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AGAINST THE TIDE

Tidal launches in Africa—in countries known for banning music

Tidal launches in Africa in partnership with MTN, in Uganda then Nigeria
AP Images/Invision for HTC/Mark Von Holden
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  • Lynsey Chutel
By Lynsey Chutel

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Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

When Jay-Z launched Tidal, the streaming service challenged the industry establishment. Now, Tidal comes to Africa at a time when musicians are challenging the socio-political establishment.

In partnership with Africa’s largest mobile company MTN, Tidal announced its presence with a launch party in Uganda’s capital Kampala on Aug. 22. The music and video service was already available on the continent. This is the first time it’s specifically targeting African subscribers.

Similar to its arrangement with Sprint in the US, a Tidal subscription will be available to MTN subscribers as part of their phone package. Three-, seven- or 30-day memberships will begin with a free trial and than can be paid for with MTN Mobile Money.

The partnership, launched in Uganda, will soon roll out to Nigeria. The two countries were chosen as launch pads because of their youthful population, MTN said. Approximately 78% of Uganda’s population is below the age of 30, as is and 83% of Nigeria’s.

“Uganda offers an opportunity to not only provide this exclusive entertainment content to a youthful population in partnership with MTN Uganda but also builds a long term approach to improving opportunities with its young and talented artists,” MTN’s Chief Marketing Officer Olivier Prentout told Quartz by email today (Aug. 27).

It’s somewhat ironic that Uganda is the launching pad for Tidal in Africa. The country is in the process of implementing a tax on social media, and its unclear how that tax will affect streaming services. And the government is using old tactics that may officials seem out of touch with a youthful citizenry.

Music has great power in a country where rapper Bobi Wine was elected to parliament. Yet, Yoweri Museveni’s government banned a song that challenged the aging president’s 32-year-rule. This month, Wine was detained when his supporters clashed with those of Museveni’s. In the aftermath, one person was killed. The state recently reminded Nigeria’s youth just who is in charge when it banned rapper Falz’s This is Nigeria for highlighting the country’s ills.

“I remember hearing stories about my father‘s records being destroyed once they got to Africa. They didn’t want the people to hear the message in the music,” said Damian Marley, a Tidal artist-owner and son of reggae icon Bob Marley, in the service’s announcement statement. “What a beautiful day it is now when Africa will not only have access to my family’s music but to all music that exists.”

Marley’s optimism will likely be tempered by the regulatory and political reality of Africa today. In many countries, where the age-gap between the presidents and the people is ever widening, musicians are filling in as a voice for the frustrated and disenfranchised.

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