From Afropop to Kwaito, African music is taking center stage as artists like Black Coffee, Burna Boy, and Yemi Alade build a global fanbase. In 2016, “Come Closer,” a collaboration by Wizkid and Drake became the most-streamed song on Spotify with over 875 million individual plays. In 2019, Burna Boy and Davido both sold-out concerts at London’s Wembley and O2 arenas. Despite enabling factors such as digitization of music, the increasing internet penetration, and a growing fan base, artists across the continent are still struggling to get their break and reach wider audiences.
Across the continent, African-based music labels have served as launch pads for African artists to grow their talent and scale their music’s reach. Many of these labels have supported artists in professionalizing their talent and targeting global audiences through partnerships with labels like Universal Music Group and Atlantic Records. Below we highlight five African music labels that are paving the way for artists across the continent.
Founded in 2005, Chocolate City is a leading record label based in Nigeria, with operations in other parts of the continent such as Kenya, South Africa, and Ghana. The label was founded by lawyer and marketing professional Audu Maikori and Paul Okeugo.
Chocolate City is home to the likes of Femi Kuti, a four-time Grammy-nominated artist as well asAfrobeats sensations Dice Ailes, Nosa, ClassiQ, Ruby Gyang, Blaqbonez, C Kay, and Street Billionaires. Artists formerly signed to the label include record producer Victoria Kimani an American born Kenyan, M.I, and Ice Prince. Victoria Kimani released two albums, Queen Victoria and Safari under the label.
M.I., who left recently after 13 years, released nine projects, which include five albums, three mixtapes, and one playlist. Under the label, he won Best Hip Hop and Best New Act at the 2009 MTV Africa Music Awards and was nominated in the Best International Act category at the BET Awards 2010.
Ice Prince rose to fame after releasing ‘Oleku’ under Chocolate City — the song was one of Nigeria’s most remixed songs in 2011. Ice Prince won Song of the Year and Best Rap Single for ‘Oleku’ at The Headies in 2011. The music video for ‘Oleku’ won Most Gifted Newcomer Video at the 2011 Channel O Music Video Awards and was nominated for Best Contemporary Afro Video at the 2011 Nigeria Music Video Awards (NMVA). Under Chocolate City Ice Prince also released three albums, Everybody loves Ice Prince, Fire of Zamani, and Trash Can.
In 2019, Chocolate City also formalized a partnership with Warner Music Group to scale African artists’ reach around the world. It will create new opportunities for global superstars in the region.
THE VTH SEASON
Founded by Ninel Musson and Raphael Benza, South-Africa based Vth Season is home to a growing and diverse roster of recording artists, writers, and producers as well as pop-culture talent. Artists signed onto the record include AKA, Benny Afroe, and Manu WorldStar.
In 2017, The Voice South Africa contestant, Ami Faku signed to the label; Faku was recognized as the most-streamed woman in South Africa on Deezer earlier this year. Additionally, Ami’s single ‘Into Ingawe’ achieved gold status in 2019 and reached platinum and double-platinum in 2020.
Vth Season has recorded significant success, with ten singles by its artists featured on Radiomonitor’s South Africa Top 100 chart in 2020. ‘F.R.E.E’ by AKA featuring Riky Rick and DJ Tira was at No 1. Other songs featured in the Top 100 include Ami Faku’s ‘Inde Lendlela’, ‘Ubuhle Bakho’, ‘Imali’, ‘Love Drunk’, ‘Into Ingawe’, ‘Ndiyeke’ and ‘Ungowam’ as well as ‘Rent’ by Manu WorldStar.
Lusafrica was founded in 1988 by José da Silva who, during dinner with his wife in Lisbon, heard Cesária Évora performing and was captivated by her voice. The label was the first multinational record company opened in Cape Verde and is the leading African independent label in France. Cesária’s first album under the label, ‘La Diva aux pieds nus,’ was popular among Cape Verdeans selling 3,000 vinyl records, four years later, Cesária’s fourth album ‘Miss Perfumado’ sold 500,000 records. In 2004 Cesária’s ninth album, ‘Voz d’Amor,’ won a Grammy for the Best Contemporary World Music Album.
Beyond Évora, Lusafrica released albums by other artists across the continent, such as Noberto Tavares, a Cabo Verdean artist, and Gabonese artists Oliver N’Goma and Pierre Akendegue. The label has also worked with Angolan artist Bonga and Boubacar Traoré of Mali.
Through its urban music department, the label has signed Kenyan DJ Blinky Bill, and its current artist roster also includes Elida Almeida and Lucibela. DJ Blinky Bill released his first solo album, Everyone’s Just Winging It And Other Fly Tales, which featured acts from other Kenyan artists such as Muthoni the drama queen.
Mavin Records is a Nigerian record label founded by record producer and recording artist Don Jazzy in 2012. The label’s services cover brand activation to music licensing, performance and appearances, and production.
Mavin has signed artists such as multiple award winner Tiwa Sawage, who joined the label in 2012 and later transitioned to Universal Music Group, Rema, Dr. Sid, D’Prince, Korede Bello, Di’Ja, Ladipoe, Johnny Drille, and Crayon.
Rema’s song ‘Iron Man’ was on President Obama’s summer playlist in 2019. Other artists signed by the label include Dr. Sid, D’Prince, Korede Bello, Di’Ja, Ladipoe, Johnny Drille, and Crayon.
Gallo Records, established in 1926, is the oldest record label in South Africa. Between 2007–2013, Gallo Records partnered with Warner Music Group to create Warner Music Gallo Africa. The partnership resulted in the digitization of Gallo records entire music catalog including classics by artists such as Lucky Dube, Yvonne Chaka Chaka, Mahlathini and the Mahotella Queens, Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masekela, Letta Mbulu, and Spokes Mashiyane.
Earlier this year, South African DJ, record producer, singer, and songwriter Black Coffee acquired a significant stake in this legendary label. In a move to change the music landscape in South Africa, he aims to create an ecosystem where artists are engaged and have an equitable stake in the monetization of their music.
Gallo Record’s current catalog includes Bhekumuzi Luthuli, Harari, Soul Brothers, Sakhile, Thandiswa Mazwai, Siphiwe Dana, & Sipho Gumede.
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