Archive for the 'rhythms words colors shapes' Category


April 18, 2008

It gets pretty bad when a 1963 applied sociology study focusing on labour migrancy mentions that the dancing skills and fashion sense of the Brazzaville migrant workers causes tensions and fights in Gabon.

Also, the study suggests that clear contracts with clear and well-understood terms reduce turn-out among migrant workers. No shit. Did the colonists really need a sociologist to tell them that ? (actually not only they did, but they still do).

Here’s the paper (in French).


how the Market™ responds

December 13, 2007

Because Africa is not exactly the biggest consumer market in the world, companies don’t tend to have an assigned distributor or a branch/office in each country. Some companies simply have one distributor for the whole continent, sometimes located on the continent (very often in South Africa), sometimes not (the Middle East and Europe often are responsible for Africa) . But that happens less often than you’d think.

Business management software supplier Sage’s distribution network has the export department of the Paris office covering francophone african countries while a branch in South Africa covers the rest of the continent and I assume some of North Africa goes to the Middle East Branch (I wonder where Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria fall). Apart from the lingustic aspect, there is another reason why it makes sense. In Africa, business law, corporate pratices, accounting standards tend to be closer to those of the former colonizers. So in this case, Gabon has more in common with France than with South Africa. I wonder what effect OHADA would have on that network.
Microsoft goes for geographical regions with Egypt having its own Cairo office, a Johannesburg office for South Africa and its enclaves, an East Africa office located in Nairobi, Kenya, a Southern Africa office in Windhoek, Namibia, a North Africa office in Casablanca , an Indian Ocean office in Mauritius (that supports Djibouti, French Caledonia and French Polynesia in addition to all the Indian Ocean islands that usually belong to Africa) and here’s the twist , a Lagos office for only Nigeria and Ghana and an Abidjan office for the rest of Western and Central Africa. So in this case, the biggest national markets get their own local structure and the rest in bundled in a way that make sense.

Dell’s network is a lot more complicated with local retailers, a Johannesburg office for support on a product, a Paris office on another one and countries “belonging” to various zones depending on the service/product (if you follow the link just go ahead and click on a few countries).
Elevator company Otis has 4 offices in Africa, one in Egypt, one in South Africa, one in Ivory Coast and one in Cameroon. I’m trying very hard to understand the last one.
Caterpillar on the other hand seems to have an official distributor in almost each of the african countries (dealer locator). Construction machines do sell everywhere and with the cheapest product costing more than $100,000, one better have good consumer service.
And then you have Toyota has a presence almost everywhere either relying on the even older network that is former french colonial concession company CFAO or their own local offices.

But my point wasn’t to explore the distribution network of every single company that has an activity in Africa. That whole introduction is really about one odd thing:

M-Audio, an Avid subsidary that specializes in music hardware has a distributor in South Africa and one in Angola.
Propellerhead, a swedish company that makes the aclaimed music software Reason has a distibutor located in Mauritius that covers the whole continent except South Africa and Angola who have their own distributors (and they’re the same as M-Audio’s).
Now, South Africa is the biggest consumer market on the continent and as noted above, every companies have a distributor or an office there. Even notoriously cautious Apple has a South Africa website.
But why Angola ? The country is not particularly big like Nigeria and Egypt, or rich like South Africa, it’s not particularly well-connected to its neighbours like Ivory Coast or isn’t really part of a semi-unified regional market like Kenya or Uganda are.

Well this is why:



That was Kuduro, a music genre that originated in Angola and that mixes rap (sometimes), local rythms and electronic instrumentation and production. You can read (and view) more about its origins, its impact and the influence Jean-Claude Van Damme had on it on GlobalVoices (although I think they somehow overestimate the “message” part).

Now are we really surprised keyboards and music softwares sell enough in Angola for distributors and producers to find that market important enough to separate it from the rest of the continent ? That’s how you find opportunities, brothers and sisters (or that’s the beginning of a possible business cluster, economists).

weird moments in african pop

November 29, 2007

Leopold Senghor once wrote that “emotion is black as reason is greek”.. Primitiveness, authenticity that’s what we’re supposed to be about.

Well we can do irony, man. And not for western audiences either:

and we can do straight up weird:

Note on The Grand Master Franco Luambo

November 18, 2007

It’s a known fact that Franco recorded various praise songs for Mobutu, openly supported Mobutu’s presidential campaigns and toured to promote the Authenticity policy. 

What may be little known is that those efforts paid off in:

– the 1972 acquisition of the club “Chez Engels” which became the famous “Un, Deux, Trois” via a complicated transaction involving the political downfall of the former owner (or manager), Mobutu’s wife and probably the Presidency itself.
– Franco’s 1972 nomination as president of UMUZA, the national musicians’ union created (or officially encouraged) by the Mobutu regime.
– the acquisition of Mazadis, the largest record pressing plant in the country, as part of the Zaireanisation policy. 

As the president of UMUZA:

– he installed the unions’ headquarters on his own “Un, Deux, Trois” propriety.
– he had, because of a May 1973 decree, the exclusive power to grant travel authorizations to musicians wishing to travel abroad. He did use that power against competition. For instance in 1975 Trio Majesti announced a December gig at Olympia in Paris. In May, they got a 12 months suspension from UMUZA for trading Zaires into foreign currency on the black market to finance their travel (weirdly enough, no judicial prosecution ever occurred even if that action was definitely illegal). The ban got reversed in August but the December date still passed without the band getting its travel authorization.
– in 1973, he banned the creation (or rather the registration) of new bands and recording companies, claiming 300 bands were already too much for a sane and sustainable music industry.
– in an April 1975, at a meeting of UMUZA members, he called for more “revolutionary” recordings (so more praise songs), demanded more self-censorship and announced a new travel restriction: band having gigs abroad will have to show that they had enough currency to support themselves and that currency would have to be acquired through the Central Bank (at disadvantageous rates) and the central bank requested a permit by.. UMUZA. 

As the owner of Mazadis:

– he granted himself, his band and his production company preferential treatment by having different prices and by slowly or badly processing orders from competitors.
– he didn’t do much to keep the operation running (and eventually saw the former owners get 60% of their shares back in 1975) which led to a nationwide shortage of records. “Kiosks everywhere display shelves either empty or filled only with old creations” said a (government) newspaper in 1974.
– he failed to use his political clout to get permits and authorizations necessary to buy foreign currency to purchase equipment, spare parts and raw materials. Of course, one could say that foreign currency was hard to obtain for anyone but as the manager of the other recording plant said: “of course, there was no shortage of foreign exchange. All kinds of luxury goods were available in the stores, but no one penny for raw materials and spare parts.” I believe Franco did obtain permits but for different purposes.

The shortages, lack of investment, travel bans, mismanagement of author rights payments, corruption, favoritism all contributed to the demise of the zairean music industry and Franco, arguably the greatest congolese musician of all-time, played a big role in those events. Let us not forget that.

That said, I still believe this great song has a great political subtext:

All the information was taken from Gary Steward’s excellent book: rumba on the river.rumba on the river