investment.

Music pundit Ayomide Tayo, from Pulse Nigeria, says both the company and Nigeria's entertainment scene will benefit.

"It shows that it's profitable as a business to invest in a Nigerian brand or Nigerian artiste," he says.

"It's also a big deal because it brings jobs to us."

Nigeria's entertainment and media market is the fastest-expanding major market globally

And the country's music industry is one of the biggest in Africa.

The revenue generated from music in 2016 was $39m, a 9% increase from the previous year, according to a PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) report.

It also suggested that the industry should expect an annual growth rate of 13.4% in 2021 to reach $73m. 

Despite the global recognition, the industry still has challenges.

Pirated music on blogs, the illegal sale of CDs on the streets, and the legal structure around contracts and records are big issues. Artists lose millions of naira, the local currency, as a result of the illegal distribution of CDs. 

Some, like Akinyemi Ayinoluwa, who specializes in entertainment law, feels the arrival of Universal Music Nigeria will help fight this.

"I believe they can bring global best practices down to Nigeria. It is a smaller world in 2018. The biggest acts/talents are global, traversing far-flung parts of the world, forging ties with different business executives and companies," he told the BBC.

However, its presence has not led to a solution to piracy.

For Tayo this is because local players still have a major part to play.

"It's time for local players to collaborate, merge if necessary and create a structure that will favor all parties - not only the artists but people at the back end also: the engineers, the mixers, the managers, the producers," he says.

"It's high time we get our acts right, but we shouldn't wait for UMG, hopefully this should trigger it."

Mr. Eze is optimistic about such challenges, saying the company will work with local regulators and others to tackle them.

It is this attitude that many hope will lead to an acceleration of the professionalism in Nigeria's music industry.

Art World Spotlight Is On Africa

Things are suddenly moving fast in Africa’s art market. After a decade in which Bonhams had Africa to itself – the only international fine art auction house holding sales of African Art in London and New York – there are now suddenly three other international auction houses in the field besides Bonhams.

Pontus Silfverstolpe, co-founder of Barnebys, the world’s leading art and auction search engine, says: “Now the world’s leading auction houses have taken notice of all this new interest in African art and have taken the plunge. Suddenly we have a new scramble for Africa, and this time it’s about art.”

Barneby’s echoes CNN’s findings on this market. CNN recently reported that values in African Art had grown between fivefold and tenfold in the last decade. CNN says: “You'd be hard pressed to find a man who has witnessed the rise in recognition and value of African art better than Prince Yemisi Shyllon, who is reported to be Nigeria's largest private art collector. Then Prince says: "When I started collecting art as an undergraduate at University in the mid 1970s, it had virtually no value," he told CNN. "You could buy a piece of good art for 20,000 Naira [about $100 at current conversion rates]. Today it would sell for millions."

Not surprisingly Sotheby’s has now set up a Contemporary African Art Department and is set to hold a first sale next year.
Christie’s are holding an exhibition of a South African sculptor in London.  Stanislaw Trzebinski has been invited to participate in a collaborative exhibition between Christie's and the South African Southern Guild Gallery. The exhibition will showcase some of South Africa's top designers and artists at Christie's in London this coming October.

And in January this year Phillips sent Arnold Lehman, former director of the Brooklyn Museum, to do a recce in South Africa for them. His visit generated a great deal of media attention.

South Africa’s strongest home based auction house, Strauss & Co, was headed by the legendary Stefan Welz, who died this year. So the home team is having to scramble to meet the new threat from abroad: four hungry international auction houses.

All of this new interest and energy is creating huge excitement in the two countries, South Africa and Nigeria, whose art dominates auction sales abroad featuring the work of African artists. But the ripple effect is being felt in all of Africa’s 54 sovereign states, says Silfverstolpe.

El Anatsui – Diaspora 2012 - Bottletop Tapestry

How and why this sudden attention on Africa? The answer is in part that Bonhams who have led the way and established an international market for contemporary African art, have been breaking world records for a decade. The work of the late Irma Stern – South Africa’s leading artist – would have commanded prices in the hundreds of thousands of pounds ten years ago; now her work is making millions. Her painting Arab Priest made £3.1m at a Bonhams sale a few years ago, bought by the Government of Qatar. And this dramatic rise in prices has been seen too with work from Jacobus Hendrik Pierneef, Gerard Sekoto and William Kentridge.  The Ghanaian-born, Nigeria based Professor El Anatsui dominates prices in north Africa. His bottletop tapestries command £1m-plus figures in London and New York

Giles Peppiatt of Bonhams holds eight of the ten world records for South African art. He says of the African phenomenon: “The fact is that modern and contemporary African art is today one of the hottest properties on the art block. Africa is the new China when it comes to art. When the Tate, the Smithsonian and other similar institutions start putting on exhibitions of Contemporary African Art, then one knows that something strange and wonderful has occurred and that real change is in the air.”

Picasso and many of his contemporary artists saw in Africa the wellsprings of their own creative drive. They acknowledged Africa’s creative genius and their work pays homage and tribute to it. Now the African artists are claiming for themselves some of that acclaim and some of the kinds of sums earned by those master artists whose names are household words. 
In London and New York, the Africa 1:54 Contemporary Art Fair has also added to the buzz with galleries from the Continent exhibiting some of the best new work to come out of the Continent.

Pontus Silfverstolpe concludes: “A new day is dawning in Africa which will secure for its artists the kind of recognition, respect and prices which their fellow artist elsewhere can command.”


New Film's Attempt To Change The Somali Stereotype In America

In the largest Somali-American community in the US, residents say they are only portrayed on film as terrorists, pirates and soldiers. A new film tries to challenge those stereotypes.

When independent film director Musa Syeed began travelling from his home in New York City to the heart of the Somali community in Minneapolis, Minnesota, he started to hear a recurring complaint.

"You'll see news cameras come in and set up on the soccer field and shoot something without permission," Syeed says local teenagers told him. The shots would wind up in a piece about terrorism.

"There was a lot of distrust in media and the way their images have been used."

As a Muslim of Kashmiri descent who grew up in a small town in Indiana, Syeed was used to being a "hyper-visible" minority in a majority Caucasian place.

He first got interested in Somali culture when a few families moved to his community.

And Syeed noticed how they were treated differently not only for being Muslim, but for being black.

As an adult, he saw those same struggles playing out in Minnesota, which is overwhelmingly white but also home to the largest Somali population in North America.

Not only do Minnesotan Somalis deal with the fact that they are in the religious and racial minority, they are also the focus of the federal government's war on terror.

The FBI says that of the 30,000 Somalis living in the region, at least 20 Somali men and women have successfully travelled abroad from Minnesota to join IS since 2014.

Another nine have been charged for attempting to join IS, and the ensuing trial for three of the men created a frenzy of national media attention.

As a result, the rest of the community feels increasingly maligned and marginalized.

"When I was growing up, people were saying ignorant things every once in a while, small-time bullying," says Syeed. "But for [Somali-Americans] it's a different sort of structural, systemic discrimination."

Somalis in Minnesota have already faced backlash, from an attack on a woman in a restaurant for speaking Swahili, to the circuit of anti-Islamic speakers who travel the state warning that refugees like Somalis or Syrians will someday attack a local city.

In another Midwestern state, Kansas, three men were recently arrested for plotting to bomb an apartment complex with a high Somali population in Garden City.

Beginning in January 2015, Syeed started visiting the heavily Somali-populated neighborhood of Cedar-Riverside in Minneapolis, hoping to make a coming-of-age film about growing up Muslim in the American Midwest.

He went to prayers at the local mosque, to community dinners, to art shows.

He gave a filmmaking workshop for local teenagers.

Ifrah Mansour, an actress, playwright and artist, is used to turning down requests from writers or journalists who want to use her as a gateway into the community.

"They're not interested in sort of developing the work with sort of the cultural knowledge, the know-how that an individual from the community has," she says.

Syeed was different.

"Musa was interested in telling the Somali narrative with Somalis," she says.

Syeed's film, A Stray, tells the story of a Somali teenager named Adan - played by Barkhad Abdirahman - growing up in Minneapolis.

Adan lost his father in the war in Somalia, and his mother has kicked him out of their apartment for stealing her jewelry. "You're a Somali and a Muslim, no one's gonna hire you," one of Adan friend’s muses at one point in the film.

Unemployment in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood is estimated at 17.5%, compared with 4% citywide. The teenager inadvertently becomes the caretaker for a stray dog named Layla.

Many Muslims believe keeping a dog is forbidden - in the film, taking in Layla costs Adan a job as well as his temporary home sleeping in the basement of his mosque.

The film debuted at South by Southwest, then Syeed returned to Cedar-Riverside and screened the finished product at a local community center.

The majority of the dialogue is in Somali, with English subtitles.

Syeed wrote the script in English and allowed his actors to translate their lines into Somali, which led to some improvising as well as jokes and cultural references that only a person from the Somali culture would understand.

"To watch it with Somali people and finally laugh at these jokes in Somali... it felt like the film was for us," says Mansour, who also had a small role.

Compare that reaction with the one a new HBO series got when it came to shoot its pilot episode this fall.

According to Abdi Mohamed, a community activist and aspiring filmmaker, rumors that the project was called The Recruiters fueled concern that the community would only be portrayed as extremists.

The real name of the series is Mogadishu, Minnesota, the brainchild of Somali-Canadian rapper K'naan.

While K'naan says his goal is to portray the lives of immigrant families, he was essentially driven off-stage at a block party in Minneapolis by protesters holding signs that read, "Stop Exploiting the Somali Community".

Residents of a housing complex with a high proportion of Somali residents unanimously voted to reject HBO's application to film parts of the series there.

Mohamed says the growing youth movement in the Somali community draws a direct connection between the portrayal of Minnesota's Somalis and discrimination.

They don't want to see their culture's representation on the big screen limited to terrorists and pirates - the Tom Hanks film Captain Phillips cast many of its pirates in Minneapolis.

"All these reports in the news, people think to themselves, 'The Somali community is very isolated, they're not adapting,' which is far from the truth," he says.

"What Musa Syeed did, he went into the community. He talked to people here.

"He made it a story about a young Somali man with very relatable issues, very relatable things he was going through."

Syeed's film does not completely ignore the issue of terrorism - an FBI agent seems to be lurking at every turn, hoping to turn Adan into an informant.

But by showing life for refugees in Minnesota as nuanced, troubled but also beautiful, Syeed hopes it will encourage more people to interact with the community.

"Some people in Minnesota have this idea that [Somali] communities are no-go zones or you're not welcome there," says Syeed.

"People in the Twin Cities should explore and go have dinner at Somali restaurant or go visit a mosque... if people want to make that sincere connection, there's ways to do that."

The film is currently screening in New York and Minneapolis, then it will head to London's Film Africa festival. 



From where we stood, earth was a magical gem and most wondrously primitive. And that was until…like every good story told must have a perfect antagonist…man. I chose my cloak, and it informed where I would be planted. The most exotic cloak yes! Black, woman and Yoruba. It led me to an understanding that all cloaks are exotic, mine just suits my personality.

I bid farewell to Orun meni tomala, till we meet again we embraced and parted. Now, in an earth world with very many worlds within It’s world, I work my work in a strange land called my home Nigeria, experiencing Her lands and Her peoples. My arrival was in the year 1975, the place I would call home was a young child aspiring to govern itself and remain free from colonial masters. It has been 38 earth years since I got here and this hopeful child underdeveloped into an intellectually immature, self-destructive being that puts shame to shame. Famous for Its corruption-gangrene eating into Its every existing fiber at the most diabolical speed, it remains my greatest challenge, to stay or to leave. I choose to stay because I am not done experiencing who I am not!

As I work my work, I learn the earth name for what I do is called Art and I, an artist. I am introduced to another world called the art world. Like the bigger world the art world mimics, it has its economics, politics, leaders, king makers, producers, consumers, technological influences, plenty sense and plenty nonsense. The most humorous part of this world is the smoke and mirrors conjured by magicians. I stop laughing when the magicians gained illusive powers to decide what Art should be and should not be. As I withdraw my involvement, I am labeled an outsider and made synonymous with ‘difficult’. Soon when the smoke clears we will learn that what is will always be. So to the magicians I salute with my middle finger. This is a greeting habit I have picked up here and must leave behind on my return to mother ship.

The greatest pleasure I find here is discovering other artists who have visited this strange blue planet and many who are still here. I am also influenced by stories of Yoruba ancestors. I have been directed by the works and personalities of giants like David Dale, Bruce Onabrakpeya, Nike Monica Davies and great Susanna Wenger who have left a distinct trail within the Nigerian soil. Lately, Anslem Kieffer, Antony Gormley, Ai Wei Wei, Motohiko Odani and colossal Do Ho Suh have encouraged me to extend and exert myself the more, for there is still so much to do, many more artists to experience. I am not done living to my fullest potential, I have only dug half a foot into the six feet I am permitted. Now I must dig faster, my cloak is getting older, do not ask me why I’m in a hurry, I have work to do.

Lastly and humbly, if you find my artist’s statement not acceptable with regards to the standard of the art world do excuse me, I am but an alien addicted to the taste of freedom, who knows not better, tired of pretentious artist’s statements.

Peju Alatise is a current Museum Fellow of the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, Washington DC
Peju Alatise, born 1975, is a mixed-medium artist and a writer with educational background in architecture. She has practiced as a studio artist for thirteen years alongside renovating buildings and publishing 2 fiction novels. Peju in the past has done a lot of artwork on women as subject matter, capturing the joys and pains of womanhood as experienced here in Modern-Life-African traditions with their consequences. Her subject matter has evolved with her continued experiences moving her focus from advocating the equal rights of women to politics and philosophical inclination. Peju resides in her home country Nigeria.