It is no longer hard to imagine when you hear it from one of the people turning Tunisian music to business.
“In Tunisia—and North Africa—the music industry is challenged by a copyrights and royalties deficit. Artistes are not getting paid enough, and this has torn a hole in the sector for as long as can be remembered”.
Compared to that of Nigeria, South Africa and Ghana, North Africa as a whole—especially Tunisia—lacks a proper music industry. As such, everyone from urban rappers to pop artistes have been struggling to take their music to the world.
The music industry as we know it can be very overwhelming and competitive for emerging talent. Truly, the artistes today are expected to not just create, sing and perform, but to also promote, distribute and sell their work.
For people only trying to learn the ropes in a seemingly promising industry, this is some kind of a multi hat challenge. Not only do these tasks form a burden, but also prevents them from focusing on what really matters, the music.
But these are not the only factors that make a hamstrung music industry in Tunisia. A set of bigger and more complex problems have forced urban artistes in the North African country under repression and hard censorship. Some of them have been dragged to court and unceremoniously put behind bars.
Some rappers from Tunisia have been jailed by the government for creating songs that either chastise or criticize the country’s leadership. For instance, Ahmed Ben Ahmed, was given a six-month time in 2013 for reportedly using harsh words against Tunisian authorities in his songs.
Also, Weld El 15, another popular Tunisian rapper whose real name is Ala Yaacoubi, was given a two-year sentence in June for his song The Police Are Dogs. While speculations hover around the obvious love-hate relationship between musicians and the government in this country, the obvious effect is the dragging heavyweight on the success of the music industry.
Away from the political cum musical clamor quite synonymous with Tunisia, there seems to be business opportunity. After the end of Ben Ali’s administration, the country’s rap scence proved itself to have been a ticking bomb awaiting a kaboom.
Rap began the way hip-hop started in New York back in the 1970s—as an outlet. But, the Arab Spring brought with it a strong flood of emerging rappers. However, the challenge that remains is circulating their creations around the country, North Africa and the world.
Trying to plug this gap, Irish-Tunisian entrepreneur Amer Nejma, has created El Distro Network. The business concerns itself with digitally supporting Tunisian talent by pushing their music through channels, helping them do custom marketing and enabling them to monetize via YouTube.
“Before, artistes didn’t have any tools to show their music to the world, so we decided to help them show their music on big platforms such as Spotify, Apple Music Deezer and many others. They don’t have to pay us anything or go under contracts, which other companies could use to steal their royalties,” Amer Nejma told WeeTracker.
El Distro claims to have worked with the likes of Weld El 15, Lil K, Amyne, El General, Rayen Youssef, Meriem Nourdine, Zaza Show and many others, all of which make up a now budding Tunisian music scene.
Its business model is basically focusing on the artistes and using all available resources to help them extend reach. Using a seemingly free business model, El Distro admits that monetizing is little at this stage.
However, the firm explained to WeeTracker that at this stage, anything is substantial, as the main drive is eliminating the barriers confronting the Tunisian music industry. It now looks to Libya as its next destination, but North Africa as a whole remains its bigger picture.
While the likes of Mavin Records (Nigeria) and Gallo Record Company (South Africa) form part of the record label leadership in Africa, similar businesses exist in Tunisia and around—Mighty Records (Tunisia), Bosaina (Egypt), and Pink Flame Music (Morocco).
In a conversation with WeeTracker, Amyne—a French-Moroccan R&B singer—says: “I have been in the industry for long. But I joined El Distro 3 months ago, and since then I have had a bigger fan base.
My music is now being listened all over the North African area. I also had my last release trending on Youtube music for Tunisia and this was like a dream for me”.
Similarly, Tunisian rapper Weld El 15 told WeeTracker that he’s now able to showcase his work internationally, plus a bigger fan base in Maghreb and even in Europe. His songs are now on a variety of platforms, watched by thousands of fans.
“El distro doesn’t only help me with distribution, but also with marketing my product, getting an artistic image and communication on the social media platforms. In a year of working together, we have released more than 10 tracks. I have been able to get feats with other fellow rappers from the network”.
Hurdles in the music industry are not peculiar to Tunisia or North Africa. Regardless of global recognition, challenges exist in the form of piracy, illegal sale of CDs and shady record contracts. Even in Nigeria where the industry is expected to hit USD 50 Mn this year, these challenges still exist.
“There’s a lot of corruption that you also have to deal with. We have organisations but we don’t have the legal force to get them to do what they’re supposed to be doing, because we have ineffective legal systems.
That’s the problem. They are collecting, but they’re not collecting accurately or effectively, to create the kind of ripple effect that we want.” says Aibee Abidoye, General Manager at Chocolate City Group.
The continental problem can be solved with the use of technology. Thanks to streaming platforms, distribution networks and the rate of smartphone penetration, an artiste from even the remotest part of Africa can create and share his musical content with the world.
Doing so within safe distro spaces and with trusted record labels makes it possible to get significant revenues.
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