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The Future Of Global Music Is African

African music has always been great. But now more than ever, the world is taking notice, thus opening up more opportunities in the global entertainment market for Africa’s talents.

US summer hits by Afrobeats artists, global media houses signing up African artists at a record pace, Viral Tik Tok trends with African music. These are just a few of the visible ways that African music is going global.

The opportunities are plenty with the industry being touted as one that can boost economies, foster regional and global integration all while skyrocketing top artists to global stardom. Challenges however still remain in tapping into this enormous potential. Top among these include how to monetize fame especially for artists who ‘pop’ on Tik Tok, but not as much on streaming platforms and also professionalizing the industry so that artists can reap higher rewards from their fame.

If these challenges can be addressed, industry makers believe that not only will the future of African music be global, but the revenues earned from it will also reflect the popularity of African music globally.

Africa’s music boasts impressive figures

“On Audiomack we have handed out plaques to Burna Boy, Rema, Kizz Daniel, Wizkid, Bella Shmurda, Fireboy DML all for having 300 million streams and above on the platform. In August 2022 the most streamed artists on Audiomack included eight African artists out of the top ten. Audiomack averages 2.5 billion Afrobeats streams per month. I am more than convinced that African music will soon be the most popular in the world,” Charlotte Bwana, head of media and brand partnerships for streaming service Audiomack in Africa, tells Quartz.

Streaming data confirms the rise in consumption of African music. Apple Music, for instance, reported a 500% overall streaming increase for African DJ mixes between August 2021 and August 2022. Nigeria, home of Afrobeats, posted the biggest bump with 3,000% year on year growth, with the streaming service also saying that Kenya, Uganda, and Ghana were among the biggest growth drivers.

When African countries made up 39 out of 80 new markets it expanded to in February 2021, Spotify cited its desire to accelerate the global discovery of new genres such as South Africa’s Amapiano, and to tap into the vibrant culture in these countries.

Warner, Universal Music Group, and Sony—the ‘big three’ labels which together control an estimated 69% share of the global music recording market—are tapping into the African music opportunity. Wizkid, Burna Boy, Davido, and Tiwa Savage all signed their major label deals within the past six years, and several others have signed more recently, such as Tanzanian sensation Diamond Platnumz and his Wasafi Records’ partnership with Warner announced in 2021, or the chart-topping Wait for U star Tems who last year also inked a deal with Sony subsidiary RCA Records.

Major labels are also expanding their reach by working more closely with labels in Africa, helping develop the next generation of stars. Warner’s 2019 agreement with Nigeria’s Mavin Records for example, is proving to be a fruitful partnership as since then, Mavin-affiliated artists including Ruger and Rema have broken into international markets with their hits.

Rema’s mega-hit Calm Down even got remixed by Selena Gomez in September. Peru star Fireboy DML and Sungba hitmaker Asake are both signed to Olamide’s independent label YBNL (Yahoo Boy No Laptop) Nation, which itself signed a joint venture deal with Empire Distribution—an American distributor and label—in February 2020. Peru was one of the biggest songs of 2022, and scored an endorsement from the Peruvian government in addition to an Ed Sheeran remix.

For artists and the African music industry in general, the possibilities seem endless and optimism is high. Everyday has felt like a day of new firsts, whether it’s Burna Boy and Wizkid breaking streaming records and winning awards, or Tems topping charts and collaborating with the biggest artists in the world, or Billboard introducing its first Afrobeats chart in the US in March.

What is fueling the growth of Africa’s music?

A mix of factors is driving this meteoric rise. Importantly, technology has made it easier for a global audience to discover artists from around the world. Streaming revenues have been growing at an average rate of 43.9% since 2014 and now account for 65% of music industry revenues. Global streaming revenues in 2021 were up 24.3% from the previous year to hit $16.9 billion, while overall music industry revenues rose by around 20% to reach $25.9 billion.

The recent support of African artists by major record labels has also been a key factor. It signals optimism in the financial potential of Africa’s music. These labels today market, promote, and distribute African music in territories where a majority of music consumers previously haven’t interacted with Afrobeats, for example, resulting in African artists drawing in countless new fans everyday. The labels are also facilitating collaborations and partnerships between African artists and Western superstars and brands, continually exposing them to new audiences.

But while the rise is often attributed solely to the increasing international support, one underrated driver behind the growing international popularity of African music is the incredible intra-African support it receives. Music has managed what politics and governance so far hasn’t, by rendering colonial boundaries that define the continent useless.

Nigeria’s Afrobeats and Tanzania’s Bongo, for instance, are arguably the most popular genres in Kenya—East Africa’s largest economy—and often perform better in the country than music from Kenyan artists. According to YouTube data on which cities artists are getting the most plays from, for instance, Nairobi currently ranks as the top city in the world for Burna Boy and Fireboy DML, second for Tiwa Savage and Davido, and fourth for Wizkid. Nairobi has also long been the top city for Tanzania’s Diamond Platnumz, Zuchu, Ali Kiba, and Rayvanny among other Bongo music stars.

“The growing young African population have also become taste makers that cannot be ignored, we’ve got a generation of creators that have been empowered by the internet and streaming services, there’s no stopping them,” Audiomack’s Bwana says.

The African diaspora in Europe and the US among other countries has also been a major contributor to the increasing global popularity of African music. There are over 178,000 Nigerians living in the UK, for instance, and in areas such as Peckham, London where a large Nigerian community makes up ‘Little Lagos’, you will likely hear some Afrobeats while doing your shopping. This diaspora also shows up for Nigerian artists touring Europe and the US, and tag their friends and family along, helping expose their music to new audiences. Wizkid, for example, sold out the O2 arena in London in 2021 in twelve minutes.

African music has additionally been heavily bolstered by the growing popularity of dance videos and entertaining short-form videos on platforms such as Tik Tok. African music and culture has always been heavy on dance, and it’s therefore no surprise that creators across the world are opting for snippets of African hits to accompany their short videos. Videos using Mi Amor by Marioo (Tanzania) and Jovial (Kenya), for example, clocked over 7 billion views on Tik Tok, one of countless African songs that blew up on the platform.

“A lot of it is about access to the music…in the early days access to African music was limited to YouTube. But with streaming platforms such as Spotify and Boomplay doing a lot more on the continent, music is being democratized even more,” creative economist Mutana Gakuru tells Quartz.

Are Africa’s musicians benefiting?

The state of global music monetization is especially important for African artists due to the, unfortunately, underdeveloped music remuneration and copyright protection systems in many African countries. Outside of performances, streaming represents the biggest revenue stream for many artists in Africa today.

Royalty collection organizations in the US and the UK pay billions out to artists every year, and have accurate data on radio plays and licenses required to use music in different formats and places, but similar organizations in African countries such as Kenya and Nigeria are yet to maximize their potential—with many facing challenges including gaps in the legal framework, the absence of adequate technology and data and mismanagement. Music sync and licensing deals, catalog buy-outs, and brand endorsements in Africa also aren’t yet as lucrative or common as in more developed markets. All this makes streaming earnings especially important for many artists in Africa compared to their global peers.

Therefore, raging music industry debates on the monetization of music used in Tik Tok videos, or artists’ share of YouTube, Spotify, and Apple Music revenues, are discussions African artists and industry stakeholders should be at the center of. Tik Tok is the perfect example, as a showdown is brewing between labels and the Bytedance-owned platform over how it licenses music used on its platform. Tik Tok pays one-time buy-out fees to license music from labels for specified periods, as opposed to the revenue-share licensing deals common with music streaming platforms.

Tik Tok argues that it isn’t a music streaming platform and, therefore, shouldn’t be treated as such. But calls are growing among label executives for a rethink of the approach to music monetization in the Tik Tok era, with suggestions put forward including paying royalties by the second, so artists can earn based on how long their music plays in Tik Tok videos. African music is incredibly popular on Tik Tok, and therefore such decisions will have a massive bearing on artists’ future earnings.

YouTube, probably the most popular music discovery platform for African fans, has been working to address discontent from artists and labels over its monetization set-up. But because most African talents get most of their YouTube views from within the continent, they are hit harder as advertising revenues per viewer or listener are much lower in Africa.

Spotify, which is now present in many African markets, has also faced long-running criticism across the globe. Pressure is also mounting on streaming services including YouTube, Apple Music, and Spotify to raise their prices, both in reaction to declining macroeconomic conditions and the push to pay artists more. While they have their flaws too, services including Mdundo, and Transsion-backed Boomplay have had a big impact in improving access to music streaming in Africa, by tailoring their products for African artists and audiences.

It is also crucial that African artists receive the necessary professional and legal support to ensure they do not sign exploitative deals, as is common in the global music industry. Keen on international fame and success, African artists can easily fall victim to bad deals that could strip them of future earnings or even ownership of their music.

Music distribution firm ONErpm’s Kenya country manager Bilha Ngaruiya says African stars today find themselves in a position where they can negotiate great deals. She also says that west African artists do much better in terms of having professional teams around them compared to artists from, say, east Africa—an understated factor in the rise of Afrobeats.

“With teams people strive to be as professional as possible…Most artists in Kenya don’t have teams. Ladipoe (Nigeria) has 15 people, including dedicated teams for different parts of the continent,” she says highlighting the importance of African artists being more intentional about promoting their music and brands professionally, instead of leaving the fate of their music in the hands of streaming algorithms.

The most important objective for sustainable and inclusive growth of the African music sector should be to strengthen the entertainment ecosystems in African countries so as to reduce reliance on international labels, consumers, and streaming platforms for revenue. The growing number of music industry professionals working to transform the field in Africa offers hope. African artists and fans should be the biggest winners from the global growth of African music.

“We’re going to change how the music business is done in Africa,” Ngaruiya says.

First published in Quartz

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