The Second Oldest Profession?

'Build it and they will come.' - one of the most overused, bullshit sayings of our time.

With Janu-worry now behind us and Febru-worry still there to be dealt with, it is perhaps a good time to have a breather and a look at the business of Entertainment: specifically the business of Music.

Business equals money. Large percentages of the planet's money is in the USA and in the UK; so it is no surprise, that these two parts of the planet have played an outsized role in the Music business.

If business equals money, then what does Music 'equal'? Well, the truth is that music is many-faceted. We will focus on two of those facets: Entertainment and Art and will ignore other facets such as Commercial music (jingles, etc.), Religious music (hymns, chants, gospel, etc.).

Let's now make up two definitions on the fly: Entertainment's primary goal is to elicit a pleasurable emotional response (fleeting and superficial as these responses may often be) and Art's primary goal is for the artist to convey his or her deepest emotions and insights. I.e., Customer-first vs. Artist-first.

So, we have Entertainment and we have Art. Entertainment also equals money and thus we, again, find that the USA and the UK are two major players in the Music-as-Entertainment industry.

On the Art side of the equation, things get interesting. And it is interesting from many different perspectives, but we will, again just look at two of these perspectives.

First, we will look at the financial value of art. Financial rewards for quality art (if we can define quality - and according to Robert M. Pirsig's "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" we must "Hold Quality undefined") depend on factors such as whether the original (or copies thereof) is sold. It will cost quite a bit of moola to buy the original Mona Lisa for your bedroom, but anyone can build a collection of all Dostoyevsky's works for only a few bucks. If you live in Cape Town, you can probably buy his full oeuvre for a few cents at the Milnerton Market. Recorded music is freely available and you can get access to the absolute best at a relatively low cost.

Secondly, there is the question of desirability. In many categories, for the 'average' person, Quality implies Desire: A Rolex over a Timex. A Rolls Royce over a Renault. A Michelin star over a burger joint. (I.e., if we can afford it, we will choose quality.) Not so in most of Art: Danielle Steel over Jane Austen. And Ed Sheeran over Mozart (for most people).

Africa is the least wealthy continent per capita and the second-least wealthy by total wealth. Yet, the quality of African Music is equal to, or is above, what can be found anywhere else - if we, perhaps, exclude the high points of Western Classical Music.

Youssou N'Dour is certainly Bob Dylan's equivalent in terms of quality - once the western ear manages to come to grips with his art - and, although the Zamrock groups were heavily influenced by the Beatles and Rolling Stones, they certainly matched the quality and built their art and their unique perspectives on top - in the same way that The Stones built on the genius of Robert Johnson and his artistic successors such as Muddy Waters.

So, we have music of the highest order from everywhere in this continent. Let's take an uninterrupted walk (starting from South Africa - all the way up to Cabo Verde) by crossing the borders as we proceed. We will thus, inevitably, leave out out many countries. So be it. And, many of the countries that we will visit (especially Mali, Senegal, Ghana and Nigeria) have an extremely rich musical history, so the links provided below are, in no way, representative of those huge sets of talent.

My favourite? Today it is 93-year-old Giddes Chalamanda from Malawi. On another day it will be another artist and most of the time it will be Tinariwen from Mali.

Madagascar, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Zambia, Angola, DRC, Republic of the Congo, Cameroon, Nigeria, Niger, Algeria, Mali, Senegal, Cabo Verde

And let's include Ghana and Ethiopia even though these countries were not on our contiguous route through Africa.

Yet, outside of the continent this music is virtually invisible, except to the cognoscenti.

What does all of the above mean for your business? Hopefully the parallels are clear we and don't have to spell it out: Art vs. Entertainment. Quality and Financial value. Invisibility without funding. Invisibility without Marketing. And so forth. Quality alone does not mean that there will be financial success. Choosing a strategy towards financial success is crucial. When you build it, they will not necessarily come.

Tough as the Music industry is - and certainly one of the industries that have seen the most change over the last two decades or so, some people and some countries have found extremely lucrative opportunities there. Rather than "build it and they will come", it is a case of "look-for-it-and-you-may-find-it".

On exactly this point, let's just take a minute to reflect on the astonishing rise of South Africa's Tyla and her recent Grammy win.


Sweden (with a GDP that is almost 40 times smaller than that of the USA) have become a major player in the Music Industry. Spotify, in many senses of the word, is now Music. And Max Martin, with his Melodic Math is the 'evil genius' behind almost all of modern music. If much of the music of today sounds as if it came off a conveyor belt (as it does to me), then this man (Martin) is to blame. Melodic Math really is the aural equivalent of a Facebook or TikTok algorithm. And, yes, I do realise that every generation says exactly that of the music that came after their teenage years. But, this time the evidence, pointing to one man, is available and is indisputable. This time things really are different. (Ok, ok, ok ...)

Back to Sweden: Their growing dominance in the Music space now rubs off on other Swedish businesses. Have a look at this video regarding The Restaurant of the Future (at around 11:50). These guys are international leaders in the New Restaurant space, are downstairs neighbours to Spotify, and that relationship is symbiotic.

So, yes, in all of our industries we must just simply "look for it" and we may then find it. If little Sweden (and we have not even touched on the ABBA story, or Roxette - recently used in a Sixty60 ad, or ...) can do it, so can we.