Why a wave of excitement followed Spotify’s expansion in Sub-Saharan Africa

The streamer recently expanded to 38 countries in the region

Spotify’s entry into 80+ new countries around the world was a momentous move that signified how much of a powerhouse the streaming behemoth had become. During its late February’s virtual live event, Stream On, the Swedish audio streaming platform which has already established as the world’s leading streamer with nearly a 400million users, was now focusing its expansion on more territories within Africa and Asia.

From Nigeria and Ghana to Zimbabwe and eSwatini, the move signified a calculated and wholesome attempt to become the streamer of choice across Sub-Saharan Africa, a region that has been identified as the next frontier for growth and investments as the post-digital, on-demand era rages on. Considering the presence of Apple Music, Audiomack, YouTube, Tidal, and Deezer in several parts of this region, Spotify’s entrance is quite belated, but it was greeted with excitement nonetheless.

Given its popularity on a global scale, and a widespread reputation as the most intuitive platforms for listeners, the response is appropriate, even more so because many have been looking forward to this entry, and some in the region have even been accessing the platform for a while, on a not so covert tip–with VPNs.

“It’s common knowledge now, everyone who wanted Spotify for years knew that all you need is a useful VPN app”, Yaz, a Nigerian living in Tema, Ghana, tells me during a friendly chat. It wasn’t a grand revelation, after all, he was only echoing a statement I had said just before. Sometime in 2016, after a Google search, I figured out how to access Spotify even though its services weren’t available in Nigerian. All I needed was a Virtual Private Network that would change my IP address and present my location to the streaming app as a country where Spotify was operational. For well over a year, Spotify was my go-to place for music streaming.

This practice of using Spotify via VPN picked up, and it became common practice amongst a portion of young people across the continent. “My friend sent me the link to the app, and a VPN recommendation. That’s basically how I got started”, Yaz goes on to explain. While I eventually settled for a streaming platform that was operational in Nigeria, Yaz tells me he has stuck with Spotify ever since, and he’s “very happy” the streaming giant is now properly available in Ghana for two reasons. Firstly, no more VPNs; and secondly, he no longer has to pay for Spotify’s premium plan in dollars, since the option to pay in Ghanaian Cedi is far more cost-effective.

Like other international streaming platforms, Spotify has adjusted the prices of its premium with regards to each country’s economic situation, while offering its usual, limited freemium tier. In Nigeria, the individual premium plan is priced at 900naira (about $2), while it’s priced at 17cedi (about $3) in Ghana. These amorphous prices, which range according to country, ensures that the streamer is offering enticing, relatively low prices to users while competing with previously operational streaming platforms in these countries.

Across the country, the streaming platform began partnering with local networks to offer subsidised payments. Shortly after announcing its launch, it announced that it would be partnering with M-PESA in Kenya, Safaricom’s mobile money service platform that is hugely popular in the country, offering Kenyans a familiar and easy route to pay for their premium subscriptions.

“Of course, the price is meant to lure in new users, but don’t underestimate how appealing it already is for those who’ve been using it with VPNs”, Folarin, a Lagos-based tech-consultant and self-described music junkie, says. “A lot of the people that were excited for Spotify’s entry had interfaced with the app, so that just naturally drove up hype.” On the day Spotify launched in Nigeria, the timeline was pre-occupied with jokes regarding the previous usage of VPNs, signifying just how much reputation has played in the streamer’s early (re-)adoption.


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During one of our daily newsroom meetings, NATIVE managing editor, Damilola Animashaun, revealed that she had transitioned into using Spotify extensively, after loyally using her previous primary streamer for around 15years. Her switch was prompted by conversations with editor-in-chief, Seni Saraki, who explained Spotify’s listener benefits and urged her to try the streaming platform. In a few weeks of usage, Damilola now swears by Spotify, noting the usefulness of its intuitive features, such as personalised playlists that aid in discovering, and even reminiscing on songs from the past.

“The thing is, Spotify sells a wholesome listening experience with its app”, Yaz tells me. “Personally, those playlists have kind of expanded my music taste in a way that makes me feel like the algorithm is catered solely to me. It’s a big reason why I never left, and when you’re enjoying it, you’re trying to make everyone know and put them on.” In the last few weeks, at least three people have evangelised me on why I should return fully to Spotify—I still use my free account to listen to podcasts—with a friend telling me via WhatsApp, “I know you like discovering new stuff, trust me you’ll find new jams and great new artists.”

Beyond the reputation and explosive word of mouth from the already initiated, Spotify knows its work is cut out if it wants to become a leading streaming platform on the continent, ahead of those previously operational and already familiar with locals. In a recent interview with Accra-based Citi FM, Phiona Okumu, Spotify’s head of music for Sub-Saharan African, explained that the streamer was right on time since it made meticulous moves ahead of its launch in the region. “Launching on a continent as diverse as this one—the amount of countries, the number of languages, the amount of culture that we have—I don’t think it would be right for us to rush into a situation,” she explained, adding that it was important to make sure “there is a good fit of a localised team that understands how to tell the story internally or within the country and also to the rest of the world. Those were the things that make it seem that we are late to the party but actually I believe we are right on time.”


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In the interview, Phiona says she’s confident that Spotify’s AI tech—which she says is the most intuitive amongst all streaming platforms—and editorial content will set the streamer apart in its quest for dominance. “The user that is in Africa is going to discover more African music and more international music. That already for me is a win because music is borderless and that is a much more intuitive way and the way young people, especially, listen to music.” With plans to collaborate with local creatives and stakeholders, she believes Spotify is a unique position to advance Africa’s music ecosystem, citing its extensive work with South Africa’s quickly influential Amapiano scene.

It goes without saying that Spotify is too big to fail, however, like every other expansion move, its entry into 38 new countries in Africa’s developing streaming space is a risk. As has already been highlighted, the potential rewards will be quite huge for the continent’s perennially developing music industry, assuming it all works out. The outcome will become evident with each move the streamer makes across these countries, but the early positive is that it is already enjoying the goodwill of the many who have been waiting for Spotify to be fully operational in their countries.

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Dennis is a staff writer at the NATIVE. Let me know your favourite the Cavemen songs @dennisadepeter