MR EAZI, one of the most successful and influential artists in Africa and a key figure in the global rise of afrobeats, is investing in the next generation of African talent through emPawa Africa, a talent incubator program that provides emerging artists with the tools, startup funding and mentorship to become artist-entrepreneurs.
Following a successful launch earlier this year, emPawa Africa’s accelerator program reopens to entries on Friday, Aug. 15. This time, 30 African artists will be selected to receive a non-repayable grant to fund their first pro-quality music video, as well as mentorship, marketing services and other support to launch their international recording career.
To be considered, entrants are asked to upload a short video clip (up to 1 minute in length) to Instagram of themselves performing an original song, cover or freestyle, with the hashtag #emPawa30. The program will close to submissions on Sept. 15, after which each entry will each be evaluated by Mr Eazi and his music-industry colleagues. The new cohort of 30 artists will be announced on Sept. 30.
In this second phase of the program, artists from the African Diaspora are also encouraged to apply. The #emPawa30 will include 10 artists from Nigeria; 10 artists from other countries on the African continent; and five U.K.-based African artists, with the remaining five spots open to African-born artists in countries around the world, including the U.S. and Canada.
YouTube Music is partnering with emPawa Africa to provide support for the 10 Nigerian artists in the #emPawa30 cohort, YouTube’s Global Head of Music, Lyor Cohen, announced during a fireside chat with Mr Eazi at last month’s Google for Nigeria Week.
Once selected, each #emPawa30 artist will be assigned an individual mentor and video director, with whom they will work directly throughout the seven-month mentorship program. Mentors will include Diplo, afrobeats producers E. Kelly, Juls and GuiltyBeatz, South African rapper Kwesta, Ghanaian rapper Sarkodie, Tanzanian music superstar Diamond Platnumz, afrobeats veteran DJ Neptune and executives from the African music industry, along with Mr Eazi himself. The videos will be filmed in October and rolled out across six weeks starting Nov. 1.
The 10 artists from this cohort who display the most promise will be flown to a two-week masterclass in January, where they will receive business, marketing and production training while working with mentors in a state-of-the-art recording studio. Four artists will receive additional funding to cover management, marketing and legal fees throughout 2020, as well as to record new music and create additional videos.
In its first phase, launched in November 2018, emPawa Africa provided US$300,000 —or US$3,000 each — to 100 artists to film their first professional-quality video. To date, 100 videos have been completed and 75 of these videos have been released. Each can be viewed on the emPawa Africa YouTube page HERE. Some 17,000 submissions were received during Phase 1, from countries across Africa.
Among the success stories from the #emPawa100 have been Nigeria’s Joeboy, whose single “Baby” has topped streaming charts in Nigeria, Uganda and Kenya, and amassed over 7 million plays on YouTube; and J Derobie, who has become a chart staple in his native Ghana with singles like “Irie” and “Poverty.”
Taking inspiration from his own experiences participating in business incubators as a young tech entrepreneur — and the generosity of friends who helped launch his music career in 2015 with a $1,000 gift to fund his own debut music video, for “Skintight” — Mr Eazi conceived emPawa Africa as a new model for artist development. Since its launch, the company has grown into a music distributor and label services company with clients including Mr Eazi himself. Media outlets from Rolling Stone to CNN have hailed emPawa for its innovative approach to artist development, and its work furthering African music’s global reach.
“emPawa is an initiative I created with one simple mission: Helping new artists reach their full potential musically by equipping them with the knowledge and funding to do so,” says Mr Eazi. “It’s something I wish someone had created when I first started making music. Sometimes, all it takes is that one person to believe in you.”