When the IFPI announced it would be opening its first-ever office in Africa last June, it came at a particularly notable time: the continent had quickly become one of the most significant areas of expansion for the global mainstream music business, with major labels and streaming services alike pouring money, resources and time into the development of the industry on the continent.

And in Angela Ndambuki, who the organization tapped to run the Nairobi, Kenya-based office, IFPI had identified a formidable leader: a former recording artist herself in the 2000s Kenyan girl group Tatuu, Ndambuki is also a lawyer and the co-founder of Kenya’s national performance rights society, PRISK, who has advocated for the recording industry on the creative and industry sides for years.

“There’s a lot of interest, so for us that means there’s a lot of potential and the companies want to realize that potential,” Ndambuki told Billboard in a video call from Nairobi in early January. “So with these investments coming on board, we’re positive that it’s just going to get better for Africa.”

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But there is still plenty of work to do across her purview of 46 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, within which her office of two has identified six priority nations: Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania and Uganda, with policy support and help to other nations, such as Namibia, which require it. And setting aside the influx of interest and resources from outside the continent, it’s also a significant time for Ndambuki’s efforts to support what’s already going on within Africa, particularly in the policy space, following the implementation of the Africa Continental Free Trade Area, which began operations in January, and the ratification and localized employment of the worldwide WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty (WPPT), designed to support the rights of performers and recordings in the digital arena.

It’s that kind of policy support that is just one pillar of Ndambuki’s five main priority areas for her office, which also include supporting national groups and associations in individual nations under her purview; helping support local music licensing companies (MLCs) to help develop systems to identify and collect revenue; support the protection and enforcement of copyright laws to defend the rights of creators making sound recordings on the continent; and collecting and assembling country-specific data on revenue and consumption in Sub-Saharan Africa, to fill in the blanks of what had been largely a blind spot in the IFPI’s annual Global Music Report.

Six months into the job, Billboard spoke to Ndambuki about the challenges and goals of the new Africa office, and what she hopes, and expects, to accomplish.

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How have things been going so far?

We’ve been concentrating on five main priority areas, starting with policy and advocacy issues. Right now in Africa we’re talking about the Africa Continental Free Trade Area and as of the beginning of this year we’ve been trading, and we’re trying to see how we can work around and support the IP protocol in terms of ensuring that the recording industry’s needs are met and the business will be booming once it’s up and running. So just policy and advocacy issues. Also supporting other policy agendas — exclusive rights for producers, ensuring online content protection is there in the various governments. We submitted comments and made submissions the last six months to a couple of governments, for example the KIPI in Kenya, the Copyright Act for Nigeria, also the Tanzanian regulations and in Namibia as well, even if it’s not one of the six priority countries — we have prioritized some countries as a sort of pilot, which is Kenya, Nigeria, Ghana, Tanzania, Uganda and Botswana. But apart from those, since we’re based in sub-Saharan African, whichever country needs support; for example, Namibia needed support for their legal texts. So we do a lot of policy and advocacy support for the region.

Our second priority would be setting up national groups, which the IFPI did, and just showing that they’re able to support policy agendas in specific countries and will be a driving force in those particular countries.

The third priority would be the music licensing companies, the collecting organizations, and we’re giving a lot of support to these MLCs because ensuring that they’re efficient and transparent and accountable, those are the major issues in Africa, and we’ve been working with the MLCs to ensure that their systems are in place, looking at the distribution rules, looking at the tariffs, ensuring that we support them. A lot of work has been done there in particular.

The fourth priority would be copyright content protection and enforcement. We’re talking with various governments — we just signed agreements with the Nigeria Copyright Commission and the Kenya Copyright Board — to ensure that we support them, because they are the ones that are in charge of handling copyright in their countries. So just ensuring that they’re able to identify and prosecute and that recorded music is protected. In Nigeria and Kenya we’re training the officers and the rights holders as well. We have also done quite a bit there in these six months.

And lastly, insights and analysis, just trying to put together charts for Africa. That’s our end goal, but we’re beginning with South Africa and ensuring that we have country charts to begin with, and then have charts for Sub-Saharan Africa as well. So those are the main priorities, what we’ve been working on for the last six months and for our first year.

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How big is your team?

In Nairobi we’re just two, but we’re supported by the London office. They’ve been doing a lot of policy support especially, and content protection as well, seeing as they’re the ones who have the back-end machinery to [do it]. So a lot of support from the London team, since we’re a global organization anyway. But we have the ambition of growing the team, and we’re positive that the team will be growing in the coming years. But for now, we’re neat and small. During the day we have an office in Nairobi, and then we support the other offices [regionally] as well.

What challenges have you guys come up against in the first couple months?

The major issue would be the legislative environment, just ensuring that we have the laws in place in the various countries. Of course, you’d find that maybe treaties that would support the WPPT have not been ratified or domesticated and you find that mostly — and especially now, with the internet needing to be up and running with everyone moving to the digital space — we’re trying to see how we can support the countries with that. We are positive that in the coming months we have, especially on the online space, content protection and enforcement for digital piracy especially. So ensuring that parameters are met for safe harbor, and ensuring that we’re able to see what has been raising issues in the industry so far and able to put the right policies in place.

Also, of course with COVID a lot has happened, especially the MLCs have been hit. They don’t have the numbers as of yet because we all [collect them] at the end of the year, and that’s what they’re doing now, but the numbers should be able to be ready by the time we have our next Global Music Report. But so far you can see that there has been a significant decline in the income of the MLCs, due to the restrictions that were raised by the various governments, especially closing down the restaurants, being the main revenue stream of these MLCs. Those would be some of the challenges that we have seen so far. But otherwise, we believe that the industry is resilient and will be able to pick up and we’ll be able to see some positivity moving forward.

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What are you seeing from the data you’ve collected already in terms of the music business on the continent?

Well, so far it’s positive. There’s enough investments happening in Africa and a lot of interest with the major labels setting up, especially in Nigeria, with the three majors already there. Just last month Sony got their focal point in Tanzania for their East Africa region; we just read that UMG is setting up in Kenya as well; in East Africa, they’ve set up in the French-speaking countries as well. There’s a lot of interest, so for us that means there’s a lot of potential and the companies want to realize that potential. The vibe that is coming from Africa is very positive, and you can see that in the numbers that are growing and the reception that you’re getting from African music. You’ve seen that with the worldwide acclaim of the South African song “Jerusalema” [by Master KG feat. Nomcebo, which reached No. 17 on the Billboard Global Ex-U.S. chart] and there’s lots of music like that that we believe will be able to be known and heard from the African continent. So with these investments coming on board, we’re positive that it’s just going to get better for Africa.

You mentioned the major labels. I know there are several streaming services, notably Apple, that have made major investments on the continent in the last year or so. What effect is that having?

Yes, and especially with COVID as well, a lot of usage has moved online and people are able to receive and consume music online and streaming is growing. I was talking to one of the members of Sauti Sol, which is a very big band in Kenya, and last week they were saying they were going to be releasing music every week, on streaming services, because that’s where everybody is focusing and they want to be able to grow that in the future — or even the present, actually. So we are seeing that growth and people are appreciating streaming more, and especially with the companies and competition coming and being able to afford the data — that will play a very big role in ensuring that people will have access to streaming services. In Kenya, I would say that it’s somewhat affordable, but of course in Africa, being able to go to other regions and being able to access other regions in Africa may be a bit of a difficult task. But I’m sure that with infrastructure growing and there being a big investment in that as well, especially because of the Africa Continental Free Trade Area, the government is really working hard to develop the infrastructure, and that should be able to play positively towards the streaming services.

You used to be an artist yourself. What does that experience allow you to bring to the role?

It’s interesting, because I did sing some time in my life. [Laughs] By then, [our] music was just beginning to be appreciated, because we were consuming mostly international music, so it was an interesting time — it was a couple years back, maybe 10, 15 years. In fact, I’m surprised that even when I’m walking sometimes people can still recognize my face — I’m like, oh, really? [Laughs] But with that background, just being able to appreciate what’s happening right now and interacting with the musicians and the artists as well gives that whole 360 picture of what’s happening and what can be done and what we need to do to make it better for Africa. So it’s been an interesting journey, and very exciting as well.

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What are artists telling you they need the most, in terms of the support you guys can provide?

Most of them just want to be able to [put their music] online. As I said before, they believe that streaming and ensuring that they’re able to get that support through the various companies and producers and being able to see how that support is given is what they’re looking for, because they want to be able to concentrate on what they know best, which is their talent, writing their songs for composers, or singing. So for them, juggling both [is difficult], so they are looking forward to having that international reach, so that their music can be consumed outside their region and in a wider space, which is through the internet.

What are some of your goals moving forward now?

To just build on those five focus areas and make sure that we give that support to the industry, with a close look to the policies. We know that the policy is the main thing that will drive this industry forward, to ensure that we don’t have those hurdles and get the support from the government, ensuring that we have that smooth process and movement, where we’re working together with both the government and the private sector. It’s important for the industry, we need that. This industry has huge potential and we can be able to leverage that so that African music can improve their contributions to the GDP, for example, or keep up with what you would call the more traditional sectors as well.

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