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MTV rolls out Africa channel: MTV, the world's largest music broadcaster, will launch a new channel dedicated to Africa in February. This will be the organisation's 100th channel and also complete its coverage of all regions of the world. Anver Versi looks at the pros and cons of this new musical movement.

The announcement that MTV--the world's biggest TV network dedicated to urban youth music--will be launching a new channel specifically for Africa has been greeted with delight by the continent's army of youthful music lovers.


MTV Base in Africa will be a 24-hour, English-language music TV channel that, it is hoped, will reflect the tastes and interests of African youth through a combination of African and international music videos and locally-produced content. Music does cross barriers and perhaps more than any other medium helps people understand one another. "A global music community is emerging," says Alex Okosi, general manager of MTV Base Africa.

Nothing bears out this statement more strongly than the phenomenon of urban pop music. It has its own language and rhythms, its unique moves, fashions, styles, gestures and heroes and heroines.

It is a world in itself with admission restricted to those under the age of 25 years, although a few 30-somethings may be hip enough to qualify. The music is eclectic but is mainly driven by the pounding beat of rap and hip-hop. It is the music of youth trying to make sense of the world and expressing itself in a metaphor unique to this generation. The music is as relevant to the young in the streets of Los Angeles as it is to their counterparts in Kinshasa or Lagos. Music and videos pumped through MTV's channels have become global nerve centres along which the world's youth communicates with itself.

I felt the immense power of this movement when I attended the MTV European Music Awards in Rome. The event was broadcast to an estimated billion viewers. There was no doubt at all who the world's youth is listening to as deafening cheers greeted Eminem with his anti-war theme. Although the event was billed European Music Awards, most of the winners came from the US with Outcast collecting three awards. Usher won two awards--for the best male singer and best album while, of course, Britney Spears won the best female singer.

Seven out of the 14 awards went to (I'm being politically correct here) performers of African descent. So, one can say it was a great night for African music!


Until now, however, Africa has been the only continent left on the margins of this great musical revolution. MTV Base Africa now fills that gap. "In a way it is taking music back to its original home," says Alex Okosi. For MTV, the Africa channel is yet another milestone--it is their 100th international channel. There is a danger, though. Will MTV, now in full sway over all the continents of the world, become another McDonalds? Will it dish out the same brand of fast, forgettable music as McDonalds does hamburgers? Will the heavy roller of homogenisation kill cultural diversity and creativity? Will it reach a point when all the young people all over the world dance to the same songs by the same singers? It is a frightening thought and one which has to be considered carefully at a time in history when multinational juggernauts--from providers of soft drinks to trainers and fast foods--are flattening all before them.

Music is the soul of a people's culture because it arises and takes its shape from a peoples' experiences and hopes. Each musical tradition is as unique as the culture from which it derives; kill the diversity of music and you kill cultural diversity.

But MTV's Africa manager, Alex Okosi, is reassuring. "Quite the contrary," he says. "MTV Networks (MTVN is is concerned with international networks such as MTVN Europe, MTVN Asia-Pacific etc) has succeeded because of its pioneering strategy of using local management teams to create and market programming that connects with local audiences."

This, he said, not only ensured cultural integrity but also provided a platform for local music to reach a world-wide audience. "By concentrating on building local audience connections through the development of local content," says Okosi, "MTVN International has had remarkable success in becoming part of the fabric of local youth cultures."

Once fully established, MTV Base in Africa will highlight a variety of African music genres including Kwaito, Hip-Life, Mbalax and Zouk. At the same time, African audiences will have access to diverse international urban artists including Alicia Keys, Jay-Z, Sean Paul, IAM, Passi and Saian Supa Crew.

MTV could, in theory at least, truly internationalise African music and make its rhythms, sounds and lyrics as relevant in Russia, China, the US and India among other countries as it is in its mother continent.


"The launch of MTV Base in Africa completes our global footprint and I couldn't be more excited," said Tom Freston, Co-President of Viacom Inc. "Ever since MTV first launched, we saw great potential to take this brand and make it relevant to audiences across the globe. Today, with channels in every region of the world, we have done exactly that. So this year, to culminate that vision with our 100th channel launch in Africa is so sweet--particularly since so much of contemporary music traces its roots to African music."

Bill Roedy, President, MTV Networks International said, "Launching an MTV channel in Africa has been a long-time goal, and reflects our mission of celebrating the diversity of youth culture around the world. By tapping into Africa's rich local music scene, we plan to play a major role in supporting and exporting Africa's incredible artists and cultural heritage around the world. Having this platform in Africa will also help expand our efforts to fight the HIV/Aids epidemic--a global priority for our company and a vital issue for Africans."

MTV Base in Africa will be a localized version of MTV Base, the highly successful urban music service seen in much of Europe. The channel will broadcast via satellite to 48 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. While MTVN has exported its European channels to African markets since 1995, this is the first service created specifically for African audiences. The channel will also premiere a new series of local HIV/Aids awareness and prevention messages, in addition to airing MTV Networks International's award-winning Staying Alive series. Currently over 400,000 subscribers outside South Africa view the UK version of MTV Base. MTV Base UK will continue to be available to viewers outside South Africa via Trend TV, CTNL and ESTV distributors in Nigeria until the launch of the local MTV Base channel. MTV Base joins MTV European and MTV France, both of which will continue to be available in the region.

At launch in February, MTV Base will reach approximately 1.3m house-holds across sub-Saharan Africa via multi-channel operators DStv, Trend TV, CTNL and FSTV. MTV Networks, a division of Viacom Inc, is the first global media company to achieve the 100-channel milestone. Since launching in Europe in 1987, MTV Networks has expanded to Asia-Pacific and Latin America reaching a potential audience of over one billion people in 164 territories.

"Africa," says Alex Okosi, "is MTVN's final frontier, giving the company locally customised channels in every region of the world."

MTV Network's multi-media brands include MTV, Nickelodeon, VH1, TV Land, Nick at Nite, MTV2, CMT, Spike, Comedy Central, and TMF (The Music Factory). The most widely distributed channel brand is MTV with 43 channels. Happy viewing!
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Title Annotation:SHOWBIZ; MTV Networks Inc.
Author:Versi, Anver
Publication:African Business
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2005
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