East African Music Bloc: A Strategy to Counter Nigerian Dominance

AFrican Music

At age 12, very few boys possess the gift and the patience to peruse more than three paragraphs of a daily newspaper’s Page 2 without succumbing to the allure of rushing to that newspaper’s entertainment pullout that’s always in the middle, to gaze at a Sheebah Karungi or Winnie Nwagi performance story or either a half-naked picture, swiftly followed by a quick scan of the sports section at the hind, often accompanied by a tired sigh, relegating the rest of the newspaper content to insignificance and rendering it to a less important use as that of toilet or charcoal stove work.

My soul collapses in the hands of disappointment when I see newspapers used to wrap foodstuffs in market stalls or burned. That smoke would burn my lungs worse than smoked tobacco. My heart sobs when volumes of information, itself possessing the potential to change their lives are underappreciated to these degrees. No longer can you find a lad who knows what Sudoku is!

Fortunately, I did not fall into that category of boys when I clocked 12. My father, whenever he bought a newspaper, graciously permitted me to read it end to end and then assigned me the esteemed duty of recounting the news stories each morning to him as he sipped on his tea and ate his peppered plantain (sometimes steam was engendered out of his mouth and tears welled in his eyes when the plantain was unusually hot). This responsibility was a privilege; for in my eyes, my father lived in the holy of holies of the Jewish Temple! It is such practice that made me fall flat in love with Deutschland Magazine.

Deutschland was a very thick monthly volume of a magazine that was sent to my Uncle Willy by God-knows-which-friend-in-Germany through the post address of my father. Uncle Willy was my father’s younger brother. But he never came around often and his Deutschland magazine copies eventually developed into a mountain in my father’s library. I gave these magazines the dedication that neither my father, Uncle Willy, nor any of my siblings could afford for them. Deutschland Magazine was a treasure trove of profound insights into Germany, chronicling its struggle-filled journey through history in the realms of culture, commerce, politics, and climate, all approached with a seriousness that resonated too deeply for a 12-year-old to grasp. It portrayed Germany as operating in a seemingly self-centered manner, prioritizing its interests over those of other European nations, even if it entailed forming alliances to advance its agenda.

But let’s now get back home. To Uganda. To Africa.

The Nigerian music industry’s ascendancy as a dominant force within the African music landscape has had profound, largely negative implications for the music industries of other African nations. The impact of this tendency is something Deutschland Magazine would have gladly featured in its pages. Why? Because this trend is being strongly felt across the globe; even in Germany. It reminds us of the Nigerian film industry’s influence in the 1990s.

You see in the 1990s, the Nigerian film industry, led by prolific filmmakers like Tunde Kelani and Amaka Igwe, and others gained widespread acclaim across Africa. This era saw Nigerian films becoming synonymous with African cinema, leading to the misconception that all African films originated from Nigeria.

Fast forward to the present day, a parallel storyline unfolds within the music industry. Renowned Nigerian artists such as Burna Boy, Davido, Asake, Tems, Ayra Star, and Wizkid have propelled Afrobeats to unprecedented global recognition. This genre has surged to prominence on esteemed platforms like the Billboard charts, marked by significant collaborations with international icons such as Chris Brown, Justin Bieber, Ed Sheeran, Tyga, and Sean Paul. Their presence at prestigious events like the BET Awards, coupled with Grammy nominations and victories, underscores the unparalleled success achieved by Nigerian musicians. Remarkably, no other African nation has achieved such widespread acclaim, surpassing even South Africa in this musical realm. In a remarkable display of creativity and cunning influence, Nigerian artists have adopted Amapiano, a music style originating from South Africa, blending it with Afrobeats and calling it their own. This fusion has propelled Amapiano into a global phenomenon, solidifying its status as a sound that transcends borders and captivates audiences worldwide. This is good and bad.

Numerous African nations have found themselves eclipsed by the overwhelming influence of Nigeria’s music exports. To ensure the survival and vitality of each country’s music industry amidst this dominance, every nation must devise distinctive strategies to combat the threat of extinction.

Uganda, in particular, should chart a unique path in this endeavor which is wholeheartedly embracing the long-standing pursuit of the East African Community’s (EAC) East African Federation whereby they will have to utilize the pursuits of politicians to form unions not only in oil & gas, trade, tourism and other unions but also in the unison production and exportation of quality music. The music industry in Uganda, much like in many other African countries, faces the challenge of maintaining its identity and relevance in the shadow of Nigerian musical prowess.

By actively participating in the EAC’s vision of a unified East African Federation, Uganda can carve out a distinct niche for itself within the regional and global music landscape.

East African artists should prioritize collaborations within the region to strengthen their collective presence. This involves artists from Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, and South Sudan actively working together on music projects, whether it’s singles, albums, or even joint tours. East African artists should refrain from seeking any collaborations with Nigerian artists (at least for now), as West African musicians typically do not invest significant effort in promoting joint projects with non-West African artists.

Instead, when these intra-East African collaborations gain substantial visibility across the continent, the artists should take the next strategic step, which is to purposefully seek out collaborations with musicians from the United States and European regions, and record audios and videos produced by talent from these global hubs.

By integrating with these leading musical states, East African artists will find themselves competing side-by-side for worldwide acclaim against the Nigerians. This is a political tactic of forging a supportive alliance with one with whom you share a common goal.

By growing together, the artists can then collectively push each other’s export products to foreign markets, rather than competing against one another as East Africans.

This approach allows the East African music industry to break free from the shadow of Nigerian dominance, cultivating a distinct identity and global presence. Through strategic collaborations that transcend regional boundaries, East African artists can position themselves for sustained success on the international stage. And I have christened this model the East African Music bloc.

The Ugandan government has a role to play in championing this. On top of what is going on in the corridors of parliament concerning the copyright law pursuit, Government support and policy interventions here are needed too. The government’s voice is what will be listened to by EAC member state leaders, only who can give a go-ahead to the East African Music bloc. The government also has a role to lobby for favorable tax incentives and regulatory frameworks that empower artists and incentivize investment in music production and distribution infrastructure as well as directly contributing to a pool of funds put together by the member states of the EAC to export our music.

The West Coast and East Coast wars of the United States need to be created even here. Our music must survive. Even by crooked ways. Germany did it. Au revoir.

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Mwesigwa Joshua
Mwesigwa Joshua Buxton is an artiste, humor columnist, strategist writer and journalist who draws inspiration from the works of Barbara Kimenye, Timothy Bukumunhe, and Tom Rush. He focuses on writing on entertainment. His background includes collaboration with the Eastern Voice FM newsroom.
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