African Music has Exploded Globally, Says Universal Music CEO

ACCRA, Ghana—Sipho Dlamini, chief executive officer of Universal Music in South Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa, has been passionate about music since childhood. At 15, he used to record songs off the radio onto cassettes and DJ at family parties. 

While studying in the U.K., Dlamini started playing at clubs for the African community that missed music from home. In 2019, he became the first African-based executive included on Billboard’s International Music Power list.

“I used to walk past Universal offices, trying to get in to get CDs and vinyls,” he says, “and to be working for the same company 30 years later is amazing.”

Manit Ghogar, a 2017 Northeastern graduate and a Young Global Leader, sat down for a conversation with Dlamini during Northeastern’s Global Leadership Summit in Accra, Ghana. They discussed the impact of emerging technology and artificial intelligence on the music industry, and why African artists are reaching a global audience. 

Dlamini’s comments were edited for clarity and brevity.

We’ve seen Korean pop take the world by storm. Do you see the same potential for African artists?

I think we’ve already seen it. There is not a club in the world that at some point in the evening will not play an Afrobeat set, whether it’s Wizkid, Burna Boy, Tiwa Savage or Rema. [African DJ, record producer and songwriter] Black Coffee not only plays during summer residency at Hï Ibiza, but some of the most exclusive parties in the world.

There are different genres that are coming out of Africa. In East Africa, there’s been Bongo Flava that’s been led by the likes of Diamond Platnumz [a Tanzanian artist] and Sauti Sol, [a Kenyan band]. Amopiano is another genre coming out of South Africa that also just exploded into different markets.

All these artists are traveling and performing globally. And it’s going to continue to grow and expand. In fact, most of the conversations now are artists from Europe and America wanting to collaborate with artists from Africa.

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