Universal Music Group (UMG) has taken another step in its ambitious expansion into South Asian and South Asian-influenced music.
The world’s largest music rightsholder announced on Thursday (January 4) that it is acquiring the entire catalog of UK-based South Asian music label Oriental Star Agencies (OSA Ltd.). The deal includes all of the label’s recordings, as well as publishing rights “where held.”
OSA operated for some 50 years from its headquarters in Birmingham, until it was sold to Hi-Tech Music Ltd. in 2017. With a catalog of some 18,000 songs, concerts and video recordings, the label played a key role in the development of the UK Bhangra genre and launched the careers of numerous British and South Asian artists.
The label’s largest contribution to global culture may well be its signing of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan in the early 1980s. At the time of his death in 1997, the New York Times described the singer, songwriter and music director as “the greatest singer of his generation in the genre of qawwali,” a style of devotional music most closely associated with Sufism. Khan recorded more than 125 albums during his career.
OSA was founded in 1966 by Muhammad Ayyub and his brothers, who had migrated from Pakistan to the UK’s West Midlands in 1961. The business began by importing records from India and Pakistan to the Birmingham area, which at that time was seeing a large number of South Asian settlers who had little in the way of South Asian entertainment in the area.
In 1969, OSA began producing records, signing its first two acts, Anari Sangeet Party and Bhujangy Party, which both performed traditional Punjabi songs and gained popularity within the UK’s South Asian community. Bhujangy Party’s first major hit, Bhabiye Akh Larr Gayee, was notable for being among the first tracks to combine traditional Asian sounds with modern Western musical instruments.
Other highlights in OSA’s catalog include Malkit Singh, whom the Guinness Book of Records named the world’s biggest-selling Bhangra artist in 2005, as well as record producer and DJ Bally Sagoo and musician Attaullah Khan.
OSA’s music found a new audience in 2002, when several of the label’s tracks appeared on the soundtrack to Bend It Like Beckham. In 2014, three years before the record label was sold, Ayyub was awarded an MBE honor by the British government for his service to broadcasting.
“This acquisition of a hugely successful and iconic British-Asian label specializing in South Asian music will further increase Universal Music Group’s exposure to, and participation in, a fast growing and rapidly changing market,” UMG Executive Vice President of Market Development Adam Granite said in a statement.
Granite added that OSA “has played an unparalleled role in bridging the musical identities of the UK and South Asia, taking the unique sounds of its artists to a broad audience. We believe this catalog has huge potential, and look forward to taking it to the next generation of music fans globally.”
“This acquisition of a hugely successful and iconic British-Asian label specializing in South Asian music will further increase Universal Music Group’s exposure to, and participation in, a fast growing and rapidly changing market.”
Adam Granite, UMG
Mohammed Twaseen, Director of OSA, said: “This is a momentous day for OSA and all our artists. Becoming part of the UMG family will turbo-charge our South Asian music, helping it to get in front of more music fans across the world. The past decade has seen a true global explosion of music from the region, and now, under UMG’s stewardship, the next decade promises to be even more exciting.”
South Asian music is indeed experiencing an “explosion.”
Entertainment industry data firm Luminate reported last month that India is the world’s second-largest music streaming market, behind only the US “and surging.” The Indian market made up 14% of the world’s on-demand audio and video streams in 2023, year-to-date as of mid-November, Luminate said.
According to IFPI data, the Asian music market grew 15.4% in 2022, with overall revenues accounting for 22.9% of the global market.
“Becoming part of the UMG family will turbo-charge our South Asian music, helping it to get in front of more music fans across the world.”
Mohammed Twaseen, OSA
It’s little wonder, then, that major global recording music companies are expanding into South Asia and South Asian music, and UMG is among the most active on that front.
This past fall, UMG launched a joint venture with Ty Ty Smith, co-founder of Roc Nation, and South London artist, producer and music exec Shabz Naqvi to form Desi Trill Music, a label dedicated to Desi Trill, the genre that combines South Asian music with hip-hop.
UMG also entered into a partnership last fall with REPRESENT, a Mumbai-headquartered talent management agency.
In 2022, UMG expanded its Def Jam brand into South Asia with the launch of Def Jam India, and took a majority stake in Indian music and entertainment company TM Ventures, which manages a roster of artists including rapper Badshah (who himself signed a multi-year agreement with Universal the year before).
In its announcement of the OSA acquisition, UMG described the deal as “another demonstration of UMG’s strategy to accelerate its growth in high potential music markets around the world.”Music Business Worldwide