Michael Ugwu, CEO of Freeme Digital and former General Manager of Sony Music West Africa, talks about the uniqueness of Nigeria's music industry, systemic racism and much more.
Like in many other industries right now, there's a moment of reflection and reckoning happening within music, as Black people from musicians to music executives, speak out on experiences of racism both personal and systemic. Initiatives like The Show Must Be Paused and Blackout Tuesday were created to stand in solidarity with the Black community and reflect on how to better push for equal treatment and opportunities. While the media focus has been on creating fairer conditions for Black people in the USA and Europe, the African music industry–especially under major international labels—also suffers from systemic racism.
We caught up with the former General Manager of Sony Music West Africa, Michael Ugwu, now the CEO of Freeme Digital, to talk about what it's like for a Black music executive in Africa. Ugwu, an entertainment business entrepreneur joined Sony following his stint as CEO of iROKING Ltd, the premier but now-defunct Nigerian music distribution and streaming platform. Ugwu played a pivotal role in exposing Nigerian music for global consumption. He led the signing of Nigeria's biggest talents to landmark licensing and distribution deals while successfully re-negotiating subsequent deals.
Here, Ugwu recounts the underlying systemic racism prevailing in the operations of these major record labels gunning for market share in Africa.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.