Music has come a long way since they were available on vinyl LPs or cassettes that had to be listened to on a record player, and CDs which continue to be hawked on the streets, but have lost its initial appeal. Today, music is available on a huge range of digital services. People can listen to an album released only minutes ago, constantly discover new music on recommendation services, and engage with artists on social networks as they go about their everyday lives. This new digital world has brought great new ways to access culture and African music, especially, is benefiting increasingly from this.
Most African nations either maintained a unique sound or went through style phases, but with the exception of the occasional greats such as Hugh Masekela, and Fela Kuti who transcended borders often on the backs of politically conscious music, the majority of Africa’s music consumption and evolution remained largely within the continent. And while most of the world, including African nations, rocked genres from Michael Jackson to American boy bands such as The Beatles and Westlife, the opportunity for Africans themselves to export their music remained minimal—until now.
East Africa’s vibrant music scene, with its pulsating beats, electrifying melodies and irresistible grooves, has steadily been gaining exposure, with entrepreneurs and investors catching on. Coke Studio, the music platform started by Coca-Cola, has seen many African acts, including Nigeria’s legendary King Sunny Ade, feature in the show that has given many people outside the continent opportunity to encounter the variety that is African music.
British-Ghanaian rapper Fuse ODG, who made his name in the London rap scene, is one of the most popular artists on music streaming service Spotify with about 500k monthly listeners spanning London, Oslo, Stockholm, Paris, and Dublin. Kenya-based afropop group Sauti-Sol, which is made up of Bien Aime Baraza, Willis Austin Chimano, Savaro Mudigi and Polycarp Otieno, tops the list of homegrown streaming service Mdundo’s most downloaded artists, and Senegal’s most famous musical export is arguably Akon, a multi platinum selling artist and producer who has collaborated with Michael Jackson and Lady Gaga.
Emerging markets in Africa, in particular, are becoming more profitable. UK-based record company Beggars Group, for example, reports that 20% of its revenue comes from emerging markets. It is now licensing music for the first time in Nigeria, Uganda and Angola, according to the IFPI report.
It could be said that the world is experiencing a very African moment in music. We are consuming more music than ever before, and from a wider range of sources, sometimes unexpected. Last month, American rapper Kanye West accidentally led fans to Nigerian singer Burna Boy’s song ‘Ye’. But even while the contributions of African artists continue to be recognised, it is hard to ignore the dominance of Nigerians in this space and the role the nation’s entertainment exports have played in bringing attention to the Africa’s music scene. The likes of African Queen crooner Tubaba (formerly Tuface) and D’banj may have set the table on which younger artists now thrive, but the last decade has seen this new generation of artists evolve in their music careers along with the way music is consumed, eventually becoming some of the greatest voices in music in Africa.
Nigerian singer, songwriter and record producer, Davido, known for his hit songs like “Dami Duro”, “Fia” and “Assurance” performed before a crowd in Suriname, a little South American country alien to the bulk of his loyal fan base in Nigeria. The singer had 10 000 fans sing along word for word as he performed on stage, bewildered over the amount of love and popularity of his craft and music in the country.
Ayo ‘Wizkid’ Balogun has become a well known artist, selling out concerts alongside collaborations with illustrious international acts. He continues to find new audiences with hits such as “Ojuelegba”, “Manya” and “Soco” which is currently having a life of its own with the trending Nigerian dance Shaku Shaku, made popular by yet another Nigerian artist Olamide.
It is not uncommon for dance steps to be “released” along with songs. Previous dance trends such as the Azonto, and the Shoki with similar titled songs reveal just how much dance is entwined with the music and culture of Africa which now goes on influence pop culture around the world. Recently, South Africa’s Gwara Gwara was featured in Childish Gambino’s viral music video, This Is America, which was choreographed by Sherrie Silver.
Nigerian artists especially often take advantage of this, and as they lack any distinct signature style and harmony, their music has no definitive sound—partly due to a plethora of ethnicities, and to disruptions of colonialism and war. Nigerians create sounds by soaking up music from around the world, while introducing elements of the local lifestyle and language which is seen as an added advantage. With a beat that is sure to get your feet tapping, and eventually dancing, it infects the African community, and beyond.
In 2015, local musicians in Kenya hit the Nairobi streets in bitter protest against the overshadowing of Nigerian and South African music in airplay. The media houses, however, maintained that they simply mirrored the tastes of the people as demand for the Nigerian product is high. The artists are also more adept at using social media, and with more visibility, tend to be the artistes people are drawn to. Additionally, English speaking countries also benefit from the ability to collaborate and connect massively with the Western media and their African counterparts in diaspora.
Streaming is becoming more popular globally, growing 41.1% to become largest music revenue source, according to IFPI. There is, however, the issue where there are no central rights holders of music in Africa makes it extremely hard to manage rights and for that reason illegal sites normally have the biggest libraries. African artists often find respite in foreign agencies like Apple Music, Google Play and Deezer which have launched in most of the larger African territories, which are more likely to have updated laws that protect creators in the digital delivery age. In South Africa, it is estimated that 40% to 50% of digital income now comes from iTunes, according to IFPI’s 2016 report.
As smartphone penetration in Africa increases, streaming services give the music made on the African continent more opportunity to find a global audience and shape the world. In Nigeria and Kenya, income from consumer spending on recorded music was predicted to reach $43 million and $19 million by the end of last year, respectively, according to a report by PricewaterhouseCoopers.
“This is an amazing time for African music,” Nigerian Afrobeats artist Mr Eazi told CNN. “Because of the internet, Africans are exposed to the rest of the world without traveling. Afrobeat is now urbanized, the internet has made everything well-packaged.
“Now you see A-listers all around the world, like Drake and Nas, sampling African music; I’ve even heard Japanese music with African drums. It’s invading pop culture and it’s a marvelous time for African music.”