GongBox: Music streaming platform putting African artists in the spotlight while maintaining their independence

GongBox is a music streaming app focused on bringing awareness of African artists, creators, and dreamers, while also allowing African musicians to stay independent, owning 100% of their creations.

Created by South African artist Black Coffee, Gongbox strives to be a platform for the people, shining a light on talents that may be hidden from the vast majority of the world.

The app, which has been in development since 2014, will launch as an Android App since it’s the most prevalent operating system among smart phone users in Africa.

A challenge to music streaming in the continent is bandwidth costs. Soulistic Music, the record label founded by Black Coffee and the team behind the GongBox app, is currently in talks with mobile phone service providers about accessibility. Soulistic Music believes that it’s only a matter of time that data costs are lowered by companies like Vodacom, MTN, Cell C and Telkom in South Africa.

Black Coffee said: “We understand our people more, we understand how they consume. We understand that most of them don’t wanna subscribe, they don’t want to be committed to pay, even if it’s R9 a month. They’d rather pay R15 pay-as-you-go. So the plan is to have different types of payment systems, for instance mobile money. We are currently talking to networks to see if we can have our own currency, like GongBox money. We want to have vouchers that you can find in Spaza shops. We want to bridge the gap that the big companies aren’t.”

With more than two decades in the music industry, the house music DJ and producer is hoping that artists who are coming after him won’t have to endure the challenges he did. Black Coffee has seen artists take “terrible terrible deals” from companies that didn’t have artists’ interest at heart. He said: “I’ve always felt like our future is not certain, because it was in other people’s hands. And I feel like that’s how we’ve been as a continent. We’ve always been ready to give our future away to the next bidder who promised us whatever they were bringing. So my worry has always been, ‘when do we start creating our own things?’ And our own things, not just independent record labels.

“For the longest time we’ve been plugging in to everything the world has been bringing to us. I wanted to create a platform for myself where I know I own 100% of the music. We want artists to stop signing contracts with other people. We want artists to own their own music. And here is the platform for you!”

Black Coffee’s 2005 self-titled debut album was “recorded in his bedroom on very basic music-making software”. Released on his own Soulistic label, it introduced his deep house style, which incorporated jazz, African and R&B influences. The record, alongside his DJ sets, made him a household name in South Africa. He has since released eight albums, including last year’s Subconsciously.

Black Coffee broke through to a mainstream audience when he was sampled by Drake on the rapper’s 2017 “playlist” More Life. He has also worked with Pharrell, David Guetta, and Usher.

Since the beginning of his career in music, Black Coffee has always maintained his independence. In an interview with Midem, Black Coffee said that “the rules” of the music industry is not how he plays. He said: “Being always told ‘No, this is how it’s done’ and ‘No, we don’t do it this way’, and I’m sorry, but I’m here to kind of like do my own thing.”

The Durban-based artist says he could have easily created his own app for him and Soulistic Music artists, but he felt the wider music industry needs help. He wants to see artists owning their catalogues and to save themselves from the red tape that comes with their art being in other people’s hands. Black Coffee said: “Everyday a kid will hit me up about a demo, and I listen to the music, and it’s the most amazing music I’ve ever heard. But there’s nothing I can do.

“GongBox is a platform for an artist to say, ‘I have an EP today, I’ve been recording this for the past two years, It’s ready, I need a record label,’ and I’m like, ‘you actually need a platform.'”

GongBox will save artists the trouble to use multiple platforms to post their music, videos and photos. Black Coffee added: “Sometimes we create all this amazing content, but the only place to share it is on YouTube. Like I go to DJ PH’s mix on YouTube, and then Justin Bieber pops up, and I start listening to Justin Bieber first, and then it leads me to somewhere else and I end up not watching what I came there to watch.”

What Black Coffee is creating with GongBox is a music service that is specific to the African market, while also has bringing the music of African artists to a global audience. Black Coffee said: “It’s going to be the home of music for the artists. So wherever you are in the world if you’re looking for African music you can just go to one place. Whether it’s house or African pop or whatever you wanna hear, it’ll be there. We’re basically dismantling an industry and starting off fresh.”

“GongBox could be, in the future, that one space where endorsements happen, instead of companies going to Twitter. I play a lot of South African music on my sets, but there’s no place to find it. I would like that if there’s someone who appreciates African music, there’s that one store they can go.”

GongBox is set to be released soon.

Images: Black Coffee Facebook page

Black Coffee

Rosa Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s ChiefShe writes about entertainments and storytelling of all kinds.

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