As the ancestral home of American jazz and the blues,
Jamaican reggae and Trinidadian calypso, the music of
Africa has had a far-reaching influence on genres
throughout the world. Yet contemporary African artists,
with few exceptions, struggle to impact beyond the
continent, or fan bases within African expatriate
communities in the U.S. and Europe.
The recently formed New York City-based label ChiBase
Productions aims to establish a mainstream presence for
the diversified sounds emanating from a continent with
over a billion people spread over some 50 countries,
singing in a wide array of languages and dialects,
juxtaposing cutting-edge technology with ancient
ChiBase Productions’ Nigeria-born founder and president,
Chetachi Ecton, was inspired to set up the label three
years ago following a Thanksgiving gathering in her
“My (American-born) children were listening and dancing to
these beautiful Nigerian songs that I had never heard
before, so I wondered, if there is such lovely music being
made in Africa, why isn’t it played on the radio or on TV
here? So I decided to start a label that can take African
music to the world and see what kind of difference it can
make,” Ecton said in an interview with Billboard at
her midtown Manhattan office.
Ecton presides over several successful enterprises,
including a Philadelphia-based home healthcare agency and
the When In Need (WIN) charitable foundation through which
she is currently rebuilding and completely furnishing an
elementary school in her hometown of Owerri (referred to
as Nigeria’s entertainment capital).
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Ecton is a recipient of several citations for her achievements in business including the 2011 Entrepreneurship Award from
Philadelphia’s African and Caribbean Business Council.
Drawing from her business experience, passion for Africa
and lifelong love for music, Ecton has structured ChiBase
Productions as a one-stop entertainment platform offering
artist development, licensing, joint ventures,
distribution, marketing, touring and management services.
“Somewhere in an African village there is another Alicia
Keys, Mary. J Blige, Snoop Dogg or Rihanna; I want to help
these struggling artists to flourish and become superstars
somewhere else besides their country of origin,” stated
Ecton, who recently visited several African nations where
she met with artists with whom she is interested in
working, although she did not disclose their names nor
their (potential) affiliation with ChiBase.
ChiBase Productions’ initial release, due early next year,
will likely be a themed compilation album featuring
African artists collaborating with acts of various
backgrounds, offered ChiBase Productions’ senior vice
president (and industry veteran) Cristy Barber.
“Based on my experience, themed compilations will be the
most effective way to break African artists in
international markets, especially America,” notes Barber,
a Grammy-nominated producer for the 2003 hip-hop/dancehall
compilation Red Star Sounds Presents Def Jamaica (Island
Def Jam/Def Jamaica), and a producer of the 2011
compilation Reggae’s Gone Country (VP Records/Warner
Nashville), the first reggae album to reach the Country
Album chart, peaking at No. 65.
Barber’s 22 years spent working in the marketing and
promotion of reggae at Columbia, Capitol, Elektra,
Island/Def Jam, Universal, VP Records and the Marley
Brothers’ Ghetto Youths International (where she is
currently director of operations), she says, is directly
applicable to propelling African artists’ careers beyond
the continent. “I have focused my entire professional life
on breaking Jamaican reggae acts in America, taking one
culture to another, so it is a similar concept working
with ChiBase’s African artists,” Barber told Billboard.
INgrooves Music Group will handle the global digital
distribution for ChiBase Productions, utilizing their
complex network of 600 online and mobile destinations
worldwide representing more than 100 territories.
INgrooves’ senior vice president, Olivier Chastan, brought
the deal to the company, which was finalized by Gregory
Mateo, INgrooves’ director of label and artist
development. INgrooves will coordinate their efforts with
digital stores and streaming platforms with ChiBase’s
marketing and promotional strategies.
“In the beginning obviously the messaging has to come from
the label to say this is what we are doing and why it is
important, then as they regularly release music and build
catalogue there will be opportunities for doing a label
spotlight or a catalogue sale on iTunes, pitching with the
priorities that we have for that week or month to get
great positioning for them” notes Mateo, who, like
Chastan, is eager to work with an African-centric label.
“When the World Cup was held in South Africa in 2010, it
seemed like African music would be put on a pedestal and
people would discover new music, but that didn’t really
happen so it’s exciting that now a U.S.-based label will
curate the sounds coming from territories that you don’t
normally hear from,” adds Mateo.
The branding of ChiBase Productions begins with the
label’s official (invitation-only) launch in midtown
Manhattan on Aug. 30. The following evening, the company
will co-sponsor the Ninth annual Nigerian Entertainment
Awards (NEA), to be held at NYU’s Skirball Center, which
honors contributors in various sectors of that West
African nation’s immense entertainment industry. Ecton
believes the NEA’s untapped vast international appeal
makes it an appropriate initiative for her label.
“We want to sell the Nigerian Entertainment Awards to the
world and help them expand as part of our global vision
for African music,” said Ecton. “Great Nigerian musicians
like King Sunny Ade and the late Fela Kuti have attracted
large audiences around the world and many more Africans
can do the same thing if given the opportunities that we
intend to provide for them.”
Read more at Billboard.