Phiona Okumu has her finger on the pulse of youth culture. As the artist and label marketing manager for Africa at Spotify and a former editor in music media who’s created content for some of the most influential entities (AfriPOP, The Fader, Apple), the Ugandan music industry professional has developed a knack for sniffing out the next big trend while amplifying the global profile of several African artists. It’s a gift, really, one that draws on her background in editorial, an “innate A&R instinct and a consummate passion for the artists,” she tells OkayAfrica. In this condensed interview, she talks all things youth culture, equality in music and her wish for a female pan-continental pop star.
What’s exciting about the music/media/entertainment industry?
It can never get old putting fresh new talent onto the radar of the world for the very first time. The awe and wonder of discovery for both sides—what a reward! More and more, I am getting the most fulfillment from working hands on with different artists, figuring out where they're best placed in the world. It's an honor I never take for granted.
The youth, do you find them inspiring?
Young people. I want to be them! I honestly wouldn't know how to navigate this new world if I didn't have a crew of young people who kindly let me into their worlds and waves. They know so much more than I ever did when I was them.
Is there a pivotal moment in your life that made you want to stand up for African women?
It's not so much a moment as an ongoing mind-fuck. How is it that in 2019 AD do we NOT have a consummate female pan-continental pop star? If you pull up a name like Wizkid or Davido—reasonably recognizable across the continent, diaspora and further—why can't there be a girl with this reach and notoriety at the most basic of levels? I know it's down to patriarchy that's everywhere but I am so sure that if there were more of us young, African women playing active roles across the board in the industry, this imbalance wouldn't be so glaring.
I really want to to put in the work to make that happen. I would love more visibility for black African women working in the music business.
*This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity