How Big Is Africa’s Music Industry? Ringtone Sales In Nigeria: $150M

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Written by Dana Sanchez

Nigerian popstar D’Banj, aka Africa’s Bono, said this week on ABCTV that the music industry is Africa’s biggest export after oil and gas.

Not true, according to TampaBayTimes’ PolitiFact.

D’Banj was in the U.S. this week as an ambassador for the ONE campaign, using music to promote investment in African agriculture at the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit.

Industry experts and academics say it’s hard to calculate just how much the music industry is worth in Africa, PolitFact reports.

That’s because there’s piracy, no one’s keeping track formally, and the distribution system is street vendors who may reprint content after paying a one-time fee, according to Aidbee Adiboye, a spokesperson for Chocolate City Group, one of Africa’s largest entertainment companies.

“The protection of intellectual property throughout the region remains a concerning issue,” said Jenny Mbaye, who studies African cultural production at the University of Cape Town. “In this sense, the piracy challenge calls for actively confronting and redressing the persisting lack of information and poor documentation of the processes that animate the chain of production and labor dynamics in these economies.”

Informal statistics from Nigerian entertainment executives show that ringtones sold to the tune of $150 million in 2011, global live performances brought in an additional $105 million, and album sales reached $30 million in 2008 (three times more than 2005), PolitiFact reports.

Nollywood, Nigeria’s film industry, is the second largest in the world after Bollywood according to the U.N., bringing in $250 million in annual revenue, according to the Financial Times.

These numbers represent total revenue, not export revenue and they provide a general idea of how the industry is doing.

And the African music industry is doing really well, especially in D’Banj’s home country of Nigeria as it moves to digital platforms.

Though the African diaspora is the primary consumer of African entertainment, Africans living abroad can act as “introducers,” according Michael Ugwu, the former CEO of iROKING, the largest digital distributor of Nigerian media, PolitiFact reports.

Ugwu, who is in the process of setting up Sony Music West Africa, said that as digital distribution becomes more popular, international platforms are increasingly looking at Africa as an untapped market and as a pool for local talent.

“Although very little data can assist in providing a systematic knowledge of the music economy on the continent, African music and cultural products in general, certainly present a comparative advantage on the globally competitive market of creativity,” said Mbaye.

Of course, the continent is home to global popstars Akon and K’naan, as well as the famous choral group Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Just a few years ago, the world was afflicted with Ghanian dance fever with Azonto, in which moves are taken from humdrum activities like driving or washing clothes. And D’Banj himself has international appeal. His 2012 hit, “Oliver Twist,” inspired a West End musical and featured a cameo role by Kanye West, who then signed D’Banj to his label G.O.O.D. Music as its first international artist.

D’Banj said, “The music industry is the biggest export from Africa after oil and gas.”

Africa has a good story to tell about its music, but that doesn’t mean it’s a major export.

In fact, the entire entertainment sector comprised less than 0.1 percent of Africa’s export revenue, far behind other sectors like agriculture and mineral products. Experts said the reported revenue may be less than the actual numbers though, due to the lack of a reporting and distribution infrastructure in Africa. But it wouldn’t be enough to make a significant difference, PolitiFact reports.