DAKAR (Reuters) - Senegalese start-ups are testing a fledgling market for online music platforms in French-speaking West Africa, where interest in digital entertainment is growing but a lack of credit cards has prevented big players from making inroads.
Long celebrated in Europe for their contribution to "world" music - with Mali's Salif Keita, Senegal's Youssou N'Dour and Benin's Angelique Kidjo household names in trendy bars - West African musicians have struggled to make money back home, where poverty is widespread and music piracy rampant.
Online music providers such as Apple's download store iTunes and streaming service Spotify are either unavailable - no one can sign up for Spotify in Africa yet - or require a credit card or bank account, which most West Africans lack.
But smartphone use is surging and entrepreneurs say there is latent demand for platforms tailored to Francophone West Africa, whose Malian "desert blues", Ivorian "zouglou" and Senegalese "mbalax" cross African borders but are only profitable in Europe, via download and streaming services.
"We started by saying, look, there is a void. Because digital distribution products are made in Europe or the U.S., for Europeans and Americans." said Moustapha Diop, the founder and CEO of MusikBi, "The Music" in the local Wolof language, a download store launched in 2016.
MusikBi, like its rivals, is small and cash strapped, but with more than 10,000 users, Diop sees potential.
The company received a boost in May when Senegalese-American singer Akon bought 50 percent of it, which Diop says will allow the company to start a new marketing campaign.
MusikBi and rival JokkoText allow users to purchase songs by text message and pay with phone credit, mobile money or cash transfers. Both want to expand throughout West Africa.
Many of the new industry entrants like MusikBi and JokkoText are based in Dakar, which is an emerging tech start-up hub for Francophone West Africa, partly thanks to the fact it has enjoyed relative political and economic stability compared with most of its neighbours.
On the streaming front, Deedo, created by a Senegalese national in France and backed by French bank BPI, will launch in Senegal, Mali, Ivory Coast and France next month, and will offer similar payment options. Senegalese hip-hop group Daara J plans to start a streaming platform next year.
There is scant industry presence elsewhere in the region except in Anglophone Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation.