Africa’s music business is booming, led by Nigeria, and data on its contribution to growth are starting to emerge
Africa’s contemporary music scene, led largely by Nigeria, is redefining the continent’s creative landscape. With a new generation of artists crafting anthems with international appeal, music is becoming a significant sector driving Africa’s transformation. Some experts believe the industry could emerge as the continent’s new face to the world and a pillar of global pop culture.
“Nigerian soft power, driven by music, is already the dominant soundtrack to young Africa,” says Obi Asika, a Lagos-based entertainment executive who heads up Storm 360 Records. “Over the next five years, as it begins to monetise, create more superstars, and produce more content it will increasingly become one of the dominant cultural platforms in the world.”
This is not the first time African artists have gained pan-African or global recognition. Performers like Youssou N’dour, Ali “Farka” Toure, and Angelique Kidjo became iconic symbols in the 1980s and 1990s, establishing the ‘world music’ genre.
So what is unique to African music now? A survey of musicians and business insiders reveals several dominant trends. A legitimate African pop music industry with global distribution and growing revenue streams is budding. There is an unprecedented volume of new performers connecting globally. Nigeria in particular has become a beacon of artists, production, and hits for the continent. And these trends mirror the continent’s transformation narrative. Economically, Africa is booming, and the continent is becoming the world’s new consumer market with rising global influence.
While it is still commonly viewed as wanting, there is more of an African pop music infrastructure now than ever before. Less than a decade ago the production and organisation of popular African music would have been difficult for a US or UK industry analyst to track. Outside of South Africa, local or pan-African charts, hit-producing labels, or high grade music videos were largely absent.
Today recording studios, managers, producers, professional music videos, and digital distribution platforms are developing rapidly from hubs in Accra, Lagos, and Nairobi. Online national charts and download platforms like iROKING are surfacing. The music publication Billboard announced its expansion into Africa in 2013, and Nigerian hits are now available on Amazon and iTunes.
African music clearly has momentum, but attempts to gather basic market statistics highlights the industry’s nascence. Few figures pertaining to the size of the industry are available, stemming from weak national structures to regulate music sales and monetise intellectual property, according to Iboro Otu, a Nigerian producer and entertainment consultant at A Billionmen Productions.
“In Nigeria and most African countries accurate music industry data are almost impossible to come by,” says Mr Otu. “The agencies entrusted with these duties and copyright protection do not carry it out. Places like the US aggregate these statistics at the point of sale, but in Nigeria for every single CD or DVD sold legitimately it is estimated at least 10 copies are pirated.”
Mr Otu is trying to fill that knowledge gap by assembling data on Nigerian music for his production company and the World Bank. His homespun statistics indicate that Nigeria tripled album sales to 30m from 2005 to 2008, and that global annual Nigerian live performance revenues reached around $105m. According to Storm 360 CEO Obi Asika, Nigerian mobile operators generated $150m selling pop music ringtones and other music related services in 2011. He estimates the value of entertainment products consumed by Nigerians, including Nollywood films, at $2 to $5bn a year. The $3bn spread in that statistic underscores the challenges in valuing Africa’s creative industries.
If core industry data is lacking, the stable of talented African artists that will drive the industry is not. Akon and K’naan are firmly established as mainstream global stars. Less commercially, there is an African indie/alternative scene taking root, led by artists like Kenya’s Just a Band, Ghanaian hip hop maestro Blitz The Ambassador, Congolese-Belgian Baloji, and Afro-futurist Spoek Mathambo, who signed with Sub-Pop – the US indie label that broke Nirvana. In European pop, the Ivoirian group Magic System registers on French charts. In 2012, Ghana’s Azonto music and dance moves went viral, becoming Africa’s answer to the Psy craze.
The leader of Africa’s new pop music movement is its most populous nation, Nigeria. This became evident at MTV’s first Africa Music Awards in 2008. After performances featuring nominees in Nairobi, Johannesburg, Lagos, and Kinshasa, the Nigerians dominated, taking eight out of 12 top prizes.
taking eight out of 12 top prizes. Nigerian pop has tremendous panAfrican appeal with a deep field of notable artists: 2Face, Don Jazzy, J Martins, Timaya, Naeto-C, Flavour, Iyanya, and young Wizkid. Nigerian musicians are also making significant inroads in global music markets. Nigeria’s two most recognized stars, D’Banj and brother duo P-Square, signed with major labels – D’Banj with Kanye West’s GOOD label and P-Square with Universal Music. D’Banj’s Oliver Twist recently reached number 2 on UK charts, while P-Square’s Beautiful Onyinye surpassed 12m views on Youtube.
So how does Africa’s rapidly evolving music scene fit into its transformation narrative? The continent’s burgeoning technology movement, with a commitment of capital from global tech players – including IBM, Google and Microsoft – and growing proliferation of tech incubation hubs – such as Kenya’s iHub and Ghana’s proposed Hope City – creates promise for modernising monetisation and distribution platforms.
The region also boasts powerful demographics. Africans are expected to number two billion by 2050, the majority under the age of 35, translating into a new consumer class. Parallel to that is the global power of Africa’s diaspora, sending home tens of billions of dollars a year and growing in affluence.
These factors offer a potent recipe for a lively new music scene with real economic traction. African music, its earning power and artistry, has prospects to develop within and beyond the continent, attracting global mainstream music houses searching for new artists and markets. Warner Music created its own label, Warner Music Gallo Africa, and Universal Music, in partnership with Samsung, launched a African music app in 2013, called Kleek.
Industry analyst and Billboard deputy director Yinka Adegoke is optimistic for Africa’s pop scene, but stresses the need for better infrastructure to reach its global potential. “A lot of big music labels visit Africa and say, ‘the talent is here, but it’s unclear what our legal and revenue situation is,’” he says. “There needs to be monitoring of all platforms: radio, record stores, online and mobile phones. From there, structures for monetising and royalties are needed so artists can make money. These things take time and will require legal help from governments.”
In Mr Asika’s view the key components will come together around the appeal of Nigerian music. “When American hip hop broke out you had people all over the world singing ‘Brooklyn [or] the Bronx in the house.’ It wasn’t because they were from those places. It was because the music had captured that elusive, authentic coolness everyone is looking for,” he says.
“I think Nigerian music has that with the right conditions now. The continent is ready for it; audiences are already embedded for it internationally. Global culture is craving something fresh and vibrant, and African music is it.”