UTA’s leaders have spoken about how the London operation has played a key role in the global growth of genres including UK rap and Afrobeats.
The company won the Music Week Award for Live Music Agency in recognition of their success with acts including Central Cee, Burna Boy, Bring Me The Horizon, AJ Tracey and N-Dubz. Their UK office also supports international UTA talent such as Lizzo, Lil Nas X and Bad Bunny.
“To win it twice in three years is obviously a massive honour for us – it was also quite a shock,” said Obi Asika, co-head of UTA UK. “The Music Week Awards is a really important one for us.”
“It was really special for us that people in the music business acknowledged the great work for various artists across the board in a world coming out of Covid,” added UTA partner & global co-head of worldwide music, David Zedeck.
The execs were speaking as they launched the company’s new London HQ in the West End. Asika works alongside co-head of music Neil Warnock and Rebecca Prochnik, director of creative strategy.
“We look at London as a powerhouse of global culture,” said Zedeck. “We’re looking to be part of the fabric of that entertainment scene.”
UTA’s Soho location houses the music practice, as well as agents covering production arts, podcasts, voiceovers and more. Talent and literary agency Curtis Brown Group became part of UTA last year.
The US firm first established a presence in London with its 2015 acquisition of The Agency Group. In 2021, the company acquired Echo Location Talent Agency, whose founder Obi Asika became UK co-head alongside Warnock.
“It’s a great place to do business,” said Zedeck of the UK. “While there are some challenges to deal with, such as Brexit, they always get figured out, economic issues get worked out.”
Zedeck noted that “anything that starts in the UK tends to get magnified globally”.
We are adding a lot of new tickets, and we’re coming at things in a different way
The London office played a key role in building international artists in rising genres such as Afrobeats and Amapiano. Burna Boy recently played a headline show at London Stadium, while Wizkid performed at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on July 29.
Amapiano has made a UK impact with acts including South Africa’s Major League DJz playing a residency at Here at Outernet in London.
“The massive rise of Afrobeats, with Burna Boy and Wizkid each doing a stadium this year, has been an amazing moment, and [so has] everything we’re doing with Amapiano,” said Asika.
“We’ve been very active with new music, and leading a lot of [genres] whether it’s Latin or African music. I feel like we are adding a lot of new tickets, and we’re coming at things in a different way to a lot of the traditional agencies.”
“We looked at the pandemic as a chance to enhance our business,” added Zedeck. “Obi and his team were at the forefront of a lot of genres and leading the pack in so many things.”
UTA had two nominations in the Music Week Awards Music & Brand Partnership category for Burna Boy/Burberry and Central Cee/Jacquemus.
“Jack Clark has done fantastic business over the years in developing Central Cee, and Irene [Agbontaen, director of artist brand strategy] worked very closely with us on that as well – she’s done great things in the brand space,” said Asika.
UTA’s UK co-head has global ambitions for Central Cee, who has signed to Columbia Records in the US. The rap star recently scored his first No.1 single, alongside Dave, with long-running chart-topper Sprinter (583,368 sales so far – Official Charts Company).
“Central Cee has been huge for us,” Asika told Music Week. “He’s getting bigger and bigger. I really feel like he’s going to be the first [UK] rap name to break America properly, because I know from speaking to the manager, Bello, some of the collaborations that he’s got coming up.
“He’s not even put out a full album yet, so it feels like it’s got real momentum and they’ve got really fantastic ideas. He’s got a chance to [play] arenas in America, which would be the first time that’s happened [for a UK rapper].
“Stormzy and Dave have done amazing things in the last few years, but it seems like he’s set to even surpass some of the things they have done. We’re super-proud and excited to have him.”
It was really special for us that people in the music business acknowledged the great work for various artists across the board in a world coming out of Covid
Looking more widely at the genre, Asika suggested that rap events need to help build new talent, including acts from emerging sub-genres.
“There’s still a massive thirst for rap, but I think the curation needs some work for next year,” he said. “We haven’t seen enough new names break – in the last year and a half, Little Simz and Central Cee have been the standouts.
“I feel like we’re going to get some more wins, there are going to be some different styles coming through.”
Following a busy 2022 with concerts booked pre-Covid finally taking place, Asika said the sector has largely recovered and is settling down.
While noting that consumers are now more demanding in terms of the quality of their live music experiences, Asika said it was a time of “bumper business” for successful artists, clubs and festival brands.
“We’re going to have a bigger year in terms of bookings,” he told Music Week. “I’m seeing mostly strong ticket sales across the board, it is going to be a fantastic year.”
Click here to read our UTA feature with UK co-heads Neil Warnock and Obi Asika and co-head of music Samantha Kirby Yoh.
PHOTO: Josh Moore