MBW’s World Leaders is a regular series in which we shine the spotlight on some of the industry’s most influential figures overseeing major international markets. In this article, we talk to Abuchi Ugwu, CEO of Chocolate City. Oorld Leaders is supported by BVG.
Chocolate City is one of Nigeria’s largest and oldest independent labels.
Founded in 2005 by Audu Maikori, Paul Okeugo and Yahaya Maikori, the company is headquartered in Lagos, with offices in Abuja, Nairobi, as well as in the UK, USA and South Africa.
The label is led by music industry veteran Abuchi Ugwu, who was named CEO of Chocolate City in April 2021.
Before taking over management of Cholocate City, Ugwu’s career saw him start as a sound engineer, working on a number of key projects for Davido, Djinee, Jesse Jagz and Ice Prince.
He also worked as an artist manager and became head of business development for Chocolate City in 2015, before leaving in 2019 to join marketing agency Bean Creative Agency as vice president.
Returning as CEO in April last year, he told a Nigeria-based publication Business day in May, that the label is “on the cusp of creating chart disruption globally”.
He added that his team’s focus over the previous year had “been to rebuild the team, create great music and execute on our ‘ArtistCentric’ strategic plan”.
Chocolate City received a major global boost in 2019 when it partnered with Warner Music Group, in a deal that WMG said at the time would “significantly increase the reach of African artists around the world. and would create new opportunities for global superstars in the region”. ”.
The label also made clear its global ambitions earlier this year via a key hire in the United States, with Franklin “Twizz” David named president of brand, content and partnerships in North America.
Ugwu said at the time that “having Twizz on board is really exciting for us as we seek to expand our base in North America and export our culture to the world”.
The company’s current roster of artists includes MI Abaga, Blaqbonez, YoungJonn, CandyBleakz, Noon Dave, TAR1Q and Major AJ and was also previously home to Afrobeats artists like Ckay, Dice Ailes, Brymo, Koker, Nosa, Ruby Gyang, as well as prominent hip-hop groups Ice Prince and Jesse Jagz.
One of Cholocate City’s biggest global hits in recent years has come from Nigerian singer-songwriter CKay, whose track Love Nwantiti was released under the label and became a global viral hit. It has been streamed over 562 million times on Spotify alone since its release in 2019. CKay has since signed with Warner Music South Africa.
Other recent highlights cited by the label include the release of music producer Young Jonn’s debut project, the Love is not enough EP. Chocolate City says the first single, DADA, has reached over 50 million streams to date across all platforms.
Chocolate City also notes that one of its priority artists, Blaqbonez’s album sex over love was named as one of rolling stones best albums of 2021 so far. The project has ranked #1 in Nigeria and has garnered over 50 million streams since its release.
Hip-hop legend MI Abaga, meanwhile, released his latest album The guy via Chocolate City in August. It has charted in over 21 countries including the UK.
Here, Chocolate City CEO Abuchi Ugwu recounts his first year and a half as CEO of Chocolate City, what differentiates the label from other players in the market, and shares his predictions on the growth potential of music streaming in Africa .
You were named CEO in 2021. Tell us about your goals for the company taking over?
When I was appointed, the company was not in good health (financially) and my first objective was to stabilize the company and make it profitable for every stakeholder involved.
What differentiates Chocolate City from other market players?
Chocolate City is a haven for creatives. We care about the creative process and the brand because we believe music is more than just a product.
One of the goals for me is to create an atmosphere where people can create freely.
What does Chocolate City look for in an artist?
Talent, hard work and [a] desire to learn. And drive.
How hard is it in 2022 to break artists in Nigeria, Africa and the world?
In this digital age, we are not [only] fight to get your song played [on] radio [anymore]. Data is important. You have to think outside the box and treat every channel as important, which comes at a huge cost
Tell us about Chocolate City’s partnership with Warner Music Group in 2019 – What have been the highlights of the partnership so far?
The partnership has been a key element in the evolution of Nigerian music. Instrumental in the growth and number of our artists, a highlight would be EMILIAN [by CKay].
I believe the way forward for the music industry is through partnerships.
WMG has also invested financially in Chocolate City. Could you tell us more about this investment?
It’s an investment and [a] Partnership. As in any partnership, there are ups and downs, but we benefit from each other [from the partnership] and both parties are happy.
i have to congratulate [Chocolate City EVP] Aibee [Abidoye] and Temi [Adeniji, MD of Warner Music South Africa and SVP, Strategy, Sub-Saharan Africa] who are women in this industry and who are key factors in the success of this partnership.
What do you think of the potential of music streaming for labels and artists in Africa and what are the obstacles to the growth of the streaming market currently?
We haven’t begun to scratch the surface. Music streaming has proven to be important. A few years ago, the [value] projects have not reached the creators and [music] could be found [and] randomly downloaded from the web [platforms].
But now streaming gives [artists] the opportunity to “eat the fruit of [their] ‘work’.
For the barriers [to streaming growth]it would be payment solutions and i hope [will] be resolved soon.
Music is one thing that unites us [across] geopolitical zones and we have not been able to translate these figures into flows.
What are the biggest challenges for the music industry in general in Nigeria, Africa and the world, in your opinion?
We have a huge problem [with] payment solutions and [we need a] appropriate tour system.
There is a lack of [touring] structure locally and not a fair sharing of dividends [in return for] what is invested.
I could also say [the industry is] oversaturated but that’s another conversation.
What would you change in the world of music and why?
[I would] level the playing field and give rappers a chance to compete against their counterparts from other genres. After all, Africa is so much more than Afrobeats.
World Leaders is supported by PPL, one of the world’s leading neighboring rights collectors, with world-class operations that help performers and recording rights owners around the world maximize their royalties. Founded in 1934, PPL raises money in Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe and North and South America. It has raised over £500million internationally for its members since 2006.
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