Entrepreneurs

Derrick Ashong On Creating ‘The Mic: Africa,’ A Music Competition To Highlight The African Diaspora

Derrick N. Ashong, born in Accra, Ghana, and raised  in the United States, is the content creator and businessman behind AMP Global Technologies and the Take Back the Mic app, a platform that rewards consumers who discover and share trending  content with ad-supported mobile data. 

“Our team at AMP Global is committed to expanding internet access and creativity for communities around the world,” says Ashong. During the  global pandemic, he launched and hosted the first season of The Mic: Africa, a virtual hip-hop competition based on his two-time Emmy-nominated digital series, The World Cup of Hip Hop.  

The Mic: Africa is a multi-platform music competition where viewers use the TBTM app, available for Google and iOS devices, to select 18 semifinalists from six countries: Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa, Rwanda, Mauritius and Kenya.  

Those 18 semifinalists compete over the course of five episodes in front of a global jury from across the diaspora, as well as celebrities including music artists DJ Maseo of De La Soul, Doug E Fresh, Lady of Rage, Nigerian rapper M.I Abaga, Indian rapper Raja Kumari and South Africa’s standup comic David Kau. The first season just wrapped with Nigerian artist Fecko winning the grand prize and title. 

For(bes) The Culture spoke to Ashong about launching a global platform during a pandemic and what he’s planning next to amplify the creativity and voices of artists across the diaspora.

For(bes) The Culture: Why did you choose music to unify the various countries across the continent of Africa?

Derrick Ashong: People talk about music as a universal language. African music is undeniable in the scale and power of its global impact, but a lot of people are unaware of the core African influences in music like hip-hop, reggae, the blues, salsa,samba, jJazz and rock and roll. Ultimately, Africa is where the flavor was born, and music is the tapestry that weaves the continent and the diaspora together as an interconnected whole—discovering, reflecting and evolving each other’s voices as we continue to innovate and redefine the architecture of global pop culture. We believe that by beginning with music, we give Africans at home and across the diaspora, a common space where we can discover ourselves and each other through new eyes, and invite the world-at-large to join us there. 

For(bes) The Culture: How has the Take Back the Mic app amplified the creativity of artists across the African diaspora? 

Ashong: The Take Back the Mic app helps creators to build movements around their content. In tandem with The Mic: Africa series, the app is helping to turn the most promising undiscovered artists on the continent into global stars. Because the TBTM app puts the power in the hands of the audience, it enables unexpected creators like graffiti artists, dancers and songwriters to also be amplified to a bigger stage.  

For(bes) The Culture: How is this multi-platform music competition the first of its kind?

Ashong: The Mic: Africa is the first-ever interactive TV format born on the African continent to be exported around the world, carrying an African cultural framework to audiences across the globe.

Unlike traditional mainstream music competitions, the series is truly interactive because fans cast, curate and determine the outcome of the show from start to finish. 

For(bes) The Culture: How are you continuing to shift gears during the pandemic?

Ashong: The pandemic forced us to really stretch our creativity and think differently about how to develop and launch a new series. One “happy accident” of the covid era was our decision to engage filmmakers on the ground in each of the countries, instead of having one crew fly everywhere. Probably our biggest take away from the experience was the realization that while global internet use went up 70% in the early days of the lockdowns, high speed internet use was flat at 7% in Africa. That’s because people here pay the highest prices in the world for mobile internet access. 

So, we built a toolset within the app to enable users to earn mobile data based on their engagement, and to use that data anywhere on the internet. That “gateway to the internet” capability inspired a broader initiative called 70 x 25, to take Africa to 70% high-speed internet use by the end of 2025. 

We’ve been able to bring on our first telco partners as part of that moonshot coalition, including 9Mobile in Nigeria, Kenya Telkom and Liquid Telecom, and are working to expand the initiative with brand partners across a variety of sectors, as well as inter-governmental institutions like the UN, UNESCO and UNHCR.

For(bes) The Culture: What initiatives are you and your team planning on launching in the future?

Ashong: We will definitely be doing more seasons of The Mic: Africa, and are already in talks to expand the format to other regions.  We are also working with some really cool media partners in Hollywood and other global markets, to launch new content properties that leverage our technology to drive deep engagement between creatives and their fans. In the coming months we’ll be launching a series of features that enable partner brands to build direct relationships with fans on the platform, and make it easier for creators, distributors and content owners to build and grow movements around their content.

 

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