Art Review

The struggle of finding global voice for African singers/activists

Zela Gayle

When it comes to taking African music to the world stage, Reggae music is often chosen as the vehicle. With Jamaica being the foundation of reggae music and Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia seen as the hope of its spirituality, reggae is a revolutionary musical genre which continues to captivate the international industry.



African music giants such as Alpha Blondy of Ivory Coast who is a worldwide renowned reggae musician and activist have always dreamed of fulfilling this hope with a performance in Ethiopia.

Alpha Blondy has greatly influenced many young African musicians who not only followed his passion for music but  also his cause as an activist using music to protest against wide spread injustices in their homeland.

During the 2nd edition of Selam Music festival in Dec. 2012, this magazine conducted exclusive interviews with two African singers: Erik Wainaina of Kenya and Stewart Sukuma of Mozambique, who came to Addis Ababa to be a part of the festival, on what it means to be an African musician using music to convey messages of freedom and how to get global voices at the same time.

Both believe lack of access to adequate music infrastructure in the music industry within their respective country, where democracy often fails the people, inspires them to use their mere voices to demand equality and justice and to continue to sing about the conditions of the people.

Eric and Stewart rehearsing together

They call themselves social activists and both have been influenced by Africa’s reggae giant Alpha Blondy at different stages of their career; the message of love and protest is a common thread which permeates their inspiration. But both are say it laborious, if not impossible, to find their rightful voices in the global music industry.

 Music marketing in Africa

Living in the age of technology where all over the world people are spending less of their finances than they used to on buying music CDs means there is no incentive for a producer to record an artist, leaving thousands of talented African singers without a sponsor.

Add to that piracy issues prohibited the birth and growth of an African music industry. Alpha Blondy precisely stated the problem when he said during an interview with the media that “record companies do not trust Africa because there are too many fake copies bootlegged”. “International Record companies want to distribute music CDs to the world, except Africa”.

Alpha Blondy said he was surprised to meet the first Ethiopian reggae band “Dalol”, formed in the 1980’s, in Jamaica and not whilst on tour on the African Continent. This goes to show that record producers remain to be very rare in Africa, while reggae music, even if it originates from Africa, is easily recognized internationally. “We need to build up structures to take care of the culture of African music,” Alpha said.

Erik Wainana and Stewart Sukuma, who both play music originating from rhythms and styles indigenous to their country, support Alpha Blondy’s view and say “a multi-billion dollar industry awaits [a positive]  perception of a professional music industry in Africa”.

According to them, although producing music in their country has been more challenging, over the years they have gained tremendous support from their fans who want to be represented by them on the world stage. As aspiring musicians to be known in the global music industry, they believe “there is a vital need for more recording companies in Africa to find partners with professional personnel who can handle the A to Z of an artist’s success, familiar with the business of performances and tours for example, enabling the development of the music by Africans for the African continent.”

Nonetheless, no one denies it takes more of African musicians such as Alpha, Erik and Stewart who can enjoy very successful tours outside of the African continent mainly in Europe and America, which for now presents the major market for African artists on the world stage.

For now though, Erik, Stewart and Alpha Blondy express their desire to play for audiences in Africa more frequently because their contribution to music is more than the pleasure of their powerful voices: it is about peace too, and they want to give that back to their native audiences. As Alpha Blondy said, “our fans have the power to change the world tomorrow, all we can do is give them hope and love in our songs, give them the fuel to help them not feel discouraged”.


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