As mobile and Internet access continues to grow in the Sub Saharan region, how people consume music changes too.
According to an article by GSMA, 22% of the Sub Saharan population had access to mobile Internet, and streaming platforms are using this access to tap into a market that has shown great potential in the past few years.
Mobile phone subscribers in the Sub Saharan region stand at 46%, with 64% having smartphone access. The number is expected to grow as Africa transitions into a post-pandemic economic recovery phase like the rest of the world.
A 2022 report by GSMA notes that the 3G network is still the most dominant in the region, accounting for over half of the region’s connectivity. 5G connectivity will account for a third of the connections by 2025, while 5G connectivity tails behind.
The availability of cheap smartphones from Asia, especially China, has significantly boosted streaming services. Users can purchase a smartphone for as little as $30. Affordable smartphone brands such as Neon, Intel, Infinix, and Techno have made it easy for Africans to access the Internet. All these affordable devices have made music streaming possible.
Historically, the distribution and dissemination of African music have been heavily reliant on traditional means, such as CDs, DVDs, and cassette tapes. The rise of streaming platforms such as Spotify, Apple Music, Deezer, Tidal, and Boomplay is changing that.
In a report by IFPI on the global music report of 2023, the Sub Saharan region experienced an increase of 34.7% in the recorded music market, with South Africa experiencing an incredible growth of over 30%. Statista estimates that Africa’s streaming market is valued at over $373 million and is expected to hit over $500 million by 2027.
Digital Hurdles and Piracy: Music Streaming Challenges in Sub-Saharan Africa
As streaming services continue to gain popularity in the Sub Saharan area, how musicians and artists are compensated must be addressed. This is because the traditional compensation modes are disrupted; therefore, they need to make a sustainable income from their music streams.
Another challenge streaming services face in the region is internet access. Internet penetration in the area is still very low; therefore, a considerable part of the population cannot access the service.
Despite internet connectivity, another major challenge is data limitations. More than half of the population in the Sub Saharan African region lives on less than a dollar a day, and data is expensive; therefore, purchasing it to stream music might be a hustle. This limits their streaming time to an hour or less.
Another critical challenge hindering the growth of music streaming services is music piracy. According to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI), the increased piracy rate is due to poor intellectual property protections and the need for more enforcement of the protection laws currently in place.
The South African music industry is estimated to lose about R500 to R690 million ($40 million) annually. According to the Recording Industry of South Africa (RiSA), online music piracy spiked between 2020 and 2021 during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Physical piracy is also a big issue in most African countries. It is common to find music CDs and DVDs sold by the roadside or in small shops called movie shops.
Experts predict African music will continue to hit new heights in the coming years. According to Charlotte Bwana, head of media and brand partnerships for streaming service Audiomack in Africa, eight African singers were among the top ten most streamed artists on Audiomack in August 2022, and Audiomack receives 2.5 billion Afrobeats streams every month on average.
“I am more than convinced that African music will soon be the most popular in the world,” said Charlotte Bwana.
How African Artists Are Making the Most of the Digital Streaming
Music streaming has given African artists the global recognition they didn’t have with the old medium of music dissemination. African artists have created a global fanbase, doubling their revenues since streaming services became available. Some notable African artists include:
He is one of the most prominent African artists and has gained worldwide recognition due to his prowess in blending Afrobeat, hip-hop, R&B, dancehall, reggae, and other genres.
Burna Boy has received multiple awards, including the 2020 BET Award for Best International Act, and his music has appeared in several films and television shows.
Fally has been a force in the music industry since early 2000. The Congolese musician, songwriter, and philanthropist is known for mixing genres such as soukous, rumba, and ndombolo and has collaborated with several international artists like Chris Brown and Akon.
Yemi is one of the most celebrated African artists and has gained recognition globally. Her hit single ‘Johny’ put her on the global map. She combines traditional African rhythms with contemporary pop elements. Her other hits include Mama Africa, King of Queens, and Black Magic.
Mr Eazi, a celebrated Nigerian musician, says that music streaming services and the Internet have opened up African music. In a previous interview with CNN, Eazi noted that this is a fantastic time for African music.
“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,” he said.
“Now you see A-listers worldwide, like Drake and Nas, sampling African music; I’ve even heard Japanese music with African drums. It’s invading pop culture and a marvelous time for African music,” Mr. Eazi added.
Global Giants: Dominant Music Streaming Platforms in Sub-Saharan Africa
The digital music landscape in Sub Saharan Africa is diverse, with several platforms catering to varied audiences. Spotify, which launched in Africa in 2018, and it’s available in more than 40 countries. It offers both a free version with commercials and a subscription version with added features, using the same global subscription model.
Apple Music, although limited in its software availability, has made significant inroads in 17 African countries, offering a vast library of over 77 million songs for a subscription cost as low as $10.
Local Beats: Country-Specific Music Streaming Services in Africa
While global platforms like Spotify and Apple Music have made their mark in Africa, the continent boasts a rich tapestry of local streaming services tailored to the unique tastes and preferences of each region. These platforms not only offer a diverse range of music genres but also provide local artists with a platform to showcase their talent and connect with fans. Here are few country-specific music streaming services in Africa:
The Nigerian music industry is the biggest in Africa and has attained a rapid global following in recent years. The country hosts one of Africa’s most popular streaming platforms, boomplay, launched in 2015 and is currently available in over ten countries with over 60 million users.
Boomplay’s massive success in the Sub Saharan region is attributed to its focus on local songs and talents. It has collaborated with musicians and local record labels, with over 4 million songs available for streaming.
Spotify and Apple Music also compete for a piece of the pie in the Nigerian streaming industry. Others include Audiomack, NotJustTok, and YouTube music.
According to a report by Statista, over 80% of the South African population has access to mobile phones and the Internet, making streaming possible.
Spotify was first launched in the country in 2018 and has since expanded to other countries in the north and east of Africa. Spotify gained an audience quickly due to its compatibility with most devices. It can be accessed by Android and iOS users and on other devices, such as laptops. The streaming platform has recorded over 1.2 billion stream hours and over 20 million user-generated playlists.
Other streaming services in South Africa include Shazam, Tubidy, YouTube Music, and Apple Music.
According to a 2022 report by Datareportal, 22.5 million Kenyans have access to the Internet. This translates to 42.0% of the population. Kenya, having the 14th fastest internet speed in the world, has significantly contributed to the growth of streaming services in the country.
Mdundo is one of the most popular music streaming services in the country. It was founded in 2012 in Kenya and aims to provide accessible and affordable music access to its users. By 2016, over 500 artists had registered on the platform. Users can enjoy free music streaming up to a certain limit, with premium services available for a minimal monthly fee.
Spotify launched in Kenya in 2021, giving Kenyans and artists access to music from around the globe. Being the new kid in the block, the streaming service has had a smooth ride in penetrating the Kenyan market due to its affordability and compatibility with various devices.
During its one-year celebration in the Kenyan market, the streaming platform announced that there were 1.2 million user-generated playlists.
Despite Kenyans’ increased music streams, local artists are losing out as Kenyans opt to consume music from other countries rather than local content. Tanzanian bongo, Nigerian afrobeat, and South African amapiano dominate Kenyan streams.
Other African countries
Ghana stands out with platforms like Boomplay, which, while popular across the continent, has carved a significant niche in the country. It offers both free and subscription-based streaming and has formed partnerships with a myriad of African artists. Additionally, Aftown, a local platform, has emerged as a space for Ghanaian artists to share their music and engage with their fans.
Moving to Senegal, MusikBi has made its mark as Africa’s first home-grown platform for legal music downloads, championing songs from renowned African artists and promoting indigenous Senegalese tunes.
Tanzania‘s music scene is enriched by Wasafi, an initiative by the renowned artist Diamond Platnumz. It functions as both a record label and a streaming platform, predominantly promoting local Tanzanian Bongo Flava music.
Uganda‘s Sulapay offers a space for music enthusiasts to purchase and enjoy songs from their favorite local artists. Meanwhile, Cameroon’s Muzikol serves as an online music marketing and artist management platform tailored for the Cameroonian music industry. Zimbabwe hasn’t been left behind either, with OyOsMusic emerging as a platform that not only promotes local artists but also ensures they earn from their craft.
Main photo: Yemi Alade performs at the Nairobi Summit aimed for Kenyan children, via Wikimedia Commons.