Damon Albarn’s Africa Express project accused of unfair treatment of musicians

Artists involved in the group's latest trip to South Africa have shared a contract they were sent after completing the trip

Damon Albarn‘s Africa Express group has been accused of unfair treatment of musicians.

The project was founded in 2006, and aims to bring musicians of all genres and countries together to collaborate. There have been four Africa Express albums released at present, while groups of artists have travelled to the continent on several occasions with the group to work with musicians there.

The latest trip took place last week and saw a group of musicians visit South Africa to record with local artists. The work concluded with a performance at Johannesburg’s Tennis Club on Friday (February 2) and featured appearances from Yeah Yeah Yeahs‘ Nick Zinner, Spoek Mathambo, Gruff Rhys, Zolani Mahola, Remi Kabaka, Ghetts, Nabihah Iqbal, and more.

Africa Express

Damon Albarn and Aliou Toure at an Africa Express event in 2013

Petite Noir, who also performed and was involved in the trip, posted a photo of the contract he was sent afterwards in a now-deleted Facebook post. “21st century colonisation is alive,” he wrote according to Brooklyn Vegan.

“This is the contract that was given out to all the artists AFTER all the music from everyone was done. We had artists from around the world and South Africa come in and collaborate but mostly African artists. White people were heading the project.”

He continued to say that some musicians made “about six tracks”, but that when recording was done, they were “treated like we were nothing all of a sudden”.

The contract includes a clause that grants copyright of everything produced on the trip, including any interviews given, to Africa Express in exchange for £1.

Nabihah Iqbal also took to social media to share her feelings about the contract, saying while collaborating with local artists was “so inspiring”, the trip was also “a very eye-opening experience for me and it made me realise how things really work”.

The electronic producer also posted a photo of the contract and questioned: “How is this ‘committed to supporting music in Africa’? I have contacted the organisers of Africa Express stating that I cannot sign this contract until it has been amended so that the terms are more egalitarian.

“People need to know what is really behind the façade of this “charity”. As a POC, I know the playing field is not level. It never has been. But unless we take the risk to speak out about these injustices, things will never change.”

She added that she had told the group she wanted all artists’ contracts amended, not just hers, and explained she had shared the contract because “I believe it is in the public interest.”

The organisation has now responded on their official Facebook page with a full statement on the accusations. After explaining that the project has been in operation for over a decade and is not run to make a profit, it continued to read: “As we pay all the travel, accommodation and other costs for Western artists joining us on trips, we ask them to volunteer their time. They can make a contribution to our costs if they are willing. We do not pay them. All our contracts are negotiated, discussed and agreed, not inflicted.”

The statement also added that the local artists invited to work with the group are “treated differently, reflecting often different circumstances.” “We do pay them,” it read. “We ensure that all profits made from recordings – after costs – go to artists and the promotion of African music.”