Streaming Rwandan music to global markets

Over the past six to eight years or so, the Rwandan music industry has made remarkable strides. Undeniably, the quality of production--both audio and video has improved tremendously, thus helping musicians attain a larger audience than before.
Urban Boyz during a past Guma Guma show. Their music is doing well on the international scene. (File)
Urban Boyz during a past Guma Guma show. Their music is doing well on the international scene. (File)

Over the past six to eight years or so, the Rwandan music industry has made remarkable strides. Undeniably, the quality of production--both audio and video has improved tremendously, thus helping musicians attain a larger audience than before. 

In this regard, the contribution of local radio and television stations as well as online media can’t be overstated.

These have helped engage more followers by prioritising locally produced songs over foreign ones.

Corporate entities have also used musicians to market their products by sponsoring well-showcased events such as Primus Guma Guma Super Star where voted artistes are rewarded financially.

Indeed, the use of technology such as the Internet and mobile phones is revolutionising the way music is sold and consumed. CD and vinyl sales have been outstripped by digital downloads and streaming.

Today, any musician can reach fans and sell them music worldwide without a record deal. But are Rwandan musicians taking advantage of this shift to make more money from their content?

Knowless at a recent concert. Her video, Baramushaka, is one of the most viewed. (File)

Afrifame, a service run by Inyarwanda Ltd, was initiated in 2014 to assist artistes in the region with music distribution and monetisation in global digital stores such as iTunes, Google Play, Amazon MP3, and Spotify.

Joseph Masengesho, founder and CEO of Inyarwanda Ltd gives some insights on how this has helped take Rwandan music to the global marketplace:

About Afrifame and Inyarwanda

Afrifame is a home-grown digital music publisher platform that assists independent artistes in the distribution and monetisation of music content (both audio and video).

An independent artiste is a musician who has full ownership rights on his arts; i.e. not signed under any record label. Almost every artiste in Rwanda falls in this category. Independent artistes spend time and other resources in writing and producing music, but leave aside the most important step of the business, and that is monetisation.

Our slogan to attract more musicians is a simple statement: “Someone out there is illegally making money from your music; we can help”.

There are two reasons behind the name, Afrifame. Afrifame started as a service under Inyarwanda; it is not a company. Secondly, we anticipate expanding to other markets around Africa; it was quite a challenge to market this service under the Inyarwanda brand because artistes from other countries showed resistance to that name.

Why this service now

There is no doubt that Rwandan music has garnered a larger audience in the past five or six years. Secondly, thanks to technology there is a change in the way music is consumed today. With growing access to the Internet providing new music consumption models such as One-click download on iTunes and unlimited streaming on YouTube or Spotify, unquestionably users will spend more money than they could have five years ago.

For instance I no longer need to keep songs on my phone memory; I can stream my favorite artiste instantly from the Internet anytime in exchange for a few commercials.

So, Afrifame’s mission is to monetize music in any way possible and pay royalties to artistes. When we sign an artiste, we are granted full rights to control his or her music distribution over the Internet.

After the artiste brings to us original copies of songs in the contract, the Afrifame team goes on to distribute them to global markets through our third-party agents.

We currently distribute songs to 33 music stores such as iTunes, Google Play, Amazon MP3, Beats Music, IHeartRadio, Deezer, YouTube, Spotify, and Shazam, to name a few.

Spinlet is a West African music store that is gaining popularity around the continent, and our music is available there as well.

King James on stage. His video, Yaciye Ibintu, is popular. (File)

The next step, which is the most challenging, is controlling how each song is used. There are hundreds of other accounts that illegally publish and try to monetize our music. We make sure our songs are registered and copyrighted in bigger markets.

Once the music is available to markets, our other tasks are marketing and promotion. Not only do we use our main website but also we conduct campaigns on social media to better reach our audience.

Music sales are computed and we pay royalties to artistes according to their contracts. We are now developing a reporting capability, which will allow artistes to track their music sales in real time. We pay quarterly when the artiste’s share is above a threshold of $25.

When we kicked off the project, we created about 6 compilation albums because we wanted to have all the music out there. We have published individual albums and singles as well. We currently have about 800 songs worldwide.

How users can buy or stream music 

Afrifame is a publishing service; we do distribute our music through several channels as opposed to being one single app. In the coming days, all the songs and albums we publish will be available on, our soon to be entry portal for this service. 

We sell music through downloads and online streaming. A download is when you pay to own a song on your devices; iTunes, Google Play, and Amazon are great examples. A stream is when you choose to listen to a song directly from the Internet; Spotify and YouTube are the most popular.

The price for downloads varies from market to market. iTunes for example charges $0.99 for one mp3 audio and about $9.99 for an album. The streaming model on the other hand is very complex: you can either pay a monthly subscription for an ad-free account or you can listen freely in exchange for commercials.

Royalties distribution models also vary from store to store. It is not very accurate to estimate a fixed cost for one stream; it depends on who is advertising while users are listening. Some advertisers pay top dollar while others pay less. About 70 percent of our revenues come from videos and audio streaming.

The current statistics

To date, the best two selling tracks are Fata Fata by DJ Zizou (2013) and Yaciye Ibintu by King James (2014). The best two streamed tracks (not on YouTube) are Habona by Christopher (2012) and Abubu by King James (2013).

The United States of America and Belgium are the top two consuming countries while the top three stores are iTunes, Spotify, and Amazon Music.

The most viewed videos on YouTube so far are Yaciye Ibintu by King James, Fata Fata by DjZizou, Ndagutegereje by King James (2013), and Baramushaka by Knowless (2013).

The two best selling artistes are King James and Urban Boyz.

Major challenge

Our biggest challenge was to create the logistics. This is a business that involves a lot of entities like content owners, distributors, publishers, stores themselves, and legal entities for taxation and copyrighting. In some countries such as the USA, we have to pay taxes. In other countries, copyright laws are complex that it takes a while for our music to be available legally on the market.

Local market

The majority of buyers inside Rwanda do not have access or means to make payments on global markets, but this trend is gradually changing.

Joseph Masengesho, the brains behind the initiative. (Courtesy)

Afrifame started as an online music distributor because it was quite hard to control music consumption on the ground. The fine art copyright law and piracy were our two biggest challenges in Rwanda.

Anyone can sell music CDs on Kigali streets with no artiste consent. As our market confidence increases, it is our call to challenge these habits. Long story short, we are working on a deal with one mobile carrier in Rwanda to allow users to stream, borrow, or own authentic music using their airtime.

The technology will be legally available soon.

About 85 percent of the popular Rwanda musicians have signed up with Afrifame. Some of them have deals with other distributors but they miss one point: Afrifame offers free marketing and promotion through to targeted fans. If you are signed to some label in Russia, I do not know if they will ever promote your music.

Let’s build a strong and profitable music industry together.

Word for artistes and music consumers

I would like to ask musicians to be part of this initiative. Rwandan artistes do not promote themselves at all. As a matter of fact, the majority of them do not have promotional social media accounts, and the ones who do have them do not market their products on those accounts. It is funny when an artiste goes to perform in Belgium for example, he knows his music is on iTunes, but he does not ask the audience to purchase.

For our consumers, please do not only buy a song because you can’t get it for free, but buy to support musicians. Please do not buy or share music illegally. Stream audio or video from our official accounts on Spotify and YouTube; a percentage of commercials revenue goes to your favorite artiste.