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Spotify and our Nigerian playlist

You will only find Azawi (right) and a few other Ugandan artistes will only be found on Spotify Wrapped. PHOTO/COURTESY

We are coming to the end of the year. In fact, we have less than 15 days to see those fireworks and probably have our local industry reopened.
But that is not what we are talking about, this is about a different year ender, one submitted by Spotify a few weeks ago.
Known as Spotify Wrapped, the initiative has been around for a few years. Here, the streaming giant releases numbers of different artistes, users and countries.

For years, the Swedish audio streaming service has been limited to some countries, though early this year, in February, they opened up to different markets, especially Africa.
Spotify thus joined other streaming apps in the market, including Apple Music, BoomPlay and Deezer. The company, founded in Sweden in 2008, streams across 93 markets spread in all the continents.

Who rocked
This year, Uganda’s Spotify wrapped was not just a statement but proof that once again, Ugandans were willing to stream everything but their own artistes.

For instance, none of the most streamed artistes in Uganda is Ugandan and neither are the most streamed songs by a Ugandan artiste.
Canadian artistes Drake and Justin Beiber are the most streamed in Uganda, they are part of a bulk of American artistes such as Kanye West, Khalid, Chris Brown and The Weeknd.

Only three Africans make the list of Uganda’s top 10 most streamed artistes; Burna Boy, WizKid and Fireboy DML.
But things get dramatic with the songs Ugandans listened to most on the platform. Six of them are by Nigerian artistes and the other four are by American acts.

In fact, just like the MTV Africa Music Awards last year created a special category to recognise Ugandans, even with Spotify. Technically, one had to look for a Spotify Wrapped to find Pallaso, Azawi and friends.

What this means
So, what exactly does Uganda’s wrapped results present? A lot of dynamics.
In an interview with this paper at the beginning of the year, entertainment entrepreneur and one of Swangz Avenue’s founders, Julius Kyazze, noted that if a Ugandan artiste has to break the glass ceiling, they have to create with the international audience in mind. Then, he argued that much as the local audience is beloved, it is always too small to make an impact.

Uganda as a small market always makes meagre contributions to artistes’ overall stream numbers and yet again, all Ugandan content streamed widely is that content with a crossover appeal.

Take an example of Big Trill ’s 2019 viral Parte After Parte or Eddy Kenzo’s Sitya Loss, all these songs became Ugandan success stories after they had been celebrated elsewhere.

Unfortunately in 2021, Uganda did not have such a song. Some people have blamed this on the continued lockdown of the entertainment industry. Apparently, most artistes are withholding their would-be better music since they do not see the point in releasing music they cannot profit off through performances.

Why it’s like this
But another school of thought could also argue that Spotify is relatively new in Uganda. Considering a fact that unlike Deezer, Audiomack, and Boomplay that are free or Tidal whose payment can easily be done on telecom platforms, Spotify is somewhat still sophiscated for ordinary Ugandans still finding their way around streaming.

Local artistes do not even help the situation. For instance, just this year, singer Alexander Bagonza, alias A Pass, requested local websites that carry his music without paying for it to pull it down.

His argument was that such websites are using local music and people’s intellectual property without paying anything for it.
Even when his argument was valid, A Pass did not receive the support he may have expected from the industry.
Many industry players claimed websites, however illegal they could be, were part of the support system and thus could not be totally dismissed.

Is our music good?
But the biggest question in all this was, is Ugandan music any better?

Since 2014 when Bebe Cool first lashed out at DJs for not playing enough Ugandan music, calls of the kind have never really gone down.
In 2014, some Ugandans had caught the wind of streaming and thus enjoyed the freedom it came with. But radios and TVs still had a lot of power as far as taste was concerned. They played for the majority.

Fast forward to 2021, radio is still as powerful, but so are the various streaming and analog platforms. Today, most Ugandans are likely to learn about a Nigerian artiste’s new song from their barbershop, YouTube and a restaurant than their favourite TV and radio station.
With many Nigerian artistes being aggressive and deliberate with their online strategy, to others having handlers in East Africa to move their music, it is almost difficult for many locals to compete.

However, it’s not just Uganda, struggling with the foreign artistes dominating their streaming services, artistes WizKid and Burna Boy were the most streamed in Ghana, while Drake and Doja Cat featured heavily on the Kenyan lists.

The difference between many of these countries, is the fact that Ghana still had artistes Sarkodie and Kwesi Arthur among the most streamed top 10 artistes, Kenya too had Sauti Sol in their top five. Uganda had none.
There is, however, a Ugandan list dominated by Uthman and $hyli, the two have at least four songs between them as the most streamed 10 songs by Ugandan artistes.

Who these two little known people are, is a story for another day.

akaggwa@ug.nationmedia.com

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