Digitization and Globalization: Where is the African Music Industry?

Over the last couple of decades, advancements in the entertainment industry have fundamentally changed both society’s perceived value of the arts, and the ways in which people engage with the artistic world. The introduction of digitization has opened a plethora of doors for creatives of all mediums—from the small entrepreneur to the next Billboard-charting artist. With increased access to tools that allow even the most obscure art forms to be seen, the magnitude of both creators themselves and opportunities to have stability in their artistic pursuits have never been more abundant. These emerging technologies have been especially vital in the modern music industry. Regardless of whether a song carries radio potential and caters to the masses or targets only a very specific niche audience, digitization has paved the way for more musical innovation across the world. In particular, the presence of social media has played a significant role in the globalization of the music industry by increasing musical collaboration amongst artists even from polar opposite ends of the world. As a result, creatives have more access to learn from experiences and cultures outside of their own—components that significantly inform every aspect of an artist’s musical expression. 

While technology certainly carries its fair share of negativities, such as detrimental psychological effects and unhealthy social dynamics, it has served as a major economic benefit to many markets—but, unfortunately, not all. For countries who have the bandwidth to adapt to ever-changing technological trends, digitization has been a source of excitement and curiosity for consumers and creators alike. However, developing nations, who are still playing catch-up to the booming economies that have the infrastructure to invest in and adopt these new technologies, are often excluded from the narrative. Africa carries one of the largest populations and largest contributions to the history of music but remains tainted by a long history of delayed progress. After centuries of European conquest and cultural erasure, many African nations continue to suffer from a struggling economy and government, preventing various industries from being able to prosper. Ongoing research has long drawn the lines between the continent’s troubling present and traumatic history, which has “…affected a wide range of important outcomes, including economic prosperity, ethnic diversity, institutional quality…” and more.1 Africa’s history has left such a deep deferral in the continent’s development that African music, although brimming with creativity and originality, does not currently have the means to propel the continent into the same competitive league as more developed markets within the global music industry. 

Africa has a large community of African artists pursuing music and making strides in the major markets, however, the African music industry lacks the resources and legal infrastructure for artists to build sustainable careers. The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), a self-funded agency under the United Nations, aims to develop intellectual property systems across the globe and has engaged with musicians in Africa to investigate the modern music industry. Upon visiting Nairobi in Kenya, WIPO found that musicians have very limited access to rehearsal spaces and recording studios, preventing them from optimizing the full capacity of their creative potential. Access to instruments is also difficult, especially for youth, due to a great lack of affordability. However, scarce musical resources are certainly not unique to Kenya; musicians in Uganda also “…had no access to music books and records…[and] simply could not improve on their artistic talents…they had little or no access to educational resources”.2 Thus, artists are often forced to pay higher costs in order to outsource to other African nations that are able to offer such services due to their increased economic prosperity. For example, South Africa is one of Africa’s major economies, making the country a popular site for musicians to access industry-standard resources, such as music production, copyright collection, and royalty management. In addition to cross-country outsourcing, Kenyan artists have also begun to explore the film industry’s resources in production and distribution, specifically the leading Kenyan film company Riverwood. With wider distribution capabilities and cheaper production costs, the film industry has the potential to uplift Kenyan music and even foster a relationship between the two creative industries. Abbi, an Afro-fusion artist from Kenya, believes “If [they] could get more international investment in music, then truthfully [their] music would rise to a different level.”3 While foreign aid has been successful in providing resources to Africa, this desire for external intervention from musicians themselves only emphasizes the severity of the deficiencies that exist internally. 

Many African countries suffer a major problem with piracy that is perpetuated by the government and, ultimately, hurts a major stream of income for African artists. In fact, piracy has become so problematic in Kenya that “…for more than a decade now, international record labels and music companies have abandoned Kenya as a non-viable market for their product.”4 The magnitude of piracy in Kenya, and across Africa, prevents artists from being able to gain much profit directly from sales of their original recordings. On the one hand, more African governments and industry representatives are beginning to recognize piracy as theft and understand the value of music. In fact, the Vice-Chair of the Music Copyright Society of Kenya acknowledged the economic benefit of music, claiming that it “…adds value to the GDP and creates employment for the country.”5 On the other hand, the legal infrastructure surrounding copyright administration in Africa is not strong enough to seize control over the widespread issue. Thus, artists must rely on live shows to profit, however, even the live entertainment industry lacks the resources to be fruitful. Rima Tahini, Director of A&R at Mavin Records based in Nigeria, shares that “…[they] don’t have enough venues to do live shows, they’re not big enough or they don’t have enough infrastructure for it.”6 She also speaks to the piracy issue from a business perspective, highlighting the African music industry’s inability to support artists in their development and protect their creations. Though piracy clearly has negative effects in commerce and is considered highly criminal in many countries, the underlying reasons for its popularity in Africa may be more nuanced. Due to a deep-seeded culture and tradition surrounding the sharing of resources, including knowledge itself, “…it is commonly known that many if not most of these vendors are likely to have little knowledge their sales…involves a kind of theft from artists that has huge consequences.”7 This standard African custom paired with a lack of legal enforcement has a direct effect on how citizens treat all intellectual property. Due to piracy’s long history in Africa as a common practice, many Africans’ perceptions of the economic value of music (or lack thereof) have long been shaped and will certainly take time to re-shape across the continent. 

One of the major obstacles in the African music industry is the disparity between Africa’s music education and that of major markets. According to a survey conducted in 2019 at the Music in Africa Conference for Collaboration, “…95% of songwriters, producers, and creators in Africa have been unpublished since 2018.”8 Apart from the ability to formally receive a quality education in music, the major players in the music industry also have access to technology, namely the internet, that promotes independent research and learning. Africa’s economy presents difficulties in reaping benefits of the digital era, such as “…spotty mobile internet service, high data and smartphone prices in countries with comparatively low incomes and a lack of reliable online payment options.”9 Without quality exposure to music education through formal school or the ability to expand one’s knowledge through technology, many African musicians lack the awareness of how to best operate as a professional artist, and all the profitable avenues that are available to them. Music publishing and the complexities of the music business have historically been overlooked topics for musicians in general. During the early days of the music industry, major labels recognized this largely untapped knowledge of the industry in aspiring musicians and capitalized on their ignorance in the form of corrupt practices and convoluted contracts. The consensus was that artists were to focus on solely making music while the labels handled all business endeavors behind the scenes, leaving much room for exploitation. As digital advancements allow information to become more accessible, musicians based in developed markets are educating themselves and each other, slowly steering away from the traditional major label model entirely. As a result, both independent and signed artists are becoming more aware of healthy music industry practices surrounding copyright protection and royalty collection. However, without these advancements being universal, the African music industry is subject to a large knowledge deficit. In Senegal, “…artists are inclined to accept short-term deals in which they ‘sign away their rights to the music’ in exchange for small sums of money from producers.”10 Without having the tools to navigate such a complex industry, African musicians are not well-equipped to ensure international entities do not take advantage of both their naivety and disadvantage. According to legal scholar Irwin A. Olian Jr., “Of the many problems facing developing countries, none is more urgent than the need for wider dissemination of knowledge, for ultimately this will act to further the educational, cultural, and technical development of their people.”11 

As the concept of music business remains in its early stages in Africa, music publishing has yet to mirror a model that is reliable and profitable for African artists. The International Confederation of Authors and Composers’ (CISAC)  Global Collections Report 2019 demonstrated that South Africa collected the most royalties in the African region, making up nearly half of the total global percentage (less than 1%) collected by African collective management organizations(CMOs).12 Contributing to Africa’s low global share of royalty collections is the lack of consensus surrounding royalty distribution and collection. In Senegal, musicians complain that they do not receive royalties from radio stations, and even the Uganda Performing Rights Society reported that only 11 radio stations out of 200 broadcasters paid royalties to artists in 2009. As of 2019, the Kenya Copyright Board granted licenses for the collection of mechanical and performance royalties to the Music Copyright Society of Kenya (MCSK), the Kenya Association of Music Producers (KAMP), and the Performance Rights Society of Kenya (PRISK).  However, the Board ended up revoking the license of the MCSK for the second time in 2020 for the organization’s inability to submit accurate records to the National Rights Registry. Ironically enough, MCSK was initially meant to replace the Music Publishers Association of Kenya (MPAKE), which had lost its operating license prior in 2018.13 

While CMOs are actively collecting in several African countries, many African musicians and industry representatives agree that the foundation of such a complex system as publishing and royalty management is not sufficiently developed to be effective. As Mavin Records’ Director of A&R comments, “For publishing, the collecting body doesn’t work so you either have to sign to an international publishing arm of [a company] or artists, songwriters, and producers are just not signed.”14 Companies like Ghana-based Highvibes, which offers distribution and manages music rights, have invested in such international partnerships in order to further support African songwriters. In 2020, U.S. publishing company Songtrust partnered with Highvibes, aiming to publish more than one million African creatives by 2030. Highvibes Founder, Gbolahan Mathias, shares, “Africa is the largest market yet to be tapped into, with an immediate need for stabilization and structuring of digital music distribution across Africa, especially when it comes to publishing administration.”15 In the same year, Songtrust’s parent company, Downtown Music Holdings, also purchased South African publishing company Sheer Music Publishing in order to better serve African artists. While members of Africa’s music industry clearly realize the faults in the infrastructure, they are forced to exhibit “…a dependency on foreign aid, or foreign direct investment tied to the mechanisms of foreign aid” to provide life support to African musicians until the necessary legal structures and administration in Africa are established”.16 

As the music industry continues to expand and innovate rapidly across the major markets of the U.S., Europe, and Asia, the emergence of digitization sets Africa further back as the essential pieces of a functioning music industry have yet to be incorporated. To provide more recent analytics, CISAC’s Global Collections Report 2022 indicated that Africa’s share of global music collections in 2021 was 0.8% (up 17.5% from the previous year). Additionally, royalties from TV and radio, the most popular forms of consumption, grew by 19.1%, and music continues to be the largest driver of royalty collection in Africa. South Africa remains the largest collector of royalties in the region and largest contributor to Africa’s share of digital collections (up 68.9%).17 Although Africa’s collections have shown growth from year to year, the overall percentages across the board demonstrate a massive stunt in the region’s development on a global scale. African creatives and industry representatives who are able to see these insufficiencies understand that “…while African countries indeed have immense cultural resources, creative energy and countless cultural producers, intellectual property law and enforcement is weak.”18 Fortunately, international companies like WIPO are working closely with African governments and industry representatives to promote the significance of intellectual property and provide education on such concepts, including copyright. African creatives are also coming together and forming groups that are dedicated toward musician support and bringing awareness to demands for change within the industry. For example, Ghanaian musicians formed the Alliance for Change in Ghana Music in May 2020 to fight for laws that better support and protect artists through copyright, royalty collection/distribution, and education surrounding music business. 

Africa has many internal, foundational mechanisms that still have yet to be developed, however, to little fault of its own. Upon gaining independence, many African countries were left to their own devices to rebuild an entire nation from the ground up with very little assistance or guidance, if any at all. One would be remiss not to acknowledge that the post-colonization era has left Africans to figure out the reconstruction of a system that they did not break to begin with. At the same time, however, Africa also has a hand in preventing its own music industry from realizing its full potential due to a political underestimate of music’s value despite the global success that African music has already begun to make. With the emergence of TikTok, African music, particularly Afrobeat, has been able to surface and gain more recognition from the global music industry. Globalization has allowed for a new demand in cross-culture collaboration with Africa, especially in Nigeria where Afrobeat originates. In 2022, the genre saw commercialization through various collaborations with major artists, such as Fireboy DML & Ed Sheeran, Oxlade & Camilla Cabello, and Tems who featured as a sample on Future’s album and wrote for Rihanna on Marvel’s Black Panther: Wakanda Forever soundtrack. In fact, as reported by the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI), Sub-Saharan Africa outperformed every other region in recorded music revenues generated for 2022 with a whopping growth of 34.7%.19 As the rest of the world begins to realize the potential in African art, African governments also need to recognize the social, cultural, and economic benefit that the African music industry can bring to the continent. Constructing a reliable legal system that prioritizes intellectual property and investing in quality music education are equally important elements that depend on each other to create a prosperous music industry. 

Centuries before the Western world created such a business-oriented industry, music pulled Africans through some of the most devastating moments in its history and has left behind a legacy that remains sewn into the genres that top the charts today. Through a stronger unification between creatives and lawmakers and international investments that fundamentally serve to strengthen the region long-term, Africa can continue to rise above its past and fully claim its potential to take the global music industry by storm.


  1. Koigi, Bob. “The Impact of Slavery on Modern Africa.” FairPlanet, 2023, https://www.fairplanet.org/dossier/beyond-slavery/the-impact-of-slavery-on-modern-africa/ 
  2. Kabanda, Patrick. “The arts, Africa and economic development: the problem of intellectual property rights.” Law, Social Justice and Global Development Journal, vol. 20, annual 2016. Gale Academic OneFile, 
  3. Croella, Carole. “On the Beat – Tapping the Potential of Kenya’s Music Industry.” WIPO Magazine, July 2007
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Jones, Rhian. “A&R is not just about the music, it takes empathy” Music Business Worldwide, 13 Dec. 2022, https://www.musicbusinessworldwide.com/ar-is-not-just-about-the-music-it-takes-empathy -and-care-and-a-desire-to-make-things-happen/. 
  7. Kabanda, Patrick. “The arts, Africa and economic development: the problem of intellectual property rights.”
  8. Stassen, Murray. “Songtrust Partners with Ghana-based Distribution Platform High Vibes” Music Business Worldwide, 29 Sept. 2020  https://www.musicbusinessworldwide.com/songtrust-partners-with-ghana-based-distributio n-platform-highvibes/
  9. Marx, Willem. “This App Is Winning the Streaming Battle for Africa.” Billboard, Billboard Media, 1 June 2020, https://www.billboard.com/pro/this-app-is-winning-the-streaming-battle-for-africa/. 
  10. Kabanda, Patrick. “The arts, Africa and economic development: the problem of intellectual property rights.”
  11. Ibid.
  12. CISAC Global Collections Report 2022 https://www.cisac.org/services/reports-and-research/global-collections-report-2022 
  13. Ilado, Lucy. “Kenya: MCSK Loses License to Collect Royalties.” Music in Africa, 11 Dec. 2020, https://www.musicinafrica.net/magazine/kenya-mcsk-loses-licence-collect-royalties
  14. Jones, Rhian. Music Business Worldwide, 13 Dec. 2022
  15. Stassen, Murray. “Songtrust Partners with Ghana-based Distribution Platform High Vibes”
  16. Kabanda, Patrick. “The arts, Africa and economic development: the problem of intellectual property rights.”
  17. CISAC Global Collections Report 2022
  18. Kabanda, Patrick. “The arts, Africa and economic development: the problem of intellectual property rights.”
  19. IFPI, 2023, IFPI Global Music Report 2023, https://ifpi-website-cms.s3.eu-west-2.amazonaws.com/GMR_2023_State_of_the_Industry_ee2ea600e2.pdf


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