Ballroom Dancing

SXSW panel reviews

Ballroom Dancing
Photo by John Anderson

Banking Beats: Africa's Music Economy

Austin Convention Center, Friday, March 16

Despite tech-related delays and an audience of less than 20, this panel covered a wide swath of topics relating to the potential of Africa's rich musical landscape to serve as an economic driver. United Nations Development Program consultant Elizabeth Smith noted that exports of African music more than doubled between 2005 and 2008. More importantly, the explosion of mobile phones across Africa now provides a portable distribution platform. "In the mobile industry, everything is so fast-paced," said Matthew Dawes from UK/Africa mobile company All Amber. "The public policy and regulators don't stand a chance." Nigeria-based Ngozi Odita emphasized the long economic tail of live performances in her country. "When an artist has a concert, it's not abnormal to have 5,000 or 10,000 people outside," she said. "It's not only the artist and promoter making money. It's everyone who sets up to sell to concertgoers." Piracy, pay-to-play radio, limited recording facilities, and power grid uncertainties all pose challenges, but ground-level innovation and informal business collaborations are overcoming barriers to entry. In contrast to traditional models of development, all three panelists emphasized the primacy of private sector capital to promote economic growth. With one billion potential listeners, Africa could ultimately play a key role in reviving the beleaguered music industry.

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