Music in Africa
Online platform for Africa’s music world

The musicians Kunle Ayo from Nigeria and Oliver Mtukudzi from Zimbabwe.
The musicians Kunle Ayo from Nigeria and Oliver Mtukudzi from Zimbabwe. | Photo: Dave Durchbach

Fifty-four countries, ten thousand artists, one platform: The Music in Africa platform has been online since 2014 to offer in-depth information about the African musical landscape and facilitate collaboration. The main attraction: all users can help design the site, add content and thus contribute to a comprehensive overview of the musical landscape of Africa.

The varied musical landscape of Africa spreads over 54 countries, yet information and sound knowledge of the tonal richness and the variety of musical life on the continent are extremely difficult to pool and find. This is true not only from a European perspective, but also in Africa itself. Although music is associated with cultural identity to a great extent, sharing of experiences among music creators, even with those in neighbouring countries, has been quite rare.

A music industry that is firmly anchored and structured in the cultural sector is growing slowly in Africa. It is rare to find labels where, for example, young musicians can establish themselves in the market. Against this background, the goal of the platform is to heighten public awareness and develop networks within the African musical culture. The project is supported and promoted by the Siemens Foundation and the Goethe-Institut.

Well-researched information

Free and accessible, since 2014 the online portal Music in Africa has served as a guide for making music of all styles from Africa known worldwide. It offers substantiated information on the musical life of Africa, whether by conveying musical traditions or disseminating socially relevant topics about protest music movements.

As a joint initiative of the Siemens Foundation and the Goethe-Institut with partners from all over Africa, the ambitious Music in Africa project offers a multimedia platform for dialogue. Musicians and enthusiasts can use the website to learn about Africa’s regional music scenes.

Participants in a Music in Africa panel in Nairobi. Participants in a Music in Africa panel in Nairobi. | Photo: Julian Manjahi Natalie von Siemens, the managing director of the Siemens Foundation, stresses the need for cultural work for sustainable social development.

“For us, the arts are significant in that we perceive that they have a fundamental impact on the quality of relationships, on the relation of individuals to society and on transformations. The multiple transformation processes that we observe in all societies show that artists have a sensitive awareness of change. In these transformative processes it is important for us to keep an eye on where and what cultural identity is, how social cohesion and how living together in communities succeed.”

Quality assurance by local experts

The Africa Foundation, a pan-African organization founded in 2013 and based in South Africa, is responsible for the content-related aspects and the structure of the Internet portal. Quality assurance is carried out on site with professionals from academia, education and journalism to ensure that a reliable depiction of the musical landscape, instruments and individual genres are created that are not adulterated by European perceptions.

Basic set-up tasks, which are also available offline, focus on cultural management or legal matters relating, for example, to copyrights. Visitors can see articles offering overviews of musicians, reviews, teaching materials and contact details by accessing the Directory, Education Magazine or Resources sections. The very different markets in Africa also need to be served since Internet connections are often inadequate and not everyone owns a smartphone.

The band Macase during a performance in Cameroon. The band Macase during a performance in Cameroon. | Photo: Simon Messina According to Jens Cording, the project manager of Music in Africa at the Siemens Foundation, “The African musical landscape is at least as rich as that of all of Europe put together. There are many different styles, some based on American pop or jazz, but also influenced by local traditions. For example, hip-hop is an important genre. There are 10,000 hip-hop artists in Senegal alone. They have a tremendous political impact in Senegal and Mali. There, the musicians address issues that are pivotal for the communities such as the fight for survival versus the quality of life. On the other hand, the hip-hop artists tell the teenagers, ‘Please don’t pack your bags, don’t go to Europe, but shape your own lives here. And do not take a destructive opposing stance, but focus on the positive.’”

100,000 visits per month

Approximately 10,000 musicians are now presenting their work with their own profiles, the site registers 100,000 visits per month and the numbers are rising. In this setting, a dialogue among artists, educators and the curious can be established and music journalism strengthened. “In all African cultures, music is as important as language as a means of communication and therefore it is an essential place of social interaction,” says Nathalie von Siemens.

Ade Bantu, a musician from Nigeria, also emphasizes the special potentials of this project. For him, music speaks to emotions in a special way and is often more able to make voices heard than political actions. He sums it up, “Music is the weapon of the future.”

This article was first published by Deutschlandfunk on 26 July 2016 and has been edited and abridged.