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At Trans Musicales, The Difficult Reality of African Musicians

“It’s super complicated to make a living from your music in Africa”, says Oumar Ngom, from the Senegalese group Ndox Electrique, echoing the many artists on the other side of the Mediterranean who are forced to turn to Europe to find concerts, income and professional structures.

“In Senegal, there is no music industry. For concerts, for example, generally only the singers are paid well; the singers themselves pay the accompanying musicians, they come afterwards”, explains this griot, percussionist and “conductor” of the group invited to perform at the prestigious Trans Musicales in Rennes, in western France.

“There’s not a lot of money, you don’t sell records, and it’s also very hard on the music platforms”, sums up the artist, who has had to do a lot of odd jobs to pursue his passion. “I’ve done everything, I’ve worked, I’ve done sales, because I saw that I couldn’t get by with music,” he confides.

“There can be an internal economy that supports a large number of musicians, but very meagrely, for example for the healing rituals” from which the music of Ndox Electrique draws its inspiration, explains François Cambuzat, initiator of the project.

“We’re talking about ridiculous incomes compared to the cost of living in Senegal. People can work eight to ten hours a day for shows and earn between five and ten euros”, compared with the minimum fee in France, which is around 135 euros, he points out.

As for royalties, Senegal does have the equivalent of Sacem (Société des auteurs-compositeurs et éditeurs de musique), the French company responsible for collecting and distributing these rights, but “it’s very badly organised and expensive”, according to this music backpacker who has criss-crossed Africa and Asia in the course of his artistic projects.”So African musicians often register directly with Sacem because it’s now possible,” points out François Cambuzat.

This is exactly what the members of the group Bantu Spaceship, who are also performing at the Trans, have just done from faraway Zimbabwe.”We hope it will bring us a bit of income,” says Joshua Chiundiza, producer and co-founder of the group which mixes traditional Zimbabwean pop, jit, with electronic music.

Like his partner Thando Mlanbo (guitar and vocals), Joshua “works full time to pay the bills” and has to juggle to devote himself to his music.

“There’s a real appetite for music and the arts in our countries”, says Thando, “it’s mainly a question of making it financially viable” to develop a whole ecosystem around music.

“In Zimbabwe, you’ll find a lot of musicians who have set up their own recording studios and are trying to emulate the record companies, but it’s not there yet,” says Joshua.

What about social networks? For François Cambuzat, they may help to expand his audience, or even, for the lucky ones, to be spotted by a foreign agent, but they don’t pay.

“I know a lot of people who have 40,000 followers but don’t earn a single euro! And of those 40,000 subscribers, how many are going to come and see you live?

The role of Trans Musicales in Rennes and the Guess Who festival in Utrecht (Netherlands), renowned for launching new talent, is therefore crucial for groups like Ndox Electrique and Bantu Spaceship.”It’s good financially and also, from an artistic point of view, performing in Europe helps us to become professional artists,” stresses Joshua Chiundiza.

“A lot of musicians in Africa or Asia don’t realise the level they need to be at to match what’s already on offer here,” confirms François Cambuzat.”In Europe, things are better organised, much more promoted and taken seriously”, says Oumar Ngom, whose “greatest wish is to be able to make music full-time”.

“I can’t wait to quit my job,” says Thando with a burst of laughter.

Source : Africanews