Until very recently, radio was more or less the only way to listen to spoken-word audio content in Africa. People have been able to carry music around for decades, but the same wasn’t really true for things like audio dramas, panel shows and deep dives into specialist subjects.
Certainly, audiobooks and comedy albums have always been available (albeit not to the extent that music has), but everything else remained confined to radio waves.
That’s rapidly changing. Although radio undoubtedly remains a critical medium on the continent (even in South Africa, its most developed economy, 80% of the population tunes in to the radio at least once a week), a new crop of African creators are taking advantage of the opportunities presented by podcasting.
In doing so, they’re not only finding new and innovative ways to tell their own stories, but to address topics like gender norms, social problems and the experience of building lives and careers in some of Africa’s most vibrant and fastest-growing cities.
An enabling environment
Podcasting has been around in one form or another since the early 2000s, but it only really took off in the 2010s in most of the world. On the continent, its emergence is even more recent. It was only in 2014, for example, that South Africa got its first high-profile podcasting production house in the shape of CliffCentral.
But as smartphones have become more ubiquitous and capable, and data costs have fallen, so an enabling environment for the consumption and production of podcasts has been created.
In Kenya, for example, of the 40% of the population with internet access, 99.7% have a smartphone. In Nigeria, those same figures sit at 50% and 99.5% respectively. Even more critically, the cost of connectivity is falling across much of the continent. Although mobile data remains expensive in many places, several African countries (Cameroon, Ghana, Libya, Morocco and South Africa) reached the United Nations’ “1 for 2” affordability target — one gigabyte data for no more than 2% average monthly income in 2021.
A growing number of submarine cables connecting the continent to the rest of the world means that both fixed and mobile connection rates will continue to fall.
At the same time, peripherals like podcasting microphones have become more affordable and audio editing software has become easier to use, meaning that almost anyone can start a podcast today. Increasing familiarity with video-conferencing tools as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, meanwhile, means that African podcasters can bring on guests from anywhere in the world.
At Spotify, we’re committed to playing our part in this revolution by lowering the barriers for African creators, enabling them to launch a career in audio, regardless of their financial backing, professional background or where they live.
That’s made a great deal easier by the exceptional storytellers that abound in Africa. And increasingly, those storytellers are innovating in the podcasting space.
I said what I said, for example, is hosted by entrepreneur Feyikemi Abudu and storyteller Jola Ayeye, and tells stories about the Lagos millennial experience in an honest, engrossing, and funny way.
Also produced in Nigeria, Tea With Tay is hosted by Taymesan and covers societal issues and personal experiences with celebrities and other guests in a fun, light-hearted and entertaining way.
Kenya’s The Sandwich Podcast, is presented in a mix of English, Swahili, and Sheng, Kenya’s local slang and is hosted by four creatives discussing their life experiences.
In a similar vein is After School with Sis G.U. Produced in South Africa and hosted by Gugulethu Nyatsumba, she uses the show to speak more openly and honestly about the battles that she continues to face in her 20s.
Far more serious, but no less engaging, is Mantalk.ke. Hosted by Eli Mwenda and Oscar Koome. The show tackles a range of issues including fatherhood, feminism, dating, and self-care. The podcast aims to highlight positive forms of masculinity rather than the more toxic forms that dominate media narratives.
The continent is also making its own contributions to the popular true crime genre, most notably with True Crime South Africa. Hosted by Nicole Engelbrecht, the show covers solved and unsolved South African true crime cases.
Those are just a small sample of the incredible things African creators are doing in the audio space. There are many more sharing their expertise and love for entrepreneurship, finance, sport, and dozens of other topics. Others are using audio to create compelling dramas that people can listen to on their commutes or while they’re working. The more support and promotion they get, the more the world will sit up and listen to the sounds of Africa.
Jocelyne Muhutu-Remy is the managing director for sub-Saharan Africa at Spotify.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Mail & Guardian.