The Value Of African Music

Published 8 years ago

Africa’s music industry is young and vibrant. From Dakar to Mombasa, Lagos to Cape Town, creative communities are producing music that draws from our millennia of heritage, while incorporating modern instruments and the latest technology. The industry itself contributes to Africa both economically and culturally. But it faces challenges to its ongoing development and expansion, and will require both structural and cultural support to counteract these damaging trends.

The difficulties faced by the African music industry are long-established and well-documented. The fundamental challenge is the predominance of an informal economy operating supply chains without proper regulation or observation; the issue of artistes receiving remuneration for intellectual property impacts both physical sales and digital platforms, with content piracy stealing livelihoods from would-be musicians and creatives.

Across the continent, piracy is perceived as a victimless crime. Without proper education as to its impact, not only on creative industries but also on society more widely, this scourge will go unanswered and will continue to undermine the efforts of those working to promote African music. Empowering musicians requires legal frameworks to be reinforced and expanded in order to safeguard intellectual property, a fundamental building block in constructing a robust music industry.


While Africa’s music industry challenges are well known, positive steps are being made to counter these obstacles, and technology is at the heart of those solutions. Internet penetration in sub-Saharan Africa stood at 2% in 2010; by 2014, Africa’s entire figure had risen to 27%. This increased access has fostered the proliferation of international services such as iTunes, and Shazam, as well as Nigeria’s Spinlet and Kenya’s Mdundo. This represents a prime opportunity for a more regulated distribution chain for artistes.

Although physical sales revenues outweigh digital by a considerable margin across Africa, digital sales are growing as a percentage – a trend predicted to continue, with my home country Nigeria estimated to see over 50% of music revenue through digital streams in 2015.

Unsurprisingly, Africa’s music industry does not have significant economic impact on the bottom line of the continent’s exports balance sheet. Findings from US-based research agency PolitiFact found that the music industry accounted for “less than 0.1% of Africa’s export revenue”. Compared with commodity-rich sectors such as fuel, gold or diamonds, and softer commodities such as timber, sugar, or grains, our music industry’s economic contribution is dwarfed in absolute terms by this more tangible production.

There is, however, an intrinsic value to Africa’s music industry, one which is not measured in dollars, naira or any other currency.


It is the value of a diverse yet shared cultural heritage, one which places musical creativity at the heart of storytelling. The tonal nature of many African languages creates a strong connection between musical and verbal communications, meaning for many African communities music is woven into the fabric of society.

Many are already aware of the impact African music has had on global music, from historic links to blues, soul, and jazz, all the way through to contemporary rap and hip-hop. This feeds back into Africa’s musical exports over the past 50 years; from the Nigerian greats of old like Fela Kuti and Osadebe to Mali’s Ali Farka Touré and Cameroon’s Manu Dibango (who’s still alive) with Senegal’s Youssou N’Dour and Nigeria’s Femi Kuti and William Onyeabor the next to take on the mantle, right through to younger breakthrough acts like Kiss Daniel and Yemi Alade; the love around the world for African music is huge, even if the profits are not. And with the younger generation, we’re seeing artistes incorporating western musical influences to create the eclectic and exciting fusion of sounds we’re hearing today.

The legal and governance frameworks which surround African music are in their infancy, but the continent’s musical heritage is as rich, time-honoured and robust as that of any other continent on earth. It has an exciting future, a future of challenges but also of opportunities, most notably through the emergence of digital platforms. Properly protected and nurtured, African music can continue to go from strength to strength. No one can doubt that the whole world would benefit from that.