Africans Are Capitalizing On China’s Growing Entertainment Market

Written by Staff

Peter Ssebandeke was a struggling Ugandan church performer singing gospel music in Kampala’s churches when a friend who had returned from Beijing told him there was a market for African performers in China. In 2007, Ssebandeke, then 29, arrived in China on a tourist visa.

He toured different provinces for two years, performing in clubs and making contacts. He finally landed a gig at World Park in Beijing, a popular vacation destination featuring replicas of famous global landmarks from the pyramids to the Taj Mahal.

The work meant a steady contract. Chinese visitors love taking selfies with the African dancers, who are one of the biggest draws in the park.  In summer, the heat becomes unendurable but Ssebandeke is stoic.

He is one of six men and three women performing tribal and traditional dances to the accompaniment of African drums at World Park.

“We are here to entertain,” he said. “In Uganda, the biggest problem is lack of jobs and the low income. We have to look for greener pastures.”

From African Business Magazine.  Story by Sudeshna Sarkar

African performers are increasingly aware of the potential of the growing Chinese market. According to PricewaterhouseCooper’s (PwCs) China Entertainment and Media Outlook, 2016-2020, China’s entertainment and media industry is expected to grow 8.8 percent a year.

In 2016, the value of China’s entertainment and media sector was estimated at $190.56 billion. In 2017, it is forecast to go up to $209.5 billion. The port city of Guangzhou in South China is uniquely placed to catch a slice of all that action. It is the Chinese city with the largest population of West Africans including small traders, shopkeepers, restaurateurs and aspiring hip-hop and reggae artists who look to the diaspora for sustenance.

This is where Nigerian aspirant Santy has released his latest music video Amara. Ugandan dancer-musician Grace Nakimera has flown in to perform at the D8 Show Bar on a Friday evening. Local hip-hop star Dibaocha, also from Nigeria, set down roots by marrying a local woman. To widen the entertainment market, the Chinese government is promoting cultural industries with new policies and initiatives. Many African artists are benefiting from the policies targeted at African countries.

Since 2002, the China Wuqiao Acrobatic Art School has been training foreign students. Over 90 percent of them are Africans, and most of them on Chinese government scholarships.

The Shaolin temple in Central China is the inspiration for umpteen martial arts films, where African students learn wushu and other Chinese martial arts from monks, also under scholarships. Luc Bendza is arguably the most famous African martial arts star in China.

He ran away from home in Gabon as a teenager and eventually landed in the Shaolin temple. He was spotted by a talent scout and since then has acted in a stream of martial arts films. A documentary was made about him. Gabonese director Samantha Biffot’s “The African Who Wanted to Fly” received the Special Jury Award at Gabon’s 10th International Documentary Film Festival in 2015 and will be shown at the Beijing International Film Festival in 2017.

Bendza has graduated into a Sino-African cultural envoy, popularizing Chinese martial arts in Gabon and Tunisia. Married to a Chinese woman and fluent in Mandarin, he calls China his home. “My dream is to get more involved in a lot of projects between China and Africa and to let both cultures know each other deeper and better,” Bendza told state-run CCTV.

Cameroonian Simon Abbe is another celebrity. In 2005, Chinese instructors were sent to rebuild the National Ballet of Cameroon. Three years later, Abbe, the star of the ballet, was asked to perform at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. Abbe now has his Abbe Dance Company in Beijing and he performs between China, France and Cameroon.

However, while the Chinese audience likes the beat and energy of African dance and music, it’s a challenge establishing a stronghold in the Chinese entertainment industry.

“Getting a work permit is very difficult,” Abbe says. “Even if you get permanent residence, you may not get a work permit. So we have to depend on performing by invitation.”

Samantha Sibanda, founder of the Appreciate Africa Network NGO in Beijing, sounds despondent about the prospects of African artists in China.

“The China market definitely has potential but I would say we have not been able to really tap it yet,” the 36-year-old Zimbabwean says.

Read more at African Business Magazine.