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Akon performs at the opening ceremony of the 2015 African Cup of Nations soccer tournament in Bata, Equatorial Guinea.
Reuters/Amr Abdallah Dalsh
Akon performs at the opening ceremony of the 2015 African Cup of Nations soccer tournament in Bata, Equatorial Guinea.

Why the R&B singer Akon is reinventing himself as an African artist and businessman

By Lily Kuo

Akon, an American R&B singer, stopped in Cotonou, Benin this past week to admire a set of solar-powered street lamps, the fruit of the performer’s over $400 million dollar campaign to bring solar power to rural areas in Sub-Saharan Africa.

For the past two weeks, Akon—famous for hits such as Don’t Matter  and Smack That — and has been touring the continent to promote the solar street lamps, home kits, charging stations, and micro-generators that his company has installed with local government support. The project’s aim is to bring electricity to 25 countries by the end of 2016. But Akon’s interest in the region isn’t purely philanthropic, a fact he himself has admitted before.

Over the past few years, the Missouri-born performer, who spent part of his childhood in Senegal, has started to rebrand himself as an African artist and Africa-focused businessman. That may be because for Akon and entertainment executives like him, Africa is the next major region of growth in spending on music and entertainment. “As far as investments go, I think Africa is the future for investments. The light is so bright and so clear,” Akon told CNBC Africa earlier this year.

Africa is home to 226 million people between the ages of 15 and 24, almost a quarter of the world’s youth population, and its music industry is already seeing a boom. Nigeria is producing over 550 albums a year, with sales tripling in the past five years, consumed by an emerging middle class across the continent, as well as the African diaspora. That’s likely one reason why Akon signed a group of popular Nigerian performers to his label, Konvict Musik. Akon also collaborated with one of those groups, P Square, a twin brother duo from Nigeria:

In Nairobi, one of Akon’s roadshow stops, spending on entertainment and media is expected to grow an average of 12.5% a year between 2013 and 2018. Spending on music in Kenya overall is expected to reach $19 million this year, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers. In Nigeria and South Africa, consumption is expected to hit $43 million and $85.3 million, respectively.