AIMING HIGH: Phizbarz, a young Nigerian, is flooding social networking sites with clips of his music in a bid to become Africa’s next Afropop star. Picture: AFP
Phizbarz is only 23 but hopes to become the next Nigerian Afropop star to be famous across Africa – and he's using his cellphone to get himself known and earn a living.

The young performer, who is from the country’s commercial and entertainment capital, Lagos, floods social networking sites Twitter, Facebook and Instagram with clips of his music.

Sometimes he appears as a baseball-capped rapper surrounded by gyrating, scantily clad dancers, and sometimes as a sheikh in a white dishdasha, dripping with gold.

“If you want to be someone, you have to show off,” he states from behind the wheel of a sparkling red Mercedes that he borrowed from his manager.

Phizbarz has composed about 100 songs but has never produced an album. Instead, his creations are converted into ringtones by telephone companies, who sell them individually and pay him and his label 60% of the profits.

Phizbarz himself earns about 50 000 naira ($164) a month.

In Nigeria, performing artists have long been left to their own devices because of the lack of a structured market, making them powerless against piracy that accounts for most sales.

In the packed streets of Lagos, bootlegged copies are sold at car windows or between packets of sweets, cigarettes and Nollywood releases, many of which are also pirated. For the past three years, there’s been a revolution in Nigeria’s music industry because of digital sales and especially cellphones, which are bringing in increasingly more revenue.

In a report published late last year, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) estimated that Nigeria’s music industry was worth $47million in 2015 and predicted that it should rise to $86m by 2020.

“Nigeria’s total music revenue is dependent on ringtones and ringback tones, with the legitimate music sector being small otherwise,” it added.

Instead of hearing a beep while waiting for a caller to pick up, companies play the latest releases and offer them for download.

Telephone operators, led by South African mobile giant MTN, sensed the potential of Nigeria, which is home to nearly 190 million people. MTN, which has 60million subscribers in the country, said it was the largest distributor of music.

Ringtones are sold at 50naira each and MTN also operates a download platform, MTN Music Plus, which competes with world-leading online music sites such as iTunes.

“There are lots of talented musicians on this market who had issues with piracy. It was difficult for them to sell their music,” said MTN Nigeria’s marketing director, Richard Iweanoge. “We enable them to monetise the work. Every year, we pay out more money to the artists. It’s really a working formula.

“Nigerians actually wanted to buy music, they just didn’t have the means to acquire it legally.”

Wannabe megastars like Phizbarz are looking to emulate musicians such as D’banj and Davido, whose songs play in clubs from Johannesburg to Cotonou and Kinshasa. With roots on the streets of Lagos, they are now courted by major labels and records in Europe and the US.

“Superstars like Wizkid inspire millions of Nigerians,” said Sam Onyemelukwe, the head of Entertainment Management Company, a partner of the Trace TV music network.

“There are not many jobs for them, not much to do with their lives. Everybody wants to become a singer, have a lot of girlfriends and buy a jet; it’s glamorous.”

The law of averages suggests few will become famous, but cellphones are one potentially lucrative way of getting noticed. According to PwC, ringtone downloads alone can earn artistes like D’banj and Davido up to $350 000 a year.

“Anybody can record a song for a few thousand naira and sell it online,” said Onyemelukwe.

“There are about 1million ‘artistes’ in Nigeria. But few of them are successful.”

Phizbarz doesn’t need to be told. “The music industry is very hard,” he said.

Posting photos and videos online, and touring the local music scene and radio stations is a way of trying to catch the attention of one of the top industry figures, he said.

“You sell your brand first and then you get recognition.

"You have to know a lot of managers, radio presenters.

"Even if your beats are good, it is more about who you know in the industry. It’s more a brand that you are developing, it’s business.” – AFP