The skyrocketing popularity of streaming platforms has lifted artists from Nigeria and others from English-speaking Africa to unprecedented popularity around the world.
Musicians from French-speaking countries on the continent are now looking to take advantage of the boom.
The leader in streaming in Africa is Boomplay, whose library of 80 million tracks is almost on par with those of Deezer and Spotify.
But Boomplay’s big difference with the global giants is a catalog that focuses intensely on African music rather than a wider range of genres.
The application was created in Nigeria in 2015 and is now present in six African countries, said Paola Audrey, head of the Ivorian subsidiary of Boomplay.
“We offer a very large library that helps you discover many local artists,” she said.
Ad-supported and free to the user, Boomplay has paved the way for Nigerian Afro-pop internationally and now hopes to do the same for French-speaking African stars.
“At the moment, it’s much easier to highlight Nigerian artists in the Francophonie, but we are experimenting in the opposite direction, like the Ivorian rapper Didi B”, explains Audrey.
“There are small niche markets, and our role is to promote artists so that they find a larger scale audience.”
For industry experts who gathered last week in Abidjan at the African Music Industry Show, the digital revolution promises scintillating opportunities for West African artists.
African music streaming revenues are expected to more than triple in five years, from $92.9 million in 2021 to $314.6 million in 2026, according to research firm Dataxis.
– Digital dawn –
“It all started with digital platforms,” said Akotchaye Okio, in charge of international development for Africa at Sacem, an artists’ rights group.
“Look at the success of the South African song ‘Jerusalema’ or ‘Calm Down’ by Rema”, a Nigerian singer whose hit has accumulated 50 million streams in France alone, he said.
Magali Palmira Wora, specialist in French-speaking Africa at the American distributor The Orchard, however, pointed to a learning curve.
“Artists from Francophone Africa need to learn how to put themselves forward on platforms,” she said.
“Spotify, for example, has an Afro-pop playlist — you need to explain to artists why it’s important to be on it.”
Good platform exposure breaks down barriers to bigger markets and paves the way for a career far more international than it would have been before.
“Wherever you are, you can listen to my songs with the click of a button. With digital, access to information is much more extensive. It allows local music industries to develop and as artists, it gives us visibility,” said Ivorian rapper Suspect 95.
“We no longer need to go through networks that made it difficult to send my CD to such and such a country.”
– Copyright issue –
Five countries – South Africa, Egypt, Nigeria, Algeria and Morocco – now account for 86% of African streaming revenue, according to Dataxis.
But the 400 million potential listeners in French-speaking sub-Saharan Africa, two-thirds of whom are under the age of 25, constitute a promising untapped market.
Ensuring that emerging independent artists can make money on mainstream platforms will be a major challenge.
“Obviously if you’re signed up with a big (music company) it’s easier – you’re using an established network” to get royalty payments, said Suspect 95, who is signed at Universal.
“For independent artists, it’s more difficult, for now.”
“The major platforms that massively use our songs are not yet paying the rights they should in Côte d’Ivoire,” said Karim Ouattara, director general of the Ivorian Copyright Office.
“But we are in negotiations and we should see progress by the end of the year.”