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Freedom Day ‘bittersweet’ for UK live sector

Today (19 July) sees Freedom Day in the UK, so-called due to the relaxation of all legal restrictions imposed on live events that had been imposed due to COVID-19. But within hours of rules being relaxed, vaccine minister Nadhim Zahawi has said that full vaccinations will be required for entry into nightclubs and venues with large crowds from September.

As of today, in England, all live events, such as music concerts and sporting events can resume without any limits on attendance or social distancing requirements and attendees are no longer be legally required to wear a face mask.

But against a backdrop of rising levels of infection across the UK, most nightclub operators have chosen not to enforce any level of certification, or ask patrons to provide proof of a recent test or vaccination.  In response today, officials have said that all attendees will have to be double-jabbed, and a negative test will be insufficient.

“There is still no commercial solution and it requires urgent intervention”

The new inbound restrictions come in addition to ongoing concerns about a lack of government-backed cancellation insurance, despite 56% of major summer festivals having already cancelled for a second year running.

“The lifting of restrictions today is bittersweet for the live music sector,” says a spokesperson from LIVE, the industry’s umbrella trade org. “The Government has repeatedly promised it would step in and the UK is now one of just a handful of countries across Europe not to act.”

“The sector has provided every shred of data and evidence Government has requested to support the case for insurance and the Secretary of State has repeatedly and publicly committed to act at Step 4 of the roadmap,” adds Paul Reed, CEO at the Association of Independent Festivals. “There is still no commercial solution and it requires urgent intervention”.

And insurance is not the only obstacle that remains. Earlier this afternoon. Andrew Lloyd Weber’s new production, Cinderella, was postponed indefinitely after cast members were told to self-isolate by the NHS Test and Trace app, having come into contact with a positive case. The show’s cancellation will be worrying news for many festival and event organisers.

“The impossible conditions created by the blunt instrument that is the Government’s isolation guidance, mean that we cannot continue”

“Freedom Day has turned into closure day,” says Lloyd Weber. “The impossible conditions created by the blunt instrument that is the Government’s isolation guidance, mean that we cannot continue. We have been forced into a devastating decision which will affect the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of people and disappoint the thousands who have booked to see the show… My sadness for our cast and crew, our loyal audience and the industry I have been fighting for is impossible to put into words.

Campaign groups from across the sector are calling for a cultural exemption to the isolation requirements through frequent testing, arguing that the 16 August rule change to allow double vaccinated not self-isolated when ‘pinged’ comes too late.

In addition to a Government-backed insurance scheme, associations and companies from across the sector also continue to call for a quarantine exemption, which would allow the arts the same exemption that professional elite sport has obtained. The exemption from sport has enabled football teams from around Europe to travel to the UK to play in the European Championship without quarantining.


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Canada’s 2021 budget includes $50m for live music

The Canadian government has reserved up to C$50 million (US$40m) in the newly announced budget to help the live music sector weather the pandemic during 2021 and 2022.

The budget was announced yesterday (19 April) by finance minister Chrystia Freeland, who vowed to “punch our way out of the Covid recession” with $101 billion (US$81bn) in spending over three years.

The Canadian Live Music Association (CLMA) has welcomed the federal budget which it says “acknowledges our hardest hit sector” by delegating $70m to the Canada Music Fund, including the $50m earmarked specifically for live music and live music venues.

“Today, our collective voice which we all worked so hard to raise, has been heard. It is with great relief that we welcome budget 2021, which clearly recognises the integral role the Canadian live music industry plays in our quality of life – as well as its significant economic, social, and cultural benefits,” says Erin Benjamin, CLMA president and CEO.

“This support will help safeguard our nation’s critical cultural infrastructure – and the incredible artists and community”

“Our industry has been devastated as a result of Covid-19. This support will help safeguard our nation’s critical cultural infrastructure – and the incredible people, artists and community whose passion and livelihood is live music. We look forward to working with the government to ensure it reaches each and every company and organisation who needs it. With today’s historic budget, our government has helped us to believe in the future – and we can’t wait to get there, together.”

Other highlights from the budget include:

Last year, the government supported the sector by allowing organisations operating in the for-profit live music industry access to a CA$20m (€13m) Covid-19 support fund.

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UK industry reacts to reopening roadmap

Indoor performances are expected to return to music venues across England towards the end of May, provided the country’s Covid-19 response is going as planned, prime minister Boris Johnson announced today (22 February).

Johnson has set out a “cautious” four-step roadmap for the reopening of society, with at least five weeks between each step. The first step commences on 8 March when children will return to schools, while outdoor gatherings of either six people or two households will be allowed from no earlier than 29 March.

Step two, which will commence no earlier than 12 April, will see non-essential retail and outdoor hospitality open without curfew.

Step three, expected to launch no earlier than 17 May, will see music venues, sports stadiums cinemas, pubs, restaurants and other hospitality businesses welcome people indoors subject to social distancing and capacity limits, depending on the size of the venue.

Indoor performances will be restricted to the lower of 1,000 people or 50% capacity, outdoor performances limited to the lower of either 4,000 people or 50% capacity, and seated outdoor performances, to either 10,000 people or 25% of capacity.

The final step, which will start no earlier than 21 June, will see the government lift all restrictions, allowing nightclubs to reopen and large events to take place “above the limits of step three”.

The final step, estimated to start around 21 June, will see the government lift all restrictions

Larger events in step four will be influenced by the results of a new research programme which is detailed in new supplementary guidance that states: ‘Over the spring the government will run a scientific Events Research Programme. This will include a series of pilots using enhanced testing approaches and other measures to run events with larger crowd sizes and reduced social distancing to evaluate the outcomes.

‘The pilots will start in April. The government will bring the findings from across different sectors and different settings to determine a consistent approach to lifting restrictions on these events. Depending on the outcome of this work, the government hopes to be able to lift restrictions on these events and sectors as part of Step 4.’

However, the PM has stipulated that to move from one stage to the next, four conditions will need to be met: first, that the vaccine deployment programme continues successfully. Second, that evidence shows vaccines are sufficiently effective in reducing hospitalisations and deaths.

Third, that infection rates do not risk a surge in hospitalisations, which would put unsustainable pressure on the NHS. And fourth, that the government’s assessment of the risks is not fundamentally changed by new variants of Covid that cause concern.

While the UK live industry has welcomed some clarity from the prime minister, it has also expressed disappointment at being the last to reopen and is calling for extended financial support to sustain the sector throughout the next four months.

“We need the government to commit urgently to an extension of the 5% VAT rate on ticket sales and employment support”

A statement issued by recently-launched umbrella trade organisation LIVE says, “The Chancellor now has a choice to make as it is clear live music will be closed, or uneconomical, for the months ahead, with a return to normality not possible at least 21 June, four long months away. Support for businesses and individuals must continue and, in particular, when the Government looks at unwinding the general support packages, they must replace them with sector-specific support for the industries that will take longer than anyone else to reopen.”

Greg Parmley, CEO, LIVE, says: “While it is good to get some clarity following almost a year of confusion, as predicted our £4.5 billion industry is at the back of the queue to reopen. Any return to normality for live music could be months behind the rest of the economy. The chancellor must acknowledge our extended closure in the budget and provide the economic support needed to ensure the jobs and livelihoods of the hundreds of thousands of people that work in our industry exist as we come through this pandemic.

“We need the government to commit urgently to an extension of the 5% VAT rate on ticket sales and employment support that reaches all those unable to work due to the restrictions. To reopen, the sector needs a government-backed insurance scheme to allow shows to go ahead when it’s safe to do so, and with venues shuttered across the UK, an extension of business rates relief would be both fair and necessary.”

“Today’s statement must be accompanied with comprehensive financial support”

David Martin, CEO, Featured Artists Coalition, says: “While the prime minister’s statement offers some green shoots of hope for live music, there is some way to go before we return to pre-pandemic levels of activity. A cautious approach is right to protect lives and reopening too early would be counter-intuitive for the industry’s long-term outlook. However, the government must adhere to its own advice, allowing data to guide decision making, so that we can return immediately when it is safe to do so.

“Ahead of full reopening, government has to learn from previous mistakes and listen to the industry. Last year’s slow response on income support and other financial assistance led to the closure of businesses and the loss of livelihoods. Today’s statement must be accompanied with comprehensive financial support for individuals plus insurance and businesses support measures, including an extension to the reduced VAT rate on event tickets. This will allow the music industry to bounce back effectively and contribute its full potential to the UK’s economic recovery.”

“It is logical that the government will choose to address [our] specific status with sector-specific financial support”

Mark Dayvd, CEO, Music Venue Trust, says: “It is good to hear the government provide conditions under which initially socially distanced events, and then fuller capacity events, can take place. Based on this information, it is now possible to imagine how we Revive Live in grassroots music venues and develop that work into the full return of our domestic music scene.

“We note that this roadmap once again singles out live performance events as a specific risk which require that the sector is treated in a special way. Since March 2020, we have made the case to the government that if this is the case, based on their interpretation of the data, then it is logical that the government will choose to address that specific status with sector-specific financial support to mitigate the damage being done to businesses and people’s lives, careers and families right across the live music industry.

“In light of today’s announcements, the budget next week must clearly lay out exactly how the government is going to provide that sector-specific support. We warmly welcome the government’s acknowledgement of the value of nightlife, committing to not reinstating a curfew and including nightclubs within the reopening timetable.”

“The real risk that suppliers to events face is collapse”

David Keighley, chair, PSA, says: “Whilst we fully understand the risk-averse approach to reopening, government needs to be aware that live events excel in a risk-assessed approach, with the safety of attendees and workers always prioritised. The real risk that suppliers to events face is collapse, to avoid this will require effective financial support that reaches the whole events ecosystem, real support until our sector is allowed to return to viable levels of activity. This is the only way to ensure this valuable economic contributor is in a position to play its essential part in our country’s recovery.”

Paul Reed, CEO, AIF, says: “We welcome the prime minister’s roadmap out of lockdown, presented to the house of commons this afternoon, and are optimistic that many of our member festivals may be able to go ahead in some capacity later on this year. There are still, however, some urgent points of clarity that need to be made around the exact requirements that festival organisers will need to meet, in particular around testing and covid certification.

“We look forward to engaging closely with government on the Events Research Programme and again stress that we are rapidly approaching the decision cut off point for the vast majority of festivals at the end of March. If a complete picture is not given by this time, it will be too late for many to stage events later in the year.

“We also appreciate that this is a best-case scenario and that the government reserves the right to delay the easing of lockdown restrictions if the data dictates. Festival organisers only want to return when it is safe to do so but, if the easing of restrictions does lose momentum and events are suddenly cancelled as a result, it is vital that our sector receives swift and targeted government support to compensate. In addition, government intervention on insurance and VAT remain critical.”

The NHS has so far vaccinated more than 17.5 million people across the UK and the PM hopes to have every adult vaccinated by the end of July.


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French gov rolls out €220m package for live sector

In a bid to encourage event organisers to resume live entertainment, the French government has announced €220 million dedicated to the live sector.

The funding is part of a wider €2bn culture recovery package, which was announced yesterday (3 September), and is followed by a €100bn campaign to restart the economy – France Relance (France Relaunch).

As part of the €220m siphoned off for live shows, the music sector will receive €200m. Details of how the funding will be awarded have not yet been revealed.

“Culture, at the heart of our intimate construction and of our social cohesion, a marker of France’s international influence, has been very hard hit by the health crisis,” reads the culture recovery plan.

“The stake of the recovery plan in culture is both to rebuild the cultural sectors and to overhaul cultural policies”

“With 2 billion euros for Culture, the response is massive and global. The stake of the recovery plan in culture is both to rebuild the cultural sectors and to overhaul cultural policies, in order to be able to support the resumption of activity and to project oneself into the future.”

The National Music Center, which will be entrusted with distributing the live music sector’s funding, will also receive €10m from the live sector package.

This money will be used to complete the ramp-up of the organisation, which was launched at the start of this year and specialises in crisis management.

The French government recently permitted indoor concerts without social distancing providing there are fewer than 5,000 people in attendance, however, larger events will be banned until November.


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Italy and Spain reclose nightlife establishments

This article was updated on 19 August, replacing the wording “music venues” with “nightlife establishments”.

Nightlife establishments in Spain and Italy were forced to close with immediate effect over the weekend due to a recent spike in coronavirus cases in both countries.

Spain’s closure of discotheques, cocktail bars and dance halls will be in place for the foreseeable future and was confirmed last Friday (14 August) by health minister Salvador Illa.

“We cannot afford not to be disciplined,” Illa said. “We cannot ignore the virus circulating among us.”

Infections in Spain have risen in recent days following the end of Spain’s tough lockdown seven weeks ago, bringing its cumulative total to 342,813 – the highest number in Western Europe.

Spanish association, the Union of Professional Musicians, has released a statement denouncing the government’s decision and calling for protection for professionals who will be affected by it.

“The forced, massive and indiscriminate closure of nightlife ends all musical and artistic programming that took place in halls and venues under strict compliance with the regulations in force in terms of protection against Covid19,” the statement reads.

“The forced, massive and indiscriminate closure of nightlife ends all musical and artistic programming that took place in halls and venues”

Italy’s health minister Roberto Speranza announced similar shutdown measures for the country on 16 August via a press release on the government’s website.

“The activities of the dance are suspended, outdoors or indoors that take place in discos, dance halls and similar places intended for entertainment or taking place in beaches, establishments bathing establishments, equipped beaches, free beaches, common areas of the accommodation facilities or other places open to the public.” 

“We cannot nullify the sacrifices made in past months. Our priority must be that of opening schools in September, in full safety,” health minister Roberto Speranza said on Facebook.

Italy was the first European country to be hit hard by the coronavirus, and new cases in the past week were more than double those registered three weeks ago.

Spain’s first post-lockdown live music events took place from the 25 May, with outdoor events of up to 400 people and indoor concerts with a maximum capacity of 50 people permitted to resume in Spain.

Whereas Italy made its return to live on 15 June when concert halls, theatres and cinemas were allowed to reopen in Italy, with a maximum capacity of 200 people for indoor shows and 1,000 for performances held outdoors.


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UK music sector reacts to newly permitted events

Socially distanced live indoor performances will be able to resume in England from Saturday, as the government eases lockdown measures.

The relaxed measures signal Stage 4 of the government’s five-stage roadmap for the return of live performance, which was announced on 17 July and delayed from 1 August until tomorrow.

Though the date for reopening will bring some relief to the UK’s music sector, a number of industry bodies have expressed scepticism about the economic viability of live music returning.

“Unfortunately, it remains the case that the vast majority of grassroots music venue members of the Music Venues Alliance are not financially able, or even have an appropriate layout in the physical premises, to deliver these newly permitted events,” says Mark Davyd from the UK’s Music Venue Trust.

“Those that can make social distancing work will be unlikely to be able to stage government compliant events with this much notice but will be relieved to finally be able to open their doors in the coming weeks.

“However, despite the challenges the announcement presents, we broadly welcome this progress towards the return of live music. If gigs are going to return in stages, which is the government plan, then we have reached Stage 4 of that plan and can begin to imagine that Stage 5, real gigs at venues, might be achievable in the foreseeable future,” concludes Davyd.

“It remains extraordinarily difficult to resume events and gigs in an economically viable way”

Michael Kill, CEO of Night Time Industries Association says: “While we welcome the government’s announcement of the further easing of lockdown measures, this is still a long way off being back to normal for many businesses in the night time economy and events sector.”

“While some bars and restaurants have been able to open with a limited capacity, many are only just breaking even and we expect live music venues and performance spaces to have similar issues with viability, only able to accommodate for limited numbers under the current government social distancing measures.

“We still have many questions with regard to the operational conditions for opening these businesses, but would urge the government to consider a more robust communication strategy with a realistic timeframe to allow businesses the opportunity to prepare for opening,” says Kill.

Acting CEO of campaigning and lobbying group UK Music, Tom Kiehl, says: “Further easing of lockdown for live performance is a symbolic moment, yet it remains extraordinarily difficult to resume events and gigs in an economically viable way.”

“The government must ensure support measures for all aspects of the sector – including venues, festivals, musicians, performers and crew – are in place while many individuals and businesses in the sector still cannot get back to work.”

“We still have many questions with regard to the operational conditions for opening these businesses”

The UK’s live music sector has organised a number of campaigns, including #LetTheMusicPlay and #WeMakeEvents, which called for government support in various areas of the industry.

Though the initiatives were successful in prompting the government to unveil a £1.57bn package of grants and loans for music and arts organisations, the industry needs more government support to sustain the live industry’s broader ecosystem.

Industry bodies are calling for a multi-year extension of the cultural VAT rate reduction beyond January in line with DCMS’s recent recommendations and a government-backed reinsurance scheme to allow shows to go ahead.

Also as part of this weekend’s easing of lockdown, the government is enforcing tougher measures including a clampdown on illegal gatherings of more than 30 people, which could see those responsible hit with spot fines of up to £10,000.

The government’s previous restrictions on concerts were met with a rise in Britons attending illegal, non-socially distanced “quarantine raves” in woodland near cities including ManchesterLeedsLiverpoolOxford and Lichfield, Staffordshire.


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Live music markets hit as more cities lock down

The Philippines has become the latest live entertainment market to be put back into lockdown amid concerns a surge in new coronavirus cases could push the healthcare system to collapse.

Stay-at-home orders are now in place in Manila and four surrounding provinces for the next two weeks, prohibiting residents from outdoor activity except for going out to buy essential goods or exercising outdoors.

The country only just emerged from one of the strictest lockdowns in June but after reporting a record 5,032 new infections on Sunday (2 June), numerous medical associations urged President Rodrigo Duterte to toughen restrictions.

The capital city is home to some of the country’s largest venues, including the SM Mall of Asia Arena, which in lieu of live events has transformed into a mega swabbing centre.

Across the Indian Ocean, Melbourne’s gradual reopening of nightlife is still on hold as the city battles a deadly second wave of coronavirus. Australia’s second-biggest city was put back into lockdown on 9 July after a localised outbreak of Covid-19.

Melbourne has recently mandated wearing masks and tightened a stay-at-home order to reduce transmissions.

Parts of Leicester have been relinquished from local lockdown, allowing venues in Leicester City to reopen from yesterday

The state of Victoria, of which Melbourne is the capital, is responsible for over half of Australia’s 18,300 recorded cases.

After Victoria recorded another 671 cases of coronavirus on Sunday and seven deaths, premier Daniel Andrews announced a “state of disaster”.

On Sunday (2 August), Andrews introduced new rules including a night-time curfew between the hours of 8pm and 5am for the next six weeks.

In the UK, parts of Leicester have been relinquished from its local lockdown, allowing venues in Leicester City to reopen from yesterday (3 August). Though venues such as The Shed will remain closed, writing “Music venues still aren’t in the clear, and we’re aiming for September!” on its Facebook page.

English venues were preparing to reopen from 1 August but will no longer be able to do so after the government pushes back the next step of lockdown easing by at least two weeks.

Elsewhere, Botswana has reinstated lockdown in the capital, Gaborone, for two weeks after recording 30 new cases of coronavirus. The order took effect last Thursday (30 June).

“Essential services will operate at 25% capacity, there will be no movement within the Greater Gaborone Zone without a movement permit and movement to and from Greater Gaborone Zone will be void with immediate effect,” says Kereng Masupu, the coordinator of the presidential Covid-19 taskforce.

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Barcelona protects small live music venues

The Barcelona City Council has announced the creation of the Espais de cultura viva (live culture spaces) venue classification to protect its small live music venues, allowing flexible capacity limits and relaxing sound restrictions.

The council has finalised work on the category, which applies to spaces with a capacity of up to 150 people that host a minimum of 40 live music events or other live performances a year.

The category, which does not exist in other Spanish cities, allows venues to have a flexible capacity limit. Low-capacity venues with a cafe or bar license will be able to let in a greater number of people for live events, without fear of receiving fines.

A further modification sees the creation of a “semi-acoustic music” category. Previously, small venues could only programme acoustic music events. Concerts involving electronic instruments required soundproofing equipment, unaffordable for many venues even with a state subsidy.

The new category will allow for electronic instruments to play up to a volume of 95 decibels, given that outside noise does not exceed 45 decibels.

“This kind of recognition of cultural spaces is a key tool for strengthening the scene from the bottom up”

Venues that qualify for the Espais de cultura viva category and are in special saturation zones, will have a curfew of 11 pm.

Daniel Granados, analyst at the Barcelona institute of culture, tells El Periódico that this kind of “recognition of cultural spaces” is a key tool for “strengthening the scene from the bottom up.”

“Rosalía [a famous Catalan singer] would not be where she is today if she had not performed in small venues that were illegal up until now.”

Plans for the new regulations began three years ago. The law will be implemented in two months’ time, granted political parties do not oppose the proposal.

The Association of Catalan Concert Halls (ASACC) and the Association of Women in the Music Industry (MIM), along with other local industry organisations and venues, have celebrated the initiative and urge municipal groups to vote in favour of the measure.


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ADE announces dates for 2019

The Amsterdam Dance Event (ADE) will take place from 16 to 20 October 2019. The organisers of the world’s leading event for electronic music expect to welcome around 400,000 visitors to the 24th edition of the event.

Following a record-breaking 2018, ADE returns with multiple conference tracks addressing the latest business, cultural and technological trends in the industry, alongside festival programming showcasing the diversity of electronic music and its many sub-genres.

For the 2019 edition, organisers are committed to enhancing the event’s daytime activities, entering into cross-sector collaborations and partnerships with cultural institutions in order to maximise involvement with a wide range of creative industries.

“During ADE, Amsterdam will once again be the centre of the global electronic music industry and the home base for music enthusiasts,” states Mariana Sanchotene, who became ADE’s director last October.

“During ADE, Amsterdam will once again be the centre of the global electronic music industry and the home base for music enthusiasts”

“Our conference and festival activities showcase what is happening around the world, but should also be a reflection of how creative, innovative, vibrant and inclusive our hometown is.”

ADE has grown into the world’s largest club-based festival and conference for electronic music. The five-day event continues to develop each year, attracting visitors from over 100 countries and featuring every aspect of electronic music across its conference, live music and pop-up programming.

This year, major conference topics will include the changing landscape faced by festivals in the Netherlands and across Europe, and issues of inclusivity and tolerance within the music industry globally.

“We look forward once again to welcoming creative minds from all over the world to connect, create, do business or simply be inspired,” says Sanchotene.


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Universal Music Group to expand live music offering in Africa

Universal Music Group (UMG) has this week announced it will be expanding current operations in French-speaking Africa. The move will see a new Universal Music Africa division in Ivory Coast, as well as a significant expansion of live music operations throughout the continent in partnership with parent company Vivendi and CanalOlympia.

The expansion aims to discover new and local music talent in French-speaking Africa and provide support for artists in worldwide endeavours. A statement from UMG says the expansion will “provide pan-African talent the best possible launch pad for wider international success.” The team will headed by Moussa Soumbounou, an experienced music industry exec and live promoter.

Olivier Nusse, CEO of Universal Music France comments that the appointment of Soumbounou, “will not only help us to discover and release new talent throughout Africa and other French-speaking markets around the world, but will also increase the creative, commercial, digital and live opportunities available for these artists locally, in France and now globally.”

The expansion will “provide pan-African talent the best possible launch pad for wider international success.”

In recent months, Universal Music Africa has been active in live music scenes across French-speaking Africa. Tours organised include French rapper Niska and Cameroon-born rapper Tenor. Their focus on African live music has also seen them work closely with parent company Vivendi and several of its divisions, including CanalOlympia, Vivendi Village, Canal+ and Havas.

Vivendi has had a sharp focus on developing the ‘live music industry ecosystem’ throughout Africa for some years now. In 2017, the French media conglomerate opened a host of venues across the continent as part of its CanalOlympia network. The media giant reported a ‘dynamic performance’  from its Vivendi Village division in 2017, thanks to a growth in ticketing revenue and more venues opening in West Africa.

Live music throughout Africa continues to grow after a particularly successful few years. As Chin Okeke, of Nigeria’s Gidi Culture Fest explained recently to IQa generation of young, passionate promoters are transforming the market across the continent. Universal Music Africa’s new move aims to further push this success.


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