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Put Your Money Into These Rhythmic Beats




Nigeria leads the proliferation of Africa’s new sounds in the West.

In an Africa fresh from economic liberalization, music found a new voice, thanks to social media and platforms like YouTube, Spotify and Apple Music, which streamed thousands of African songs into the homes of millions in the diaspora.

The western world, suddenly, was introduced to Africa’s new sound, Afrobeats. Free from the shackles that had previously plagued the Nigerian movie industry, known locally by the moniker, Nollywood, artists, now empowered with this new distribution platform, could begin to experiment in different languages, sounds and genres that had, until then, remained confined to only regional pockets.

The past few years, however, have seen a rapid evolution of the Afrobeats scene across Africa and Nigeria is leading its explosion globally.

Events such as the One Africa Music Fest, an African musical experience showcasing Africa’s best and brightest talents, have solidified Africa’s position in the global entertainment industry.

BROOKLYN, NY – SEPTEMBER 09: Yemi Alade performs on stage at 2018 Essence Street Style Festival on September 9, 2018 in Brooklyn City. (Photo by Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images for Essence)

Afrobeats has not only captured a new western audience but has also influenced the sounds of some of America’s biggest artists.

“Afrobeats is absolutely taking over. In 2016, Drake’s One Dance, which featured Wizkid, was arguably one of the biggest sounds globally. Then you had French Montana with Unforgettable, which was also huge and both videos were shot in Africa. So, this thing is becoming a movement,” says D-Black, a Ghanaian Afrobeats artist and founder of Black Avenue Muzik record label.

It’s almost impossible to attend a party or wedding in Africa and not be treated to one of Afrobeats’ ubiquitous chart-toppers.

With hits from artists like Davido, Wizkid, Yemi Alade and many more pounding out of speakers across the continent, the movement of Afrobeats not only covers major cities in Nigeria, but also some far-flung locales.

“You cannot really talk about Afrobeats without talking about Lagos. The music scene is very fast-paced and colorful. Each local area has its own unique sound. On the mainland, we have the heart music being pushed by artists like Small Doctor.

“We also have the live Afrobeats scene and then the Alte scene, which is a different music on its own. People like to identify Alte sound with the western crowd and mainly people who live on the island,” says Paul Yusuf, DJ and founder of Music Revolution Nigeria.

But that doesn’t mean that the artists are benefiting from the buzz. Similar to Nollywood, piracy remains rampant making it impossible for artists to sell their music.

“There are several ways of accessing music locally in Nigeria, from the streets, where you have street vendors selling illegally obtained music or in a well-known tech hub called computer village, where consumers can download thousands of illegally obtained new music onto their hard drive from as little as N2,000 ($5),” Yusuf says.

“In Africa, the model is different. It is all about putting out as much free music as you can without necessarily charging, then you become a big artist once you have enough hit songs and then make your money back from being booked on shows. When you think about it, some of the biggest stars in the United States make most of their money from tours,” says D-Black.

Despite these challenges, the advent of Web 2.0 and community marketing mean the Afrobeats scene has been digitalized, providing savvy entrepreneurs like Don Jazzy, with a new revenue model.

“Back in the day, we didn’t care too much about online streaming platforms like YouTube, Apple Music and Spotify, but now it is a major focus for generating revenue. Nigeria still lags behind on online platforms but there are people in the diaspora who because of the growth and exposure of the Afrobeats music patronize us online by buying from these streaming platforms.

PHILADELPHIA, PA – SEPTEMBER 01: Davido performs onstage during the 2018 Made In America Festival – Day 1 at Benjamin Franklin Parkway on September 1, 2018 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Lisa Lake/Getty Images for Roc Nation)

“The numbers from Nigeria is not big because most people prefer to download from free sites and most of them use Android, boom play apps and others to get access to the music,” says Jazzy.

Born Michael Collins Ajereh, he is a record producer, singer, songwriter and entrepreneur. He is also the founder of one of Nigeria’s most successful record labels, Mavin Records, with a roster of stars including Tiwa Savage and Korede Bello.

He pioneered the proliferation of Afrobeats into countries like the United Kingdom (UK) and the United States (US) when he created his first record label, Mo’ Hits Records, with former partner, D’banj. The pair was signed by US music mogul, Kanye West, to his GOOD Music imprint, at a time when the industry was still in its infancy bringing global attention to the world of Afrobeats.

“Everything changed with D’banj. Oliver Twist opened up the labels to want to invest in Africa because that was the first single that was pushed by a label properly. Kanye West signed D’banj and Don Jazzy and that was big news. When Mo’ Hits came out with their sound, it was easy to get the world’s attention on Afrobeats, coupled with improved production and quality music videos,” says the London-based DJ Flex.

According to Jazzy, the digital revolution of the Afrobeats sound has led to the proliferation of the music into the diaspora, leading to different sub-categories like Afro-pop, Afro-dance and Afro-reggae. This has also affected the revenue model of the business.

“When it comes to Afrobeats, we have to look at two main revenue streams. The type of songs that impact the clubs and Nigeria locally; and secondly, the type of sound that moves numbers online, thus digitally. So, you have to be very conscious of the type of music you make at the moment. You have to consider whether you are trying to do this song so that you will be popping in Nigeria and thus offline or are you doing the song for international.

“For example, Korede Bello has Godwin, which was a very big song offline and translated into him going for more shows and getting club plays and party plays. But a song does like that, if you go on YouTube, Spotify and Apple, the numbers are ridiculously crazy because the diaspora market preferred that kind of sound and they streamed it more. So, you definitely have to be conscious about what you want to achieve,” says Jazzy.

Don Jazzy. Picture: Getty

Social media has played a big role in this new trend by making artists connect with audiences outside Nigeria. It has also influenced the new sound of Afrobeats by giving Nigerian and African artists a window into the world of pop culture in America by removing geographical barriers.

“You no longer have to travel to the US to see what your favorite artists are doing because they are all vying for attention on social media platforms out of fear of dying out,”  D-Black says.

With a population of 180 million in Nigeria, its music industry is projected to grow, buoyed by the increase in smartphones and platforms such as Instagram, Twitter and YouTube. According to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry,  the global recorded music market grew by 8.1% in 2017, reaching $17.3 billion that year on the strength of digital streaming revenue.

The big question is, with a largely unregulated industry, how are these artists making their money?

“Money comes in when you have a good product and you make FX from digital sales and when that artist starts growing and you go for shows, then they get paid and you split the proceeds, depending on the sharing ratios you have with the artist.

“Different artists have different sharing ratios and that depends on how long you have been with the artist and how badly perhaps you want the artist. There are also endorsements from brands as well,” Jazzy says.

His Mavin Records label recently made news for securing an undisclosed investment from Washington DC-based investment firm Kupanda Capital, a firm with the goal of creating, capitalizing and scaling up pan-African companies. 

“We are trying to build a long-term structured platform that can connect African music on the continent and beyond for further global consumption. We intend to use the investment for distribution of our own music, product development and hire new staff to take the brand to the next level,” Jazzy says.

The alleged multimillion-dollar investment by Kupanda into the Nigerian record label presents yet another compelling case for the Afrobeats genre, which presents revenue generating opportunities that are too big to be ignored.

LOS ANGELES, CA – AUGUST 13: French Montana performs onstage during the Teen Choice Awards 2017 at Galen Center on August 13, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

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Executive Travel: NaakMusiQ’s Dubai



The South African actor and musician was impressed with the city’s architecture, food and work ethic. 

South African actor and musician Anga Makubalo, known by his stage name NaakMusiQ, calls the Middle Eastern emirate of Dubai a luxury destination.

NaakMusiQ, who hails from Port Elizabeth in South Africa’s Eastern Cape Province, shot to fame after appearing in the award-winning South African soap opera Generations and has since been in a number of television shows.

He has also had a chart-topping music hit, Ntombi ft Bucie.

NaakMusiQ’s first trip to Dubai, known as the melting pot of the Middle East, was last year on an Emirates flight when he traveled Business Class. The fashion-lover admits to being a light packer, although there are some items he would never travel without, such as cologne, a pair of sneakers, and his music.

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“I also carry my scripts all the time. Because of the long flights, I can get tired of watching a movie, I can get tired of listening to music, so the next best thing is to get into my script and get a head start.”

He has been to Dubai before, but only transiting the airport connecting to another flight, so this was his first official trip into the glistening city.

“Dubai is everything that people say it is,” he says. “We went to the mall. It was crazy! I’ve never seen anything like it before. [The Dubai Mall] has a full-on aquarium inside. In the middle of the center, there’s like this huge fish tank. It’s crazy! That was probably the highlight of my visit.”

The actor was also intrigued by the city’s architecture and skyscrapers.  

“I’m actually very huge on architecture. It’s actually something I wanted to study. Their engineering is absolutely insane. The way they’ve built this place and the designs – it’s luxury, one after the other. We drove for hours admiring the architecture because I’m such a nerd when it comes to that. I love it.”

Dubai has a sizeable African expatriate community, and no dearth of African culture. As a musician, NaaqMusiQ had been invited to the city.

“Africans that have immigrated to Dubai request their favorite African artist to come over so that they’re still connected to Africa and home. The nice thing about that is, as much as it is our people that have invited us there to perform, they have influenced people from there [Dubai] and other parts of the country [UAE] to come and listen to our music.

“Because they’ve become residents there, they have friendships where they introduce African music to the people of Dubai. So when we went there, there were quite a lot of people, even though some couldn’t sing along, there were a lot of people who went crazy when my song [Ntombi] played.”

During his time there, NaakMusiQ was also taken to restaurants serving African food. This came as somewhat of a surprise for the actor that the Arab city boasted a range of eateries specializing in African cuisine.

“We had a lot of Kenyan food that I hadn’t tasted before, which was really nice. They’ve got Tanzanian food, they’ve got South African food, Zambian food; it’s just a whole African experience there. And they do well actually.”

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While NaakMusiQ didn’t interact with the natives of Dubai, he did get a sense of what they are like. The hustle and bustle of the city left him greatly motivated.

“Everyone in Dubai is there to work. Everyone is there to hustle. People think that Dubai is this big, fun place, which it can be, but even people from there aren’t out partying every night. It’s people from the countries that are visiting that are out partying. Everyone else is really working. Some people are so hectic when it comes to business and money that they don’t have a life outside of their work.

“When they do have nights off, they choose to be at home or to put in extra hours working. It just made me want to work harder. That is the impact… Everyone there wants to do better. The standards there are incredibly high. What we would consider as good here is probably entry-level there,” says the hit-maker who now plans to return to Dubai wealthier and with more cash to splurge.

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Stone Town: From Freddie Mercury To The Farms



The sights, scents and sounds of Zanzibar include a 73-year-old tale of the iconic late British singer-songwriter.

Dress conservatively when walking the streets of Stone Town,” advises the tourist brochures in the predominantly Islamic society of Zanzibar, yet, the tiny Tanzanian archipelago proudly claims Freddie Mercury, the controversial frontman of British band Queen, as its own.

The singer, born in the windswept streets of Stone Town in Zanzibar in 1946 and one of the world’s most iconic voices in pop-rock, is this tourist town’s biggest currency-spinner.

Stone Town, which is a maze of historic alleys and spice bazaars with timber shutters, an old Arab fort, churches, mosques and 19th-century stone buildings, is a World Heritage Site overlooking the sea. Within its dusty bowels, leading up from its myriad walkways, is Shangani Street, starting with a white-washed, two-storied yellow building that was once Freddie Mercury’s home.       

There are countless tours offered to what is emblazoned in gold outside as ‘Freddie Mercury House’, featuring four fully-furnished hotel apartments with balconies overlooking the Indian Ocean.    

‘Freddie Mercury House’, featuring four fully-furnished hotel apartments with balconies overlooking the Indian Ocean. Picture: Renuka Methil

Outside are framed glass cases with sepia images of the songwriter and vocalist, describing his famous connection with Zanzibar. Born Farrokh Bulsara, Mercury’s family had immigrated to Zanzibar from Gujarat in India. He was born to Bomi and Jer Bulsara who were originally Parsis (a Zoroastrian community that migrated to the Indian subcontinent from Persia). In 1964, the Zanzibar Revolution forced the family to flee.

The island community’s lucrative tourist trade is even today cashing in on Mercury’s global image, with tours offered at the Zoroastrian Fire Temple where the Parsi family once worshipped, and to a restaurant named Mercury offering fresh seafood.

“Imagine, Freddie Mercury played on these white sandy beaches and clear waters at one time,” says my tourist guide, Amour, proudly, before taking me on a two-hour walking tour of Stone Town. He points to the domed white Zanzibar High Court where Mercury’s father once worked as a cashier.

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His house on Shangani Street, where the first settlers arrived, is a hub of activity, with tourists, and touts selling everything from icecream to tanzanite jewelry and African bric-à-brac. Just a few steps up, is the Shangani post office and buildings boasting Indian, African and European architecture, where you discover your own Bohemian Rhapsody.

Amour helps me weave through the heaving mass of human traffic in the busy streets, to a fish and vegetable market in Stone Town that also sells spices in pretty bamboo gift-packs. The fish is sold fresh and the spices overpower the stench.

“Zanzibar used to be the largest exporter of cloves in the world, but from 70 percent, it’s only nine percent now,” Amour rues, thrusting a packet of cloves into my hand, “and that’s sad, because of declining prices, more competitors and the poor encouragement of farmers.”

Earlier, I had visited the spice farms Zanzibar is so famous for, finishing off with lunch in a Swahili home stationed on a peak in one of the scented valleys. It was modest home-cooked fare but with aromas as strong as the spice farms the ingredients came from: a banana dish with coconut milk and cardamom, flavored cassava from the fields, fried tuna, rotis and the most fragrant pilaf (rice dish) I have ever eaten, watered down with lemon grass and ginger tea. 

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I had been to the Muyuni village in the south tasting the sweetest mangoes and bananas in all of Africa, passing seaweed-strewn beaches, paddy fields and potholed roads with bullock carts, dala dala taxis and motorbikes.

In the lush mangroves of Jozani, I encountered the endangered red colobus monkeys. In the spice plantations, down slippery forest paths, I tasted nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves off the trees.

The natural treats along the way also included lemons and sweet green oranges. As we passed the red mahogany trees, “beware of the green mambas or pythons”, my host had warned. A vendor in the middle of the forest showed us his wares in a wicker basket: soaps and perfumes made from the Ylang-Ylang trees by the womenfolk.

“In Europe, Chanel No. 5 is made from this. Here, we call it Chanel No. 0, our products have no chemical or alcohol,” he says, pointing to the tiny bottles filled with red liquid. “These farms are so rich in spices that the chicken running around are already spiced, you don’t need to flavor them when you cook them,” laughs Amour, towards the end of our outing. From Freddie Mercury to the farms, Zanzibar beckons the senses.

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Marvel Money: How Six Avengers Made $340 Million Last Year





Since its premiere in April, Avengers: Endgame has been sending shockwaves across the Marvel multiverse, with a worldwide gross of $2.77 billion and counting after the movie’s return to theaters last month. With its domestic gross sitting at $848 million, Endgame is the second-highest-grossing film ever both in the U.S. and overseas. 

That means a payday not just for Marvel Studios but also for the Avengers themselves, who have negotiated their way to superpowered deals. Forbes’ Celebrity 100 list of the world’s highest-earning entertainers this year features six Endgame heroes, from Chris Hemsworth (a.k.a. Thor) at No. 24 overall with $76.4 million (not all of his earnings were from Avengers) to Paul Rudd (Ant-Man) at No. 83 with $41 million. Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man), Bradley Cooper (Rocket Raccoon), Scarlett Johansson (Black Widow) and Chris Evans (Captain America) also assembled and made the cut. Together, the team earned $340 million.

“Celebrities such as Downey and Johansson currently have extreme leverage to demand enormous compensation packages from studios investing hundreds of millions of dollars in making tent-pole films, such as The Avengers series,” says entertainment lawyer David Chidekel of Early Sullivan Wright Gizer & McRae.

Kevin Feige, Marvel Studios’ president, seems to agree: “We started saying that the character is the marquee name, and I think that’s still true, but I think we’ve been very lucky and thankful that the actors that imbibe these characters have now become them,” he told Forbes of the highly compensated group in 2017.

Marvel signs actors to multi-movie deals that also include promotional commitments. These deals often start off in the seven figures, which helps explain why newer superheroes like Brie Larson (Captain Marvel) and Tom Holland (the latest Spider-Man) didn’t make the Celeb 100 cut. But as actors stay with the MCU, their salaries increase. Veteran Marvel stars can command an upfront salary as high as $20 million (Downey). Others top heroes can earn in the neighborhood of $15 million (Hemsworth, Johansson, Evans), while second-tier characters make about $8 million (Rudd). 

But the real money comes in later. All of this year’s listees proved so valuable to Marvel that they were able to negotiate for a piece of the profit—also known as contingent compensation—on both the ensemble Avengers films and their individual superhero films.

“A studio’s incentive to grant contingent compensation to various actors, writers, directors and other key personnel is simple. Movie studios depend upon tent-pole films to support their financial performance,” says Chidekel.

These points pay off. Avengers: Endgame, for example, has made about $700 million in profit from its box office run so far. For Downey, who has around 8% in back-end points, that translates to about $55 million, for a grand total of $75 million for the one film. 

Even smaller characters like Cooper can command about 1% of the back end, which would translate to $7 million for Endgame. For their star vehicles, these actors can negotiate an even bigger cut of the profit. 

“The percent of budget cost have certainly skewed heavy, particularly on the Avengers movies, to cast now, whereas maybe in the early ones it was more visual effects or below the line,” Feige said in 2017. “But that’s okay because [the actors] are the best effects.”

These sky-high paychecks have proved to be a worthwhile investment for the studio. With a built-in audience of comic book fans, scripts that are both funny and socially aware, and a powerful marketing strategy, MCU films have grossed over $22 billion since 2008. These actors continually return many times their salaries in box-office dollars. For instance, while Downey earned that eye-popping $75 million from Endgame, the film grossed $36.90 at the box office for every dollar he was paid. Those on the lower end of the earnings spectrum, like Rudd, produced over $100 at the box office for every dollar they were paid.

“Certainly the strange alchemy of seeing characters you’ve never seen before teamed up together on screen, if they were different versions of those characters, it wouldn’t be as fun,” Feige said. “It’s expensive but well worth it.”

We think Nick Fury would agree. 

-Madeline Berg; Forbes Staff

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