Across the continent, African-based music record labels have played a pivotal role in launching the careers of African artists, enabling them to develop their talent and expand their music’s reach. Many of these labels have facilitated the professional growth of artists and fostered global partnerships with renowned labels like Universal Music Group and Atlantic Records.
In this article, we will explore five African music labels that are leading the way for artists across the continent.
Chocolate City: Building a Musical Empire
Established in 2005, Chocolate City stands as one of Nigeria’s premier record labels, with a presence not only in Nigeria but also in Kenya, South Africa, and Ghana. The label was co-founded by Audu Maikori, a lawyer and marketing professional, and Paul Okeugo.
Within Chocolate City’s talented roster, notable artists such as Femi Kuti, a four-time Grammy-nominated artist, and Afrobeats sensations Dice Ailes, Nosa, ClassiQ, Ruby Gyang, Blaqbonez, C Kay, and Street Billionaires have found their artistic home. Additionally, the label has been home to renowned artists like Victoria Kimani, an American-born Kenyan record producer. Victoria Kimani released two albums, “Queen Victoria” and “Safari,” under the Chocolate City label.
M.I., who recently departed from the label after 13 years, achieved great success with nine projects, including five albums, three mixtapes, and one playlist. Under the Chocolate City banner, M.I. won Best Hip Hop and Best New Act at the 2009 MTV Africa Music Awards and received a nomination in the Best International Act category at the BET Awards 2010.
Ice Prince, another prominent artist associated with Chocolate City, rose to fame with his release of “Oleku,” one of Nigeria’s most remixed songs in 2011. Ice Prince secured Song of the Year and Best Rap Single for “Oleku” at The Headies in the same year. The music video for “Oleku” earned the distinction of Most Gifted Newcomer Video at the 2011 Channel O Music Video Awards and received a nomination for Best Contemporary Afro Video at the 2011 Nigeria Music Video Awards (NMVA). During his time with Chocolate City, Ice Prince released three albums: “Everybody Loves Ice Prince,” “Fire of Zamani,” and “Trash Can.”
In 2019, Chocolate City solidified a partnership with Warner Music Group, creating new avenues for African artists to expand their reach on a global scale. This collaboration presents exciting opportunities for international superstars in the African music scene.
The VTH Season: Cultivating Versatility and Talent
Founded by Ninel Musson and Raphael Benza, Vth Season, based in South Africa, has emerged as a thriving hub for a diverse group of recording artists, writers, producers, and pop-culture talent. The label has signed renowned artists such as AKA, Benny Afroe, and Manu WorldStar.
In 2017, Ami Faku, a contestant on The Voice South Africa, joined the label, making waves as the most-streamed woman in South Africa on Deezer. Ami’s single, “Into Ingawe,” achieved gold status in 2019 and reached platinum and double-platinum milestones in 2020.
Vth Season artists have experienced significant success, with ten singles featured on Radiomonitor’s South Africa Top 100 chart in 2020. AKA’s “F.R.E.E,” featuring Riky Rick and DJ Tira, topped the chart. Other popular songs included Ami Faku’s “Inde Lendlela,” “Ubuhle Bakho,” “Imali,” “Love Drunk,” “Into Ingawe,” “Ndiyeke,” and “Ungowam,” as well as Manu WorldStar’s “Rent.”
Lusafrica: A Legacy of Captivating Melodies
Established in 1988 by José da Silva, Lusafrica emerged as the first multinational record company in Cape Verde. José da Silva was captivated by Cesária Évora’s enchanting voice during a dinner with his wife in Lisbon, which inspired him to create this groundbreaking label. Today, Lusafrica stands as the leading African independent label in France.
Cesária Évora’s first album under Lusafrica, “La Diva aux pieds nus,” resonated deeply with Cape Verdeans and sold 3,000 vinyl records. Four years later, Cesária’s fourth album, “Miss Perfumado,” achieved remarkable success, selling 500,000 records. In 2004, Cesária’s ninth album, “Voz d’Amor,” won a Grammy for Best Contemporary World Music Album.
Beyond Évora, Lusafrica has released albums by talented artists across the continent, including Noberto Tavares from Cape Verde, and Gabonese artists Oliver N’Goma and Pierre Akendegue. The label has also collaborated with renowned Angolan artist Bonga and Malian artist Boubacar Traoré.
With its urban music department, Lusafrica has signed Kenyan DJ Blinky Bill, and its current artist roster includes Elida Almeida and Lucibela. DJ Blinky Bill released his first solo album, “Everyone’s Just Winging It And Other Fly Tales,” which featured collaborations with other Kenyan artists, such as Muthoni the Drama Queen.
Mavin Records: A Haven for Nigerian Talents
Founded by record producer and recording artist Don Jazzy in 2012, Mavin Records has become a household name in the Nigerian music industry. The label offers a wide range of services, including brand activation, music licensing, performance and appearances, and production.
Mavin Records boasts an impressive lineup of artists, including multiple award-winning Tiwa Savage, who joined the label in 2012 and later transitioned to Universal Music Group. Other notable artists signed to Mavin Records include Rema, Dr. Sid, D’Prince, Korede Bello, Di’Ja, Ladipoe, Johnny Drille, and Crayon.
Rema’s song “Iron Man” gained international recognition, earning a spot on President Obama’s summer playlist in 2019. The label’s roster encompasses a diverse range of talent, making Mavin Records a force to be reckoned with in the Nigerian music scene.
Gallo Records: A Legacy of Musical Heritage
Established in 1926, Gallo Records stands as the oldest record label in South Africa. During the period of 2007–2013, Gallo Records collaborated with Warner Music Group to form Warner Music Gallo Africa. This partnership resulted in the digitization of Gallo Records’ entire music catalogue, including timeless classics by artists such as Lucky Dube, Yvonne Chaka Chaka, Mahlathini and the Mahotella Queens, Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masekela, Letta Mbulu, and Spokes Mashiyane.
In a recent development, prominent South African DJ, record producer, singer, and songwriter Black Coffee acquired a significant stake in Gallo Records. With a vision to reshape the music landscape in South Africa, Black Coffee aims to create an ecosystem that empowers artists and ensures their equitable participation in the monetization of their music.
Gallo Record’s current catalogue includes renowned artists such as Bhekumuzi Luthuli, Harari, Soul Brothers, Sakhile, Thandiswa Mazwai, Siphiwe Dana, and Sipho Gumede.
The African music industry continues to thrive, thanks to the contributions of these exceptional record labels. Chocolate City, The VTH Season, Lusafrica, Mavin Records, and Gallo Records have not only shaped the careers of countless artists but also propelled African music onto the global stage.
Through their commitment to discovering, nurturing, and promoting talent, these labels have cemented their positions as industry powerhouses, creating pathways for African musicians to shine both locally and internationally. As the music industry evolves, we eagerly await the future endeavours of these influential labels and the artists they represent.