I was casually browsing twitter, when I came across an interesting profile name that piqued my interest, Africa Unsigned. Upon clicking their website link, I was thoroughly delighted but oh so confused by the sheer amount of talent on display. It was completely mind blowing, especially the sounds of one artist Sage. That sista got soul! Her song, I don’t really want to is on repeat. Confusion beset me, as it was not immediately apparent what the organization was about.
Africa Unsigned is a platform in which as the name suggests, African artistes get the opportunity to record their albums courtesy of crowd funding. This simply means that they receive monetary support, with as little as a $1 contribution going towards their endeavors. It is a movement borne of an unbridled love for authentic African sounds. It mainly focuses on the diverse sounds created by the younger generation, a market that remains largely untapped. The New African Sound is what you can expect to hear from movement’s array of artistes, hailing from Kenya, South Africa to Senegal.
Find out more about Africa Unsigned, in our exclusive interview with Thomas v/d Zouwe.
54interviews: Tell us the when, how, why this concept was conceived.
TZ: When: Founder Pim Betist, also founder of www.sellaband.com [first online crowdfunding platform for music, started in 2006] came up with the idea in 2008 and started Africa Unsigned in 2009.
How & Why: After running Selleband.com for almost two years with 3 million dollars invested by music fans in artists Pim Betist felt there was a lack of high quality music. He decided to adjust the concept for music that was closer to his heart; music from Africa. On the other hand, he has always been interested in finding new ways of doing business. That’s mainly why we applied crowd funding to try and finance music projects.
54interviews: You have an expansive music panel list that consists of not only successful African artistes, but also journalists, record labels, DJ’s, you name it. What exactly is the role of this panel?
TZ: Our music panel is very important to us. Their role in the first place, is to screen (filter) the musicians we work with; in terms of quality, originality and potential. All the panel members have their own expertise. Some of them help us connect with new people while others advise us on a strategic level.
54interviews: Africa Unsigned currently operates in Amsterdam. Seeing that your main clients are based in the motherland, and with plans underway of including those in the Diaspora, are you guys planning on opening office branches in the motherland/Diaspora?
TZ: Good question. We are looking into it. However, we have a small team of two FTE’s and opening a new office is quite a challenge and investment. For now, we travel between Amsterdam and Africa. The both of us are currently in Ghana for our latest project called Big In Ghana Talent Hunt & Tour (www.biginghana.com) in which we search for the best talents in Takoradi, Tema, Kumasi and Accra to represent their city and join FOKN Bois, Efya and Yaa Pono on tour
54interviews: How does, Africa Unsigned support these artistes?
TZ: At the moment we mGainly focus on licensing music for commercial purposes and the development of new talent with productions such as Big In Ghana. We would love to spend more time on artist management but for now we don’t have enough resources. Surely, this will change in the future.
54interviews: From observation, it seems the majority of the artistes that have signed up thus far hail either from East or Southern Africa, with I think Senegal repping for West Africa. Any particular reason, I’m not seeing a rounded representation yet from other regions?
TZ: Our network is strongest in those regions. When decided to start with a few countries. From here on we expand slowly to new regions, but this takes time.
54interviews: We just created a profile, and I see that we have been gifted with a free Exclusive Muthoni Remix (Muthoni the Drummer), *elated, love her music*, which leads me to ask, how does your loyalty point system work and what incentives should prospective profile creators look forward to?
TZ: Our loyalty point system has never got out of Beta unfortunately. We might pick this feature up in the future.
54interviews: In regards to payment, once an interested party has identified their artist of choice, say Sage in our case, the transaction is not completed until her project is fully funded. Within that time frame, if 54 interviews so chooses, monies invested can be moved to other artistes of choice. I find this so interesting, kinda like playing a betting game of sorts. Doesn’t this then, bring committal issues from an investor standpoint? I’m one of those crazed folks, who’d keep floating the money around for fun.
TZ: From our point of view, it doesn’t bring any committal issues since investors cannot refund the money from our platform. This means the money will always be invested in one of the artists. On the other hand, we believe investors should have the freedom to switch their money to another project when and artists doesn’t show any activity.
54interviews: I have been randomly sampling the music on Africa Unsigned, and I’m just blown away by the talent represented on your site. What do you think has been lacking in the African music industry landscape? We are sitting on unexplored goldmines of talent, why haven’t we been forward in capitalizing on this talent? If anything, it seems that our artistes look Westward-to make it big, what’s more, we have foreigners such as your organization more interested in exploiting (positively so) and investing in this talent?
TZ: A lack of infrastructure. For example: most collecting right societies in African countries don’t payout the royalties to the right holders. Most musicians are not aware of the opportunities of music publishing income by a lack of information. Moreover, radio and television stations don’t even pay for publishing…
54interviews: In your first post ever, I note that a wise man told ya’ll that, “it is better to take many small steps in the right direction than to make a great leap forward only to stumble backward”. This alludes to your low key launch with no events scheduled and such like, as well as the fact that you seem not to be pressed for press! The organization has been in existence since 2009, how comes I’m only learning of you now? Aren’t you guys interested in media coverage?
TZ: Great quote! Fits our purpose. We do have quite a lot of media coverage and yes we are always interested in exposure. So I can’t give you an explanation why you haven’t heard of us 🙂
54interviews: Social media platforms such as twitter, facebook, are the new marketing mediums of choice. Tell us to what extent your organization has embraced this platform.
TZ: Social media is an important medium. Especially because most people in Africa use their mobile phone to discover content and Facebook or Twitter have easy to use apps that allow them to do so
54interviews: What is the future of Africa Unsigned?
TZ: Our main focus is to find and develop the careers of talented musicians by setting up projects such as Big In Ghana. We continue to license their music for commercial purposes and to contribute to an improving infrastructure of the local music industry in African countries.
54interviews: Give us a one line dose of sunshine from the Netherlands about the motherland.
TZ: MORE VIM!!!
[Editors Note: Vim is a quote used in the Big In Ghana Talent Hunt & Tour. It is used a lot in Ghana, basically means more power]
~Thanks for your time~