By JOWIT SALUSEKI –
WHEN United States (US) renowned music label Def Jam Records spread its franchise on the continent in May 2020, African artists, including those from Zambia, were implored to take advantage of the label to produce quality music.
Less than 18 months to the day, Zambia’s female rapper Cleo Ice Queen, an international award winner, seems to have taken heed of the call.
Cleo, who is last years’ AFRIMA winner, has become the first Zambian to be signed by the US famed label Def Jam Records.
On social media, messages of congratulations have been pouring in for Cleo on her continued international achievements.
Def Jam Records,which is famed for signing Hip-Hop mogul Shaun Carter, alias Jay Z, one of the world’s richest musicians, opened a franchise in South Africa and Nigeria respectively in 2020.
Def Jam Records Managing Director Sipho Dlamini said African musicians should take advantage of the coming of the label on the continent to produce quality music for them to stand the chance of being signed up to one of the world’s famed music labels.
The record label was founded in 1984 in the US.
For now, Dlamini, Universal Music Group (UMG) Sub-Saharan Africa/South Africa chief, will oversee it and build artistes and repertoire, marketing and promotions teams.
When it was just entering the African market a few years ago, the label announced a flagship roster of artistes, including established Hip-Hop acts Cassper Nyovest, Nasty C, Nadia Nakai and Boity (South Africa) and Nigerian Afrobeats act Larry Gaaga.
Def Jam Africa is the first of UMG’s flagship labels to exist as a standalone label in Africa as everything before now had been released under the “UMG Africa” banner.
This entails that the sound of urban African youth, best captured by Zambianised music to Nigeria/Ghana’s Afrobeats and South Africa’s gqom/House, have found their way into the mainstream of global pop charts .
In many African markets outside South Africa, the music business has an abundance of talent and thousands of independent labels and artiste managers, but not the formal distribution and legal infrastructure, which underpins the $50 billion global industry across recording music, publishing, TV/film and live performances.
Universal, Sony Music and more recently Warner Music Group are each looking to build organically as well as strategic partnerships alongside their respective artistes and repertoire efforts to establish a more formal music business imprint that plugs local music industries more seamlessly into the global ecosystem.
One of the well-known clichés of the music business is the tension between record labels and their artistes.
That’s sometimes because while the few successful artistes get all the glory, few labels are ever recognised as anything other than a corporate entity.
This is even more so in the streaming age.
But a few labels captured the artistic spirit or zeitgeist of their time, names like Detroit’s Motown or Jamaica’s Studio One come readily to mind.
Another, of course, was New York’s Def Jam, whose co-founders Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin helped launch modern hip hop to the world in the early 1980s with genre-defining artists including Run DMC, LL Cool J and the Beastie Boys.
While Def Jam has long since evolved into a major multinational label brand far from its early days in a dorm at New York University’s Weinstein Hall, it still stays close to its Hip-Hop roots and is now taking that to Johannesburg and Lagos, under the auspices of its parent company UMG.
UMG has been expanding its base across Africa for the last couple of years.
Apart from clinching a deal with Def Jam Records Cleo Ice Queen has quenched the mouthwatering offering with another deal with renowned whiskey Jonny Walker.
Meanwhile, Zambian music label Nexus Music Entertainment recently opened a studio in South Africa too.