Nigerian superstar Mr Eazi launches AMF in partnership with emPawa to finance established and up-and-coming creatives of Africa.
As music industry giants continue to plant seeds on the African continent, Mr Eazi is taking steps to maintain his locale’s creative and financial freedom. In a major move for African music, Mr Eazi has launched the African Music Fund (AMF) with an initial investment of $20 million dedicated to African creatives. The fund’s lead investor, 88mph, is known for its seed fund aimed at digital startups launching in Africa. AMF will use Mr Eazi’s emPawa as its operating partner to help discover and select the talent that will receive funding, much in the way the emPawa program has already done for the likes of Joeboy and J.Derobie, providing mentorship resources and grant funding. Unlike emPawa, AMF is meant to be an advance on future earnings that will be debited in installments as their artists begin to generate revenue; a standard model among many major labels. What isn’t standard, however, is the scale and scope of Mr Eazi and the AMF’s continental ambitions.
This move comes amidst a musical Gold Rush on the continent. “Annual digital revenue for music in Africa is forecasted to reach US$521 million in 2020, and increase by an average of 12.5% year-on-year through 2025, according to Statista. Projected market volume for 2025 is US$942 million.” Top digital streaming providers are setting up office in South Africa in a first ditch to capture the market at muscle out local competitors. Currently Apple Music is available in 33 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa with Spotify making plans to expand their offer. Major labels are also putting in serious investment on the continent. Just last week Def Jam, who is already present in Johannesburg and Lagos, announced its introduction into the French speaking markets of Côte d’Ivoire, Senegal and Cameroon.
Nonetheless, Mr Eazi sits confidently at the helm of the new worldwide focus on the African market and the often contentious relationship between money and music. Since his hit single “Skin Tight” in 2015, Eazi has been making moves to capture West Africa’s imagination and pocketbook. PAM sat down with Mr Eazi to learn about how he got here and his vision for emPawa and AMF moving forward.
Long before Mr Eazi, real name Tosin Ajibade, was a superstar in music, he was an aspiring entrepreneur with ventures in a booking agency, gold mining, phone business, and e-commerce. For Mr Eazi these seemingly divergent interests aren’t so different “I think being an artist and an entrepreneur is one and the same,” he says. “In many ways artists are entrepreneurs. We create products like our music, our brand, etc. and use limited resources to get it to market, in front of investors… So there is no difference in my eyes.”
Until recently the African music industry didn’t have a structure to embrace the unique reality of artists as entrepreneurs. That’s where AMF comes in. Mr Eazi thought to himself, “What if artists could get funding without going through a record label? Individual artists can’t get funding from a regular bank to create content, because banks aren’t set up to understand what collateral they can secure your loan against. You need an institution really focused on artists and content.”
This was the same brainchild that inspired the creation of emPawa, which to-date has provided over 130 grants to artists from 12 African countries. “I had always been obsessed…with the concept of indie artists as startups, and I thought it would be cool to start to use that idea to create something.” Mr Eazi says, reflecting back to his time with 440ng. “I had been thinking about this for almost two years, and when I decided to do the Grant scheme in December 2018, I saw the response. In trying to give the Grants I saw the immediate need for a business that has both the ideology behind it and an African focus.”
The “indie” ideology is key, and is surely something that a young Mr Eazi reckoned with as an artist. Musical independence is twofold, artists need financial support and creative freedom, and often, one comes at the expense of the other. We asked Mr Eazi the benefits of creating a system that maintains independence both creatively and financially. “It’s the freedom to scale!” he says, “the freedom to grow at the pace you want to, the freedom to create and share your piece of art with the world without restrictions.”
In this sense emPawa and AMF are natural partners. While AMF provides the financial structure, emPawa is on the ground, using its proven track record of discovery to select the right artists. However, Mr Eazi isn’t basing selective decisions on taste or feeling alone, “Its all majorly data-guided” he notes. “We have shown this from the #empawa30 and #empawa100 program for talent discovery,” both of which used streaming figures as indicators for an artist’s future success. This system, “Will help scale the artist discovery process. So there is kind of a process behind it” Mr Eazi points out.
We asked Mr Eazi what advice he could give for aspiring artists who would like to participate in AMF and emPawa and his answer is simple, “APPLY!”
There is much anticipation to see what this new structure will do for established and up-and-coming artists off the continent. One thing is for sure, there is no lack of creativity to tap into when speaking of the rich and diverse musical styles that are produced daily, whether it’s Nigerian afrobeats, Ghanaian highlife, or some fusion of many musics like Mr Eazi’s own Banku which he claims to be a meld of RnB, reggae, hip-hop, and afro pop.
Speaking of new music, we asked Eazi if we could expect any new projects from him while he’s busy shaking up the industry. “A lot of music actually” he mentioned, “starting mid-August.”