‘We want Virgin Music Africa to be a showcase for African musical diversity’

Universal Music Group (UMG) has launched a Virgin Music division in Africa, which it says will give a platform to independent artists across the continent.

Conversation with

Image : Nbaturo

What are the main motivations behind the opening of Virgin Music Africa?

Our motivations are above all concrete answers to two main observations:

First, music from Africa and its diaspora are unequally represented on the digital market and streaming platforms. We want Virgin Music Africa to be a springboard and a showcase for all this African musical diversity to shine throughout the world.

Second, the African market has its own economic, logistical, and social specificities that deserve to be understood with accuracy and sometimes tailor-made solutions. Our presence on the continent, our expertise in its local markets, our network and our relationship with international and local platforms allow us to bring adapted solutions.

One particular focus of Virgin’s new African division is to give life to “forgotten songs” by preserving and distributing the vast African cultural heritage. What are the main challenges in digitising traditional African music?

Day after day, songs are forgotten and at this rate, a large part of the musical heritage is doomed to disappear. One of the main challenges for us is to set up a real investigation to identify these works and digitise them to make them accessible to the greatest number and everywhere.

Therefore, the creation of this label will allow us to preserve, distribute, structure, and promote the African musical heritage of yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

Virgin Music has announced multiple partnerships with more than 50 labels from 25 countries across Africa.

What kind of partnerships are you offering to these independent labels?

We are first and foremost at the service of artists and labels to accompany them in the digital distribution of their productions.

We enable them to be present on a maximum number of streaming platforms worldwide. Artists and producers play their role, and we play ours by working hand in hand with them to animate their catalogues.

Of course, we have several UMG-specific strategies that we deploy for our distribution partners, which create better bridges to their communities, as well as the rest of the world and new audiences.

Streaming platforms are gaining ground in Africa [see graph] yet challenges over mobile data costs and the adoption of devices still prevail.

How will Virgin Music Africa work with streaming platforms such as Boomplay, Mdundo, Spotify or Apple Music?

As previously mentioned, the African market has its specificities and the fact that we have made the same observation reinforces our analysis.

Concerning the data issue, one of our proposals is our in-house app Digster Africa, which is present in 10 African countries and which allow users to download their playlists and then listen to them offline.

As for the streaming platforms, we are proud to have developed with each one – both traditional and local – a privileged relationship allowing us to work intelligently together, especially on the playlisting of our releases and sometimes the promotion of our artists on their banners.

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