The memories of the One Africa Music Fest at the Barclays Centre in New York, will linger in the minds of many for months to come for different reasons. While some will merely bask in the African texture the line-up for performances afforded them from the comfort of their New York residency, some others will remember the concert as their first contact with African music curated and crafted in Africa, by Africans, for Africans — which in itself is a remarkable achievement.
But does this make an indention for Nigerian music worthy of a second glance?
One Africa Music Fest is the first of its size and magnitude for African music to be hosted outside the continent. The show was set up Paul Okoye’s Upfront and Personal a global consultancy and booking agency. Backed by a media partnership with music streaming platform, Tidal amongst other sponsors, the team was able to put in months of planning for a show worthy of Africa’s most celebrated artists and the fans who adore them.
This comes at the helm of a redirection for Nigerian music towards getting more international recognition. Hence the reason for a line-up skewered together by artists of different genres to give a more rounded exposition of the African soundscape. However, while concerts like One Africa Music Fest will always be a great revenue point for making ticket money off African music fans in the diaspora and anyone curious enough about the sound, it is severely limited in impact for artists willing to establish roots in the American markets.
African artists have exported their sound to different parts of the world since time immemorial. Though the Barclays Center stage in New York, America’s nerve center for culture and arts is a bigger spotlight than some artists on the set were used to, new-school favourites like D’Banj and 2face amongst others have similarly graced stages of the same importance. Yet stellar performances and crowd appeal did not do much for their music in American markets after closed curtains.
The reason for this is obvious. A bulk of fans at concerts like the One African Music Fest are black Americans, Caribbeans and Africans in diaspora desperate for a slice of home even just for a few hours. But their need to feel closer to where they have come does not equate a desire to propagate the music or even evangelize it to the rest of a majority white America (if we’re being completely ridiculous, that is).
To signal boost the cross-over attempts of Nigerian artists, there is still a need to get access to foreign radio airwaves, big budget global promotion and reinvention of the music with more outward-facing content that retains originality. Setting up avenues for potential audiences to meet see artists perform live, of course, is important, but the success story of the Afrobeat sound in the UK and other parts of Europe has club DJ(s) and radio playlists to thank and America will probably be no different.
Another case in point is singer Ayo Jay who recently inked an RCA deal. The singer was discovered via Your Number, a single that slipped out of the internet into club and radio rotation, despite the lack of any major resonance with Nigerian fans. This is how important radio is to get noticed in these high value markets.
Cash points like the One Africa Music Fest will always be around the corner for Nigerian artists to milk, but if they plan on taking the music any further, it has to be a lot more than a 20-minute performance to a jukebox.