Rise of Taponeswa Mavunga – From receptionist to renowned global music executive

Taponeswa Mavunga

MUSIC fans rarely notice the work that goes into the making of a star.

For them, when they see a name in the bright lights, the only thing they can give credit to is their favourite musician’s talent and nothing else.

But behind the scenes, when the cameras have stopped flashing, there is a team of dedicated professionals that invest time and effort into the making of the stars.

Countless hours are spent on press runs or on coaching a star to make sure that they know the right things to say when a microphone is shoved in their faces.

These are the men and women that make stars and last week one of the finest music executives born in Zimbabwe was rightfully acknowledged as one of the best in the field.

Taponeswa Mavunga is now appointed Director of Africa at Sony Music UK, a newly created position by the global giant as it seeks to cement its foothold on the African music scene.

According to musicbusinessworldwide.com Mavunga will be responsible for amplifying UK signed artistes across Africa, as well as supporting artistes within Africa to develop relationships, identify opportunities and increase visibility within the UK.

This is not the first time she has been in the big leagues, in 2015 she became a part of Sony Music as Head of Publicity for Columbia UK, helping to launch into international fame the likes of Wizkid and Davido, as the Nigerian duo’s fame expanded beyond the continent.

As the executive that oversaw press strategy at the label, Mavunga also oversaw publicity campaigns for such superstars as Childish Gambino, Koffee, and Rosalia.

While based in Johannesburg, Mavunga was also Head of Talent and Music for Viacom Africa working on MTV Base, BET Africa and Nickelodeon channels.

“Tapi is a passionate, forward thinking executive who has a clear vision for the future,” said Sean Watson, the Managing Director, Sony Music Entertainment Africa on her appointment.

“She has incredible relationships with artists and there is no one more suited to represent Sony Music UK in Africa’s accelerating market.

“Tapi’s first-hand experience of working in African music and entertainment and her enthusiasm to connect artists locally and globally is unmatched.”

But how did a girl from Harare become one of the most powerful music executives in the world?

In an interview with Music Week, Mavunga revealed that she had been lured into the music business while still in university.

However, her rise is even more remarkable as she started out only as a receptionist.

“I was part of an active ACS (African Caribbean Society) at university. The lifestyle and culture did not serve the expanding black and Asian student community, so we took matters into our own hands and tried to address that.

“From putting on club nights, comedy, open mic, poetry slams, fashion and talent shows, we did everything ourselves and, after graduating, I interned anywhere I could to keep that vibe alive. I was contributing to magazines and helping put on events until landing a job as a receptionist for Warner Music,” she said.

With her drive and ambition, Mavunga has now found herself at the top of the pile. However, she had some noteworthy help along the way, rubbing shoulders with some of the giants in the major record label business.

“My first boss in PR was Anita Mackie (Anita Sandall) at East West records. She came from the era of Lynne Franks PR and Kiss FM before going in-house at label press for BMG/RCA/Mercury. She recruited me from reception into the press office and pushed me from the minute I started. She was a huge character and remains to this day one of my inspirations. Also — Cookie Pryce, now at The Orchard. She’s a pioneer, having represented British hip-hop as part of The Cookie Crew and then working in different areas of the industry. I remember seeing Cookie Crew on Top of The Pops when I was still at school. There was a distinctive London-ness about them, which acknowledged the pan-Africanism in hip-hop at that time and the whole thing blew my mind. Fast forward to the present day and she’s someone I have a tremendous amount of respect for.”

Besides some of Africa’s top talents, Mavunga is also a mother, something that she counts as one of her biggest achievements in an already glittering career.

“Balancing motherhood with a career. It is a known fact that in music, you have to be flexible for late nights, gigs, festivals, working weekends. So, I do not use the term lightly. Also moving my life to Johannesburg [to work for Viacom Africa] has been one of my biggest highlights.

“It was great to rewire my brain in order to do the job of telling the story of African musicians such as Wizkid, Davido, AKA and Black Coffee, without using Western models to gauge success.

“The story is still on-going . . . Africa continues to inspire culture and I’m fascinated, not just the from musical standpoint but fashion, tech, film and the arts,” she said.

Despite her success, Mavunga has not been shielded from the music industry’s notorious sexism.

Despite this, she believes the elevation of more people like her will open doors that continue to be shut in women’s faces.

“Parity of opportunity is created only when there are more women in CEO and board member positions. This is the only real way to create a structural reform that will force a shift in culture,” she said. – Sunday News