'Mdundo': East African tunes for the mobile generation

Story highlights

  • East African music platform Mdundo has a library of 20,000 songs
  • Music lovers can download old and new tracks for free within a limit
  • 6,000 artists have singed up and 250,000 people have downloaded music so far

Every week, African Start-Up follows entrepreneurs in various countries across the continent to see how they are working to make their business dreams become reality.

(CNN)Pulsating beats, electrifying melodies and irresistible grooves -- East Africa's vibrant music scene has been steadily gaining exposure, and now entrepreneurs and investors are catching on.

Two years after its launch, Mdundo, a Kenya-based online music distributor, has grown into a major provider of East African music with a 20,000 track strong library on its mobile web platform.
Currently growing by over 200 songs each week, the company says some 6,000 artists have so far signed up to the service. Customers can download old and new tracks for free within a limit, or pay 300 Kenyan shillings (around $3) a month for unlimited access without adverts. Unsurprisingly, Mdundo accepts payment in the mobile currency M-Pesa or Safaricom airtime.
Aside from providing a useful service for music-loving mobile users, Mdundo is also helping to raise the profile of East African artists. Lesser known singers, rappers and bands can reach a wider audience by signing up and uploading their tracks. They can also monitor downloads and get paid a share of the revenue from those downloads.
"There are no central rights holders of music in Africa and it's therefore extremely hard to manage rights and offer a complete library to the consumers," says CEO and co-founder Martin Nielsen.
"For that reason illegal sites normally have the biggest library because they don't clear any rights."
Rapid growth
Mdundo is funded by Google-backed 88mph, a seed fund and accelerator that focuses on investing in web and mobile startups that target the African markets.
The business started as a conversation between founders Francis Amisi and Martin Nielsen, and investors 88mph. Four months later, the team had recruited 11 more members and created a beta version of Mdundo.
After a month, in December 2012, the service officially launched in partnership with Airtel Kenya.
In 2013, 1,000 East African artists signed up to the service and more than 1,000,000 Kenyan shillings (around $11,000) was paid to artists in royalties.
The company places adverts in the music as another revenue stream, capitalizing on its reported reach of 20,000 active users per week. And now, with advertising clients including Microsoft, Samsung and Nokia, 6,000 artists signed up and 250,000 people having downloaded music, the startup has ambitious plans for the future.
"Within the past 12 months, Mdundo's library has been five-doubling and is now including music from more than 12 African countries," says Nielsen.
Click through the gallery above to find out which are the top 10 downloaded artists on Mdundo.