Music has become a huge pillar in Nigeria’s rise as a cultural tastemaker in the last few years. The growth of the music industry has not only inspired a new crop of artists but an entire ecosystem born to cater to the new legions of music fans and personnel. Amongst this – the emergence of new-age music publications has come to the forefront, making sure we document our own stories and music. It’s not news that our history in past has easily been reshaped, especially at the hands of western media platforms that can’t fully grasp our culture enough to talk about it in a befitting way.
This is a core reason Moronfoluwa Alabi & Eniola Olusoga felt the need to create The 49th Street, a music platform that in three years has become a go-to for a new generation of music lovers. With their digital understanding of social media, they’ve used it as a tool to create a growing community, one which they’ve nurtured and grown. The 49th Street not only aims to document the music industry but create an atmosphere for its audience to interact with their favorite artists through their use of mediums like frequent Twitter Spaces and offline activations. They hope to become a platform for young artists to use as an elevation to a larger fanbase.
According to Moronfoluwa, the company’s mission has always and will be to celebrate African culture and arts, as well as amplify groundbreaking achievements by African creatives, a feat one could say they’ve been able to achieve so far.
We caught up with the founders of The 49th Street to talk about how it all began, why it’s important to have platforms like theirs, and what’s next for them and the music landscape as a whole.
Tell us about your backgrounds, and how you both met and created 49th Street. How did you come up with the name?
Folu: We met at University and discovered early in our 100-level days that we both had a passionate love for Football Manager & unconventional music. Our work on 49th Street however only started when we finished University but we had a magazine in school then, Inspire Africa Mag. We worked on it in our tiny room in Damico day & night. Our classmates ate it up, shout out to them. Unfortunately, we could not continue because the next year was our finals and there was no time again. I started 7th Street on my vacation in Accra after linking with an old friend, the boredom was the peak for me then. Growing up, I used to hear a lot about the number “7” being the number for perfection and it just made sense to me
Eniola: I don’t think I can remember the exact moment we became friends. We went from strangers to attending lectures together and then becoming roommates at university, in the blink of an eye. The strike in 100-level brought us close and we found out we both loved Football manager and unconventional music like he said. 49th Street didn’t start until after university, but before all that, we were actively involved in the creative space. Folu had a big SoundCloud page called 7th Street where he curated playlists, while I used to curate and promote art on Instagram. Together, we worked on a magazine called Inspire Africa that people loved. The name 49thStreet however was his idea.
What’s the idea of your company?
Folu: For me, from 7th street, the idea was just to showcase talent. I had a lot of friends making music and I just wanted to put their stuff out there for them. Africa is blessed with many talented people, both here & in the diaspora, we just want to document these things and tell the African story as it is. Community is very important for us too as a company, we want everyone to feel the African story & dream.
Eniola: The idea right from University was very simple, we wanted to create a platform where African creatives can call “home”. People knew us as music heads in school, the aux cord was literally always passed to us at gatherings, and we figured it’ll be nice to showcase these talents on a much larger scale and document their unique stories. For us, we just want to be able to showcase, document, and tell the stories of African creatives the right way.
How’s the music landscape in Nigeria and why do you feel music platforms like yours are important?
Eniola: We are at a point where Nigerian and African sound is becoming more acceptable and appealing to the West. As such, now more than ever we have to take charge and control the narrative of how we want our stories to be told. We wake up to the news of new achievements for our artists every day and with each new feat comes more exposure, brands, and platforms like ours must exist to tell these stories in their truest form. The truth is the industry needs more platforms like ours, platforms that can document the culture every step of the way.
How important is social media to new age platforms like yourself and artists alike?
Eniola: It is the most important element in what we do we do today. New-age digital media literally won’t thrive if there was no social media. The power that platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and TikTok have is just incredible, and it is important that as creatives we should harness that power. With social media, we’ve been able to document and report in many diverse forms that resonate with our audience.
You’ve risen to become one of the top music platforms in Nigeria, what do you say is unique in your process and how you’ve forged the platform?
Folu: I think consistency has been a very important factor for us. Our plan was to get people as engaged as they could be right from the get-go. We are very big on community building, which has helped us a lot with our audience, brands we have worked with, and creatives.
Eniola: To be honest, I don’t think we did anything out of the ordinary. For us keeping the audience engaged and being consistent was very important from the onset. We were also able to set ourselves apart from the rest with the way we went about our branding. Also over time, we’ve understood our audience and that has helped us continue to curate and create content that is unique to us.
What challenges have you faced so far?
Folu: The usual really, funding. The rate at which we are moving is not even up to a minute of what we can do eventually. The media/entertainment space generally is not as friendly as they make it seem, we have had to grind hard for everything we have been able to do.
Eniola: The very obvious one is funding, I don’t think we’re operating at 100%. Other challenges came early and they had to do with scaling. People started to notice us and the demand for more content on more platforms increased. I remember at one point I was handling websites, doing design, posting press releases, and creating content all at once and the workload was crazy. We’ve had to put in a whole lot of work to get here, to be honest.
There have been more eyes on the media in terms of investing, do you feel the media space is finally ripe and ready?
Folu: Yes, I believe so. The work platforms like Culture Custodian, Native mag, Zikoko, Morebranches, and so many others I just can’t fill in right now are so important. We need the media space to evolve. There are a lot of platforms doing amazing work that have helped pushed the creative scene especially music to the fore. And when you consider that these platforms are doing so much with so few resources, it’s mind-blowing. Investments will change the game completely.
Which next Gen artists are you both most excited about right now?
Folu: Lately I have been listening to a bit of Majeeed ,Toye, Bryann, Soulaar, Badthesoundboy, Oladapo.
Eniola: I am particularly very excited for Fave, the quality is there for everyone to see. I’m also rooting for Tariq, Majeeed, WhoIsAkinn, and Soulaar. The quality of music coming out of Nigeria right now is hard and I’m looking forward to hearing every bit of it
What’s next for 49th?
Folu: Our plan remains the same, we will keep documenting the culture. We are working to launch our original content soon and a podcast network. We have also been flirting with the idea of a digital radio, who knows really?
Eniola: There are a lot of interesting ideas in the pipeline like Folu said. A Podcast network is in the works and I’m excited about that. We’d also be looking at more strategic partnerships and collaborations. But the plan remains the same, keep documenting the culture and telling African stories. We’d continue to build the 49th Street brick by brick.