‘AfroFuture’s vision is to bring African art, cuisine, fashion, and music to a global audience.’
Trailblazers is an MBW interview series that turns the spotlight on music entrepreneurs with the potential to become the global business’s power players of tomorrow. This time, we speak to Abdul Karim Abdullah, Co-Founder and CEO of Ghana-based cultural entertainment platform AfroFuture. Trailblazers is supported by TuneCore.
The spotlight continues to shine on Africa’s music business.
Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) was the world’s fastest-growing recorded music region in 2022, seeing 34.7% YoY growth (IFPI) last year, and the growth opportunity for subscription music streaming in the SSA region is becoming significantly clearer.
Africa-focused music streaming service Mdundo, for example, recently reported a 239% YoY jump in revenue from paid subscriptions, with the company recording a 23.2% YoY increase in monthly active users (MAUs). Geographically, the streaming company’s focus is on five key SSA markets: Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania, Ghana and South Africa.
According to a 2022 report from GSMA, 615 million people in sub-Saharan Africa are expected to sign up for mobile services by 2025, on top of the roughly 500 million that were already subscribed as of 2020.
In Ghana, live music brand AfroFuture is tapping into what co-founder Abdul Karim Abdullah says is “largely upwardly mobile, tech-forward Gen Z and millennial consumers” to pursue its ambitions of becoming the “storyteller for the African narrative”.
The music, art, and culture festival (formerly known as Afrochella) was launched in Accra in 2017, and in addition to the core music festival, it offers travel experiences and runs various non-profit initiatives. This year’s edition, in December, will be headlined by superstars like Afrobeats star Davido and British rapper and singer J-Hus.
Abdullah, (also AfroFuture’s CEO) explains in our interview below that the AfroFuture brand “has grown tremendously since its inception”.
The inaugural festival took place on December 29, 2017, at the Accra Polo Court, attracting 4,600 attendees. “We knew we had something special,” says Abdullah.
“From there, we chose to expand our team support and in 2018, we looked to formalize our partnership with media agency, BBnZ Live, for digital content generation and event management support.”
By 2022, the event had morphed into a two-day festival under the AfroFuture banner with superstars Burna Boy and Stonebwoy as headliners, and sponsors ranging from Hennessy and Diageo, to Fenty Beauty, and TuneCore.
Held at the end of December last year, the sixth annual AfroFuture festival (now held at the at EL Wak Stadium) attracted 31,000 attendees over two days.
“We realized that there was an opportunity for us to bring the community and the diaspora together in a way that hadn’t been done before in the country.”
Abdul Karim Abdullah, AfroFuture
Abdullah, who grew up in the Bronx, explains that he decided to launch the event after one of his first visits to Ghana with co-founder Kenny Agyapong.
“We realized that there was an opportunity for us to bring the community and the diaspora together in a way that hadn’t been done before in the country,” he says.
“With our influence, we had the opportunity to stimulate conversation, elevate our people, and tell authentic stories from the continent. As a result, AfroFuture, formally known as Afrochella, was born and planted its roots in Accra, Ghana.”
Here, we speak with AfroFuture’s CEO about the event’s origins, its growth trajectory, and his ambitions for the event in the coming years…
How did you first get into the music business?
My first experience in the music industry was when a member of my fraternity, Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Inc., booked Big Sean at my alma mater, Syracuse University.
I remember how much I enjoyed the experience because I was fascinated by how everything came together and the process of creating and managing an event. From that experience, I got my big break as a stage manager for a concert I pitched to W&R Productions for El and Joey B, two major Ghanaian artists, at the Gramercy Theatre
From those early experiences, I found the confidence I needed to create, plan, and execute my own event. The only thing left was figuring out how to fund my big ideas. From my first event to then establishing AfroFuture, I’ve gained a tremendous amount of knowledge and it has been the driving force behind everything that I do to create sustainable change for not only Ghana but for Africa at large.
Tell us about your journey from there and how and why you decided to launch Afrofuture?
After one of my visits to Ghana with my co-founder Kenny Agyapong, we realized that there was an opportunity for us to bring the community and the diaspora together in a way that hadn’t been done before in the country. With our influence, we had the opportunity to stimulate conversation, elevate our people, and tell authentic stories from the continent. As a result, AfroFuture, formally known as Afrochella, was born and planted its roots in Accra, Ghana.
Once Kenny and I agreed on the vision, we looked to build a small but mighty team to create our vision: To bring African art, cuisine, fashion, and music to a global audience, paving the way for additional opportunities that are for us, by us, and celebrate us. Once we established our vision, we mapped our north star – a mission(s) that would guide all that we do and will do for the continent:
- Promote networking and ownership within the Ghanaian community and Pan-African Diaspora.
- Ensure that Africans living around the world understand the importance of celebrating their native cultures and investing in it.
- Serve as an informational vessel connecting the African Diaspora with current news, fashion, art, music, and business opportunities in Africa.
- Utilize community influence to ensure educational support for Ghanaian and African students worldwide.
Once we had our foundation in place, we set out to launch our inaugural festival held at the Accra Polo Court On December 29, 2017.
Who is AfroFuture’s target audience, and where are they from geographically?
AfroFuture is a global platform that invites people from all over the world, and is an event for those who enjoy the intersection of music, food, fashion, and art.
Our brand resonates with the global Black diaspora, and we’ve received significant support from the United States, the United Kingdom, the Caribbean and neighboring African countries. Our attendees are largely upwardly mobile, tech-forward Gen Z and millennial consumers who are committed to the culture and represent over 40 countries across the globe.
About 45% of our audience attends the Festival from North America, 13% from Europe and Asia and about 12% come from African countries outside of Ghana and South Africa.
Can you tell us more about the Rising Star Challenge?
Our annual ‘Rising Star Challenge’ is one of our flagship competitions for unsigned and emerging artists in Africa. The ‘Rising Star Challenge’ is our way of supporting live music not only in Ghana, but throughout Africa. To enter into the contest, artists upload an original song to Audiomack and create an Instagram Reel that includes an introduction about the artist, their approach to music and the music-making process, and what they want their potential audience to know about their style of music.
As an exciting lead-up to the festival, 10 musicians are chosen from a shortlist of 25 unsigned and emerging artists. From there, five finalists are chosen to perform on AfroFuture’s Rising Star Stage alongside the festival’s headliners.
“Our annual ‘Rising Star Challenge’ is one of our flagship competitions for unsigned and emerging artists in Africa.”
For the grand finale, one artist from the “Rising Star Challenge” is selected for the ultimate prize – an exclusive recording agreement with Sony Music Africa for a single release. In addition, winners receive global distribution for their new single, marketing support such as a music video and more, free access to AfroFuture’s recording studio and mentoring and training from industry executives and leading musicians and producers.
In 2022, we took things up a notch by introducing an expansion to the “Rising Star Challenge” with the addition of the “Rising Star DJ Challenge,” a call for DJs from across the diaspora to share their talents with our audience and to have the chance to grace the stage at our AfroFuture festival.
In partnership with TuneCore, this initiative was created in an effort to amplify the next generation of African superstars and to find the next breakout DJ from the continent.
To roll out the contest, the top ten entries were selected by a panel of industry experts composed of TuneCore executives and AfroFuture DJs. Once announced, fans across the world voted on social media to narrow the group down to three DJs. From there, the top three finalists battled it out at the AfroFuture Music Museum in Accra, Ghana on December 27 and the contest winner performed at AfroFuture 2022 and walked away with a cash prize.
Tell us about the impact that Afrofuture has had on the country’s local tourism industry…
The local impact of AfroFuture is significant. Every year, we make an effort to employ Ghanians to aid our festival and surrounding activities to support the local community.
In 2019 alone, AfroFuture helped bring in $2.1 billion in tourism revenue for “Year of Return” and the festival is expected to generate approximately 16% of the country’s tourism [this year].
Most international visitors associate Ghana with our festival and every year, we try to make a more sustainable impact on the country to ensure that opportunities continue to exist outside of December [when the event takes place].
As a result of our incredible impact on Ghana and the African continent, myself and [AfroFuture’s] co-founders were named Goodwill Ambassador of Tourism to Ghana to help promote the country’s tourism globally.
As one of the flagship events hosted in Ghana, we had the exciting challenge of bringing 20,000 visitors to the country and establishing Ghana as the premier destination for all travelers worldwide.
What are your ambitions for AfroFuture over the coming years?
We’re seeking to continue to strengthen our narrative within our primary pillars of food, art, fashion, and music as well as striving towards a united diaspora. Our future is bright and is currently manifesting itself through our extended global activities like ‘Road to AfroFuture.’
As we previously shared, in 2022, we launched our ‘Road to AfroFuture’ experiential popup activation to catapult our brand into the Sub-Saharan market. Since the launch of this initiative in 2022, we’ve had the opportunity to expand our presence to the UK, South Africa, Côte d’Ivoire, and France.
As we continue to gain momentum and garner more popularity around our “Road to Afrofuture” events, we’ll aim to explore additional locations and expand our reach to more diverse markets.
What is the AfroFuture Foundation?
The AfroFuture Foundation is a program we established to give back to the local Ghanaian community in a long-term and meaningful way. Through our philanthropy efforts, we’re able to connect with local groups and international charities to educate and feed students and families in Accra. Our foundation goals are strategically aligned with the United Nations’ 17 sustainable development goals.
In 2017, we had the opportunity to collaborate with local schools within Madina Zongo, Greater Accra, and Kumasi Ashanti Region, to provide $5,000 in school supplies (notebooks, pads, pencils, pens, erasers, textbooks) and bookbags. This initiative was our initial commitment to the 4th sustainable development goal of quality education. The following year, we partnered with the Water Aid Foundation and raised 10,500 Ghana Cedis (over $2,000) to provide clean water to families in need in the Northern Region of Ghana.
In 2018, we partnered with Twitter Blackbirds (ERG) and AirBnB for two initiatives: AfroFuture Reads and AfroFuture Feeds. Through this partnership, we raised $10,500 to renovate and remodel the Genesis School of Orphans In Jamestown, Greater Accra Region. The school was recently demolished, and the land sold, leaving students to study under tents for the remainder of their last term. AfroFuture invited the African diaspora to aid students with school supplies and a stable learning environment through monetary donations to help us collectivity reach our goal fostering the importance of “Quality Education.”
Through our AfroFuture Feeds initiative, our mission is to bring awareness to and eradicate hunger in Ghana. Through Ghana’s SDG, “Zero Hunger,” we aid the nation by providing meals via food trucks and direct donations to various Ghanaian communities during volunteer opportunities with both [AfroFuture] staff and participants. We’ve raised over $5,000 to feed 500 families within five impoverished neighborhoods in Ghana.
In 2021, AfroFuture Feeds welcomed 72 volunteers to help hand out 500 packaged meals and water. In 2022, we welcomed over 250 volunteers and delivered groceries to families across Accra and to surrounding communities.
You are running events in South Africa and in New York – are there plans to expand the brand into other markets?
Yes, we intend to expand the AfroFuture brand and events to additional Francophone African nations and other markets in order to attract more partnership opportunities and reach a wider, more diverse audience.
We’ve seen incredible success with our South Africa events with over 1,000 attendees in 2022 and in 2023. In New York, we’ve partnered with some incredible brands like Positive Vibes Only (PVO) and Days Like This (DLT) to create fresh and fun events for our dedicated audiences to enjoy in the States.
If there was one thing you could change about the music industry, what would it be and why?
The one thing I would change about the music industry is to focus on the product rather than the profit. Profit as a metric has lowered the caliber of the content we consume. I feel like it has diluted the purity of music.
What advice would you give to an aspiring entrepreneur in the music industry?
My advice to an aspiring entrepreneur would be to remain true to your purpose and to always be authentic. With discipline and a solid foundation around you, you can reach your desired level of success – even when you meet adversity or when doors continue to close – you must never give up.
Trailblazers is supported by TuneCore. TuneCore provides self-releasing artists with technology and services across distribution, publishing administration, and a range of promotional services. TuneCore is part of Believe.Music Business Worldwide