African entertainment and music culture is going through a golden age online. Increasing Internet access on the content means combining African audiences at home and in the diaspora is no longer a dream. Better still, the best have found a way of creating an interest in global African culture with hip-hop as its sinuous spine. Russell Southwood spoke to Okay Africa's CEO Abiola Oke about how it all works.
Abiola Oke is a good example of a global Nigerian. He spent the 1980s in New York, the 1990s in back in Nigeria and came back to the USA to go to College. He then worked for 12 years in the banking sector, ending up at Barclays in the Private Wealth and Pension sector:"But I always had a creative motivation." He had been involved in a radio station and music for a number of years.
The opportunity to return to something more creative came when Steve Hendel asked him to become CEO of Okay Africa. Hendel, described by the New York Times as "a genial, low-key Jewish businessman from Larchmont, NY, was the producer and backer of the musical Fela on Broadway.
Okay Africa was an offshoot of Okayplayer, a music website launched by the Roots drummer Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson and author Angela Nissel:"It was a good opportunity to combine the creative with my business side. Steve needed someone to lead the company as an executive and turn it into a media company."
Oke's been in that role for one and half years and sees Okay Africa as "the premier platform in the USA for new African content. We're transitioning into an interesting space where Africans control the images of their content and how their stories are told. We present African talent to a global audience in a different way." Like many he wants to get away from the Africa presented solely as a place of war and famine.
The site attracts 1 million uniques (and about the same amount of page views) and these are mostly from the USA, South Africa and Kenya. The site has different editions covering different parts of Africa to cater for the complexity of a continent as large as Africa:"We are a company that focuses on content throughout the continent, not just on one country."
So what he does he know about who his audience are?:"The audience is young. 25-35 is the main age group. They're politically charged, well informed, fashion forward and love music."
Who does he see as competitors?:"The Fader and Vice. I think of them as competitors because we create high quality content."
The age of the audience is also reflected in the site's social media footprint. It has 200,000 likes on Facebook, 80,000 on Instagram and 50,000+ on Twitter. It also has a You Tube channel with just over 3,000 subscribers.
And Okay Africa is not just text and pictures, it's doing both audio and video content as well:"The media landscape has changed. Video is snackable content. We create longform content. The most successful of these has been The Roots of..where we do a DNA test of a famous African American." Usually a famous Afro-American musician gets to discover which part of Africa he came from.
Okay Africa is also an event promoter and producer. It organized the Lincoln Centre Out of Doors event in New York, Afrobeat X Afrobeats, where the historic Afrobeat sound met its contemporary equivalent. Nigeria's Davido played with Antibalas, described as the USA's number one Afrobeat band:"We brought young and old together." The event attracted an audience of 3,000 people.
Okay Africa has also opened a gallery space in Brooklyn and is opening an office in Johannesburg.
So what's the business model that fuels this ambition?:"It as advertising, merchandising, creative services and events. Revenue has increased dramatically by 200% since I came in. We're on our way."
So what's planned for the next 12 months?:"More engagement of African artists in the USA; more video content; more diverse content; more robust in-house collaboration and we'll be unveiling things in the tech space. And we want to do more engagement of francophone Africa."