Fair play for Beninese musicians

Beninese Afropoprock musician, Sessimé’s (pictured) career took off after she got the chance to have her CD marketed through the ground-breaking IFCD-supported Proximus Rezo project. Photo credit: Gomez Bruno.

Benin’s cultural scene is vibrant and music percolates into the everyday lives of people. Small recording studios and music clubs have been popping up around the capital of Cotonou in the last ten years.

Influenced by the pulsating sounds of Ghanaian and Congolese artists, Beninese musicians fuse traditional folk with an impressive variety of music, including reggae, hip-hop, funk, jazz, brass band, choral, gospel, cabaret, and rhythm and blues, among others.

These creative works however are exposed to widespread piracy and copyright violation. People have difficulty verifying original works and are used to very low prices. Consequently, artists, producers, promoters, and distributors do not make a fair profit from their work.

World Rhythm Productions (WRP) was set up to promote Beninese artists, defend their copyrights and help enable them to earn a decent living from their art. Launched in Cotonou in 2009, the cultural association supports audio and video production, distribution, management, promotion, web design and also organizes artists’ tours.

With the support of UNESCO’s International Fund for Cultural Diversity, World Rhythm Productions brought to fruition its Proximus Rezo initiative.

The Proximus Rezo project selected four musicians through a contest and promoted their original CD. It also created a sustainable sales network by hiring two distributers, and setting up 100 display units at hair salons in Cotonou’s popular areas. There, CDs were distributed and sold alongside other local recordings and films, and also promoted through radio and television spots.

Sessimé was among the young musicians selected. As part of her Afropoprock style, the charismatic young woman plays piano and percussion instruments and is sometimes accompanied by an orchestra. An artist, writer, composer and interpreter of Beninese music, Sessimé said the Proximus Rezo project, “helped me to reach a lot of homes in a short period of time. It gave me confidence in myself, and with the sales proved to me that I could go far with my music.” The first 3,000 copies of Sessimé’s CD sold out in two months.

The project has enabled Benin’s cultural entrepreneurs to promote new talent and create an innovative, sustainable business model. Display units emphasized the value of original works and raised awareness of piracy issues. Bulk production and wide distribution permitted a price tag accessible to locals, which increased CD sales and generated earnings along the artistic production line. Profits are being reinvested in the industry and the approach will be extended to other cultural sectors. Local production companies are also interested in the new network while artists are keen to be associated with it.

Busy touring and enjoying her growing success, Sessimé would like to see such support expanded, she said, “I can only pray that the projects which have been set up to develop artistic capacity will receive further support for the benefit of other artists as well.”

To aspiring artists in Benin, Sessimé said, “I encourage cultural artists to believe in themselves. I think we have a very good future with this kind of distribution network”.

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