Blur and Gorillaz frontman Damon Albarn’s Africa Express, an initiative that brings Western and African artists together to collaborate on an album, has been accused of artist exploitation by some of its recent collaborators. Petite Noir (real name Yannick Ilunga) and Nabihah Iqbal, musicians who went to South Africa with Africa Express, posted photos of the artist contract they received following the trip, claiming that the terms outlined mistreated artists of color.
The contract contains some dubious clauses, which are unclear about when and even if artists will get paid for their efforts. In one section, it’s revealed that in exchange for £1, Africa Express retains full copyright of all music and video content produced on the trip. There’s some vague wording near the bottom about what happens in the event that they recoup all of the funds:
“Africa Express is committed to supporting music in Africa. Should sales or other commercial use of the Album produce a net profit to Africa Express limited after the recoupment of all related costs, then we have agreed those net profits will be applied to the promotion of African music and its artists, in our discretion. This could mean additional sums for the artists involved in the recordings.”
Ilunga characterized the contract as “21st century colonisation” in a Facebook post, writing,“I am deeply disappointed in this collaboration between Africa Express as its pertains to African artists.”
Iqbal uploaded the contract in several tweets (seen above,) asking that the contract be amended for all artists. “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,” Iqbal writes. “But unless we take the risk to speak out about these injustices, things will never change.”
Africa Express responded on Monday in a Facebook post, clarifying that all Western artists are not paid, but have “travel, accommodation and other costs” covered by the organization in exchange for their time. “The artists in Africa are treated differently, reflecting often different circumstances. We do pay them for their time,” the statement reads. “We ensure that all profits made from recordings - after costs - go to artists and the promotion of African music.”
We’ve reached out to Africa Express and representatives for Damon Albarn and will update if we hear back.