In the middle of May, Vodacom in partnership with Muska, launched DRC's first mobile music streaming service. Muska had already launched last year in Cape Verde and has wider geographic ambitions. Russell Southwood spoke to Muska's Congolese founder Djo Moupondo about bringing his music platform home.
Djo Moupondo came back to Kinshasa just before the lockdown was put in place in DRC. He tells me that it only seems to cover part of Kinshasa but people are still going out. Regional Congolese cities like Goma are in the process of putting in place a lockdown.
On 5 May 2019, Muska was launched with a local partner in Cape Verde which went well in the beginning but has not been without hiccups:"Unfortunately there were some technical aspects with (the mobile operator) Unitel that would not allow us to add a larger amount of content. It has a game space in its service so it's hard to fit in all the international content we wanted. Most content is local with only a much more restricted amount of international content. We started with (digital music distributor) The Orchard but the lack of space has put the contract on hold. The service currently around 10,000 subscribers".
Moupondo thinks that the best way to attract users will be with music plus data bundles on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. A standalone service without data is a much harder road to travel. In the DRC it is offering both music and data bundles and standalone:" The music plus data bundles are sold for less than the cost of what the data would be by itself".
Muska is the first premium music platform in DRC offered by an MNO and it has taken a long time to get the agreement in place. None of the other operators in DRC have music platforms:"They have been talking to all the big ones like Deezer but they have never signed anything. Vodacom are the biggest player in the market by subscriber numbers and have prioritized this collaboration. I can only thank them for believing in Muska".
It launched on 15 May but there was a soft launch in April just as the borders were being closed all round the world because of Covid-19. The soft launch used a core group of 1,000 people to debug it and make sure the payment processes worked. The biggest label on the service will be Universal Music and Muska is only the second platform it has signed an agreement with.
So how was it received at the launch?:"Initial reaction of people on social media has been very excited and they want to see how it will go".
Moupondo runs his own music label (La Clique Music, on which Mohombi appears) and understands the importance of having a professional music industry:"There is no real music industry in DRC so I want to create a monetization system for the artists. Twill be transparent with them about what they are earning. We want to help them understand the numbers".
Now the task is to push and promote the platform. We are selling it as a platform that has an emphasis on African music. Most of the playlisters will feature new releases from African artists. It's Pan-African and it's there. The launch will show that DRC's back in the game. It may be slow but we'll get there. We want to be able to say products work in the DRC and you can monetize. It's a lot of pressure (for me) but it's also a lot of fun".
It has also just signed a deal with MTech Communications, a Nigerian company that describes itself as "the largest aggregator for African music", which has been doing business across the continent in countries like Nigeria, Kenya and Zambia.