While Afropop readers and listeners have been in the know for three decades now, the rest of the world is catching up on the hottest music on the planet—including, it seems, one of the biggest music labels. Over the last two weeks, Universal Music Group has launched a strategic division to discover and support local music talent in French-speaking West Africa, and announced a new office under the Universal Music Nigeria brand in Lagos.
Moussa Soumbounou, a music industry executive and promoter, is the managing director who will “operate from a new Universal Music Africa (UMA) office in Abidjan (Côte d’Ivoire) and covering Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cape Verde, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Congo (Brazzaville), Congo (Kinshasa), Côte d’Ivoire, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Madagascar, Mali, Niger, São Tome and Principe, Senegal, Seychelles and Togo,” according to Music Business Worldwide.
In Lagos, Ezegozie Eze Jr., will act as general manager of the UMG subsidiary that looks to continue an already-observed trend.
“In recent years there has been an increase in visibility of Nigerian and Ghanaian music and its influence on contemporary music around the world,” said Sipho Dlamini, Universal Music South Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa’s director. “Eze and his team are perfectly placed to support, nurture and help develop artists and musicians from the region, whilst creating opportunities for new talent from the region to reach the widest possible audience.”
It seems rare to hear about the music industry doing anything other than dying lately, so this news has the Afropop office cautiously optimistic. While independent labels do a great job, having the backing of a gigantic international corporation has the potential to get releases into more hands and could help unravel the complexities of touring internationally. Being staffed by Africans in Africa, one hopes, means that the music won’t be selected for perceived palatability by Western audiences. Time alone will tell.