How Mohombi, a two time Grammy Award winner, is enabling Africans own their music

(This is a transcript of the podcast posted on Tuesay, August 17th, 2021. You can listen to the podcast by clicking on this link https://mansamedia.africa/the-weekly-beat-august-17-2021/)

MAGGIE MUTESI:

Good evening and welcome to yet again, another episode of The Weekly Beat by Mansa. My name is Maggie Mutesi, I’m coming to you from a Cape Verde this time round. Michael, my colleague is joining us from the U.S. Michael, how is it?

MICHAEL:

It is a pretty good day. It looks like we have some cloud cover and I expect it’s only going to get better onwards.

MAGGIE MUTESI:

And on the show today we have a very special guest joining us from Cape Verde as well. Mohombi Nzasi Moupondo, thanks for joining us.

MOHOMBI:

Hey guys, it’s a pleasure. I’m sitting here on a rooftop in the beautiful island of Mindelo, Cape Verde, and I recommend everybody who’s going to hear this special podcast to at least once in their life visit this beautiful country of Cape Verde.

MAGGIE MUTESI:

So guys, we just going to jump right into this. Mohombi and I find each other on the same island because they just launched the first floating studio in Africa, in Mindelo, which is literally bringing creatives together for partnerships, for mentorship. And it’s a first step being taken towards creating an ecosystem for musicians, for artists, for journalists, for any creatives across the continent. Mohombi, just give me an idea of how did this feel, especially being here for the past three days when it happened, what did it meant to you?

MOHOMBI:

So Maggie, very good question. Thank you. So when it comes to me, personally as an artist we get invitations to go to events and to meet with people, and as an entrepreneur, the same thing, but what I found this weekend was very unique and very special is that mix and fusion of entertainment and business, which makes the businessman who came to Mindelo this weekend to maybe sign a deal or do some prospection.

He found himself in the most, probably the most relaxed, laid back, welcoming, warm environment and with the best music in the world, basically. So we have had an amazing weekend and I’m very, very happy. And I want to thank everybody who made this happen on every level for this amazing life-changing weekends in Cape Verde.

MICHAEL:

I personally want to hear more about this event that brought together the African Union. Like Maggie mentioned, it’s very interesting to see that there is interest towards the creative industry. If you say just back five years, 10 years ago, the conversation will be very, very different. So who are the people behind it? And what are you looking at as, you know, say the bigger picture?

MOHOMBI:

So I think it’s really about cultural innovation because we, as an African people, have always been forced, I would like to even use as a word, but to our advantage in this case, we have been forced to innovate. And that is something that we do as creators, as artists, but even in the private sector from a business point of view, you always have to create and innovate. So this is definitely I believe a hub. It’s a platform that has been created. It’s Social Nation Africa.

And if you need to socialize in order to be part of it, and this is something that definitely if you don’t socialize, you’re not part of a nation. I quote Mr. Beenie man himself, who had to fly back this morning. And he was with us all weekend and he changed our lives. You know, this person came into my life and I felt like I was sometimes hearing myself speak in an older version, a more wise version of myself speaking. So we have had a really, really good time and late nights, early mornings, and the party never ends on the night and they call it a little Brazil just to give you guys a little hint of what can happen here in social sense.

MAGGIE MUTESI:

I mean on another fun side, to be honest, I found myself speaking English, Patois, is that how they call it? At some point I said, “How are you doing?” And I was thinking, “Oh, that’s what happens when you hung out with people I guess.” But nevertheless, I really want to take this away. And for me, I want to bring it to the business investment perspective of it. For a very long time there’s been a gap in terms of investments into the creative arts. And I’m going to take this and break it down that sometimes even when people talk about creatives or artists that are, “Oh, you come and do this, we’re going to give you a platform to shine.” Like, “No, no, no, no. You’re supposed to pay for this.”

When we look at the arts, for example, in America vis-a-vis in Africa and other countries, the arts in America are literally on another level. In 2019 alone, they brought in about $919 billion. That’s the value of the arts and culture in America. And they amounted to about close to 5% of the country’s GDP. Now compare that really to Africa. I don’t know. There’s still such a long way to go. Nevertheless, something like this really gives some bit of exciting, but Michael, for you, do you feel like the investors, of course, this is a big step that some investors get it to say let’s put a hub in place. Is it confident enough?

MICHAEL:

Maggie, here’s how I would look at it, right? Africa is not poor of talent. Let me put it that way. So we cannot just simply say the creative industry is not worth betting on. I want to give you an example, right? If you look at some trends that we saw as of the last two years, maybe three, most of the trends show you that African music has been growing exponentially, right? I want you to look at the likes of say Burner Boy or Wiz Kid, or say, if you go to South Africa, you have Nasty C. They’ve been setting trends and that can give investors confidence that if I put this X amount of money into this particular industry, there is fruits to reap. And you can see that now to say this from an African perspective where African investors come and put their heads together, look at how to grow the industry, I want to say it’s very exciting.

MAGGIE MUTESI:

I mean, you make a point, but it’s good to look at the economics and I guess that’s where Mohombi gets in to give us a perspective. Is it too much of dreaming to think that we will have artists that have built really big businesses or companies that have looked beyond just the music.

MOHOMBI:

So as Michael said earlier, the problem is not the talent, right? Our problem here in our continents is the infrastructure and the communication. That’s why we don’t really have what people would say, called in the Western world, an industry when it comes to music specifically, but also other cultural colleges, right? So where the talent will meet the infrastructure, that’s when we will have an industry. And what I like about these initiatives that are being created such as Social Nation and this floating hub, very symbolically, but it’s the start of something.

It’s the start of African entrepreneurs and business people who realize that we need to take ownership of our culture and our narrative. And this is the start of something great. Because in order for us to do that collectively, we need to unite. We need to meet up somewhere. People from various African countries need to meet up and exchange and realize that we are so powerful when we are together under the same roof and driving to a goal or walking or swimming in the same direction.

So this is what I believe is the start of something very good. But then there’s also another aspect when it comes to monetization, when it comes to actually capitalizing on the fact that we are 1 billion people on this continent. The way to capitalize that is to reform the rules and the laws of copyright and intellectual property because we also need to have ownership of our creativity and stop relying every time on a foreign systems and foreign structures and foreign platforms.

Today, I give you an example. The artists that we, the superstars that we have today, African global superstars that have been mentioned such as Wiz Kid, Burna Boy, Fally Ipupa, we have many, many, many, they still rely on foreign platforms. I also include myself in that. But the reason why I moved back to Africa three years ago was to also play my part in changing and making sure that we walk towards owning our own narrative. The ownership is so important.

So I created a new media platform. We’ve done a lot of lobbying with the government when it comes to reforming the intellectual property rules, the copyright rules, in order to create societies locally that can collect money so that our creative people can start living from their work and stop being beggars and instead become heroes and become models and become respected because the culture is the people. So if you want to put your people first, you should invest on your culture.

MAGGIE MUTESI:

Our colleague Dumi is joining us, also live from South Africa in Johannesburg. He came in a little bit late, but this is an exciting conversation because we’ve always talked about monetization of investment in the industry. And from what I understood clearly when you were speaking was infrastructure is important more than just creating stars on the continent. Dumi, I don’t know what you think about this.

DUMI JERE:

I think on my part, I would focus on, I’d say maybe the distribution side of things, because when you look at the continent and the major, four key markets, well, Nigeria will be in there, South Africa will be in there, Kenya would also be in there, when you look at the infrastructure and you compare it to South Africa, yes. For example Nigeria will have maybe major labels in place or publishing in place or tourism in place, but they’re all still trying to build it. Kenya would have the best technology system that when it comes to the business side of things, I would say, perhaps they probably stand out as one of the countries that is a great music distribution platform. And they seem to be doing a better job than anywhere else in Africa according to me.

So all in all, I guess what I’m trying to say is focusing on distribution would be a key game changer. When we look at music on the continent and I’m sure Mohombi will agree around the distribution platforms when we don’t have as much as we should have in the continent. But the good news is that, well, when I look at music in Africa, it’s reaching an international stage much faster as Africans call it, able to do business. So that means there’s a great opportunity for us to follow up from the business side of things.

MOHOMBI:

Yeah, I hear you. It’s very interesting what you said. And I totally agree because the fact is that if we really look at it from a macro perspective, that’s a catch 22. Because today we, as Africans, still use the references of our success based on platforms like YouTube and Spotify that don’t necessarily monetize all the countries in Africa. There’s so many countries, hundreds of millions of people that watch YouTube every day, but they don’t count when it comes to monetization because the agreements haven’t been made yet. And it’S probably going to take some time. So this being said, we still today don’t have our own platforms the way we can control and we can plug.

So instead of saying, “Guys, I would love you to listen to my music and let me give you guys my personal experience.” It doesn’t make sense for my artists, but I take, for example, Lumino was an artist in the DRC that I developed. It doesn’t make sense for him to post on Instagram and tell his fans to go and listen to his song on Spotify because number one, you cannot open a Spotify account from the DRC today. And DRC counts a hundred million people in population. The potential is huge. So it will make sense for him to tell people go on to listen to Muska my new single is coming out and guys show me your support, show me your love, because not only is it going to monetize from every stream, but he’s going to give his fans a sense of ownership. This is ours and this is something we really need to do on every level, every country.

I think this is something we need to encourage and support. And this is the reason why I’m here this weekend. I mean, there lots of support for this type of initiatives, because I definitely see this thing growing and becoming the network, the platform, the ecosystem that we need in the entertainment industry in Africa.

MICHAEL:

Mohombi, let’s assume I’m an artist and I wanted to work with this particular platform that you’re working with. How do you sway me? How do you get me into being on Muska instead of going with what we are kind of programmed to work with, Amazon Music, Spotify, all these big names?

MOHOMBI:

So what I’m trying to say is that you should have your music everywhere. Of course, I mean, it’s included, it’s not exclusivity. This is inclusivity because we all need to be part of this ecosystem. To register, to subscribe, to upload your music, it’s very, very easy. And we are developing a mechanism that’s even going to make it super easy that there won’t be any human involved because everything is going to be digitalized. You just upload your music, you get the codes that you need to get in. That’s also are connected to the global recording because every song has an identity code, right?

So all of this is something we need to. I mean, today it’s just sending an email, getting in touch and you go on the website, everything is there. It’s very, very simple and it doesn’t cost anything. We’re just happy to get your music on board on the platform. And then you do your marketing for your people. And then there are some artists, some projects, if we feel that we have a certain attachment to it or a certain preference, we can finance the digital marketing, we can finance the development of the project at all different levels depending on its case to case. But yeah, that’s what we do at Muska.

MICHAEL:

That sounds pretty interesting to me.

MOHOMBI:

So we have 50 million songs online. We have the license with the universals. We have both international content, but also local content.

MAGGIE MUTESI:

For a very long time, even in Africa, And for me I’m coming from a policy level, even when governments do budgets or put their priorities, never have we seen them saying, “We’re going to focus on arts. We’re going to try to push for art, for culture or for creatives.” This is not something that we have taken really serious, but it feels like the infrastructure is more important than even having this pass. This is for me how I’m actually getting this. And the infrastructure can only happen if we have investors putting in the money because I’m assuming all of this too requires really huge investments to be able to create such platforms.

DUMI JERE:

Hmmm.

MOHOMBI:

Slowly but surely we will get there Maggie. I promise. We have to.

MAGGIE MUTESI:

Dumi, I hear you say hmmm because you come from South Africa.

DUMI JERE:

Ahaa.

MOHOMBI:

Let me tell you a story about the ahaa part.

DUMI JERE:

On the advice of counsel I’m going to invoke my Fifth Amendment.

MOHOMBI:

Ahaa, I have a funny story. It’s the elevator story. I was in Kigali for the African Basketball League awards and I was staying at the hotel and I walk into the elevator and I see this beautiful African woman looking at herself in the mirror. As she was facing me I walk in and I say, “Hi, good morning.” She turned around and looked at me. She was like “Ahaa.” I said, “Good morning.” She said, “Ahaa.” And then I look at her and I answer, “Ahaa.” You don’t have to say anything more than that. You said verything that is African magic, African magic.

MAGGIE MUTESI:

I think we’re running out of time. Anyway, Mohombi thanks a lot for joining us. But as we wind this up, it’s important to look into the future to see where we are heading, what the priorities are. And I just wanted to bring you in to give us your last toast before you leave.

MOHOMBI:

First of all, I want to thank you guys for this invitation. It’s been a pleasure. It’s always very enriching and enlightening to speak about these things because I’m very passionate and it’s my industry. I was born into, I was born to make music and to create. I would really like as a songwriter that I am to have had many, many billboard hits for other artists that have written and composed. What I’m trying to get at is this, I dream of an Africa where I can register myself to an African songwriting society where I can have my eyes closed and trust the fact that all my royalties are going to be collected the right way. They’re going to be distributed the right way. And that I can really feel proud to belong to an African owned ecosystem as an African creator that I am.

So this is a life mission that I have given myself and I will not give up until my last breath. And things are moving rapidly. We are entering into a technological revolution and that Africa is part of like any other continent on the same level. And this is the beauty about it. We have a clean slide. We can have a fresh start. We can do things our way, we can think our future and we can manifest it and create it together. This is my passion. This is my dream. And yeah, thank you so much for this good talk.

MAGGIE MUTESI:

Thanks. Dumi, as we wind up?

DUMI JERE:

So I’m very excited Mohombi about the kind of initiatives that you’re doing outside just of singing, but also looking at let’s call it the business side of things, how to get the music more out there. Africa is going to become a power house definitely. I mean, obviously, because the target market is close to 500 million people across the continent who own smartphones and across countries. And that is a critical mass that makes the financial opportunities enough to build a business around the business of music. And so African solutions, I’ve always preached about African solutions to African problems. So when you’re mentioning about Spotify not playing in DRC, it’s the same thing in say, Zimbabwe and Malawi or any of those countries. And at the end of the day, we’ve got to come up with stuff that is going to cater to our content.

So the product offering is particular to the continent. It’s just a matter of transcending above the different spaces or the different places, or just rather than just the differences and create something that applies to the rest of the continent. So I’m excited about the plans that you have. And I really, really look forward to hearing more and supporting more. The onus is on us at the end of the day to develop Africa, to get them to look at ways in which we make calculated business decisions and hopefully to train the next generation of potential music business execs.

MOHOMBI:

Yes. Thank you so much, much appreciated.

MAGGIE MUTESI:

Michael as we wind up.

MICHAEL:

When I look at the Mansa Floating Hub and Muska, I relate to that too, in a sense. I have a lot of friends who are artists, make music, and it’s very hard for them to even get their music on, say, Spotify or YouTube in the first place. Now Dumi said it’s very hard for me to use Spotify in some African countries. I’m from Rwanda. And I know that to be a fact. So you have this rich talent, you have this really good music. The production is up there, but even putting it out is hard and people won’t hear it because they don’t have access to it. So I personally, and I’m going to call my friends right out now, they should definitely be joining platforms like this, hearing more about programs like this, so that they can join and seek mentorship. I see definitely a brighter future with this.

MAGGIE MUTESI:

Thank you so much, Michael. Thanks gentlemen for joining us on the show today. I think it’s quite interesting to see what the future holds or to hear folks on how to create a sustainable system for the creatives across the continent. I think the time is now, and it’s good to see the progress that we’re making in terms of creating infrastructure platforms, investments all being made into the sector.

Now that brings us to the end of today’s Weekly Beat. My name is Maggie Mutesi. Today I’ve been in the driver’s seat, but it’s been quite exciting. And if you miss this, please check out our website, www.mansamedia.africa or on our social media platforms @mansa_media on Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn, and follow all the latest in the business world. Thank you.

The Weekly Beat by Mansa with your hosts Arnold Segawa and Maggie Mutesi and Dumi Jere, giving you all the info on Africa’s big finance and economic stories, The Weekly Beat by Mansa.

Share this

Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on google
Google+
Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on linkedin
LinkedIn

Be the first to know

Get our stories first