Exploring Africa’s creative economy through words and images.
Africa is not just the cradle of humanity, it's the birthplace of creativity and innovation. From ancient Egypt and Nubia to the impact of the modern-day Afrobeats scene, Africa has always been a continent where people have been using their imaginations to express and create. The African creative economy is a vibrant and growing sector that is having growing influence on the continent and in the world. From the filmmakers behind Lionheart and The Burial of Kojo to producers and artists creating music genres like Afrobeats and amapiano to fashion designers like Thebe Magugu and Adebayo Oke-Lawal, African creatives are using their talents to tell stories about their experiences, challenge stereotypes, and connect with audiences near and far. Despite the structural and economic challenges that many African creatives face, this new wave of artists is creating their own pathways and represent the epitome of DIY.
Media & Entertainment
African media is undergoing a unique transformation. Social media and digital platforms are giving a voice to African storytellers and challenging how the West has projected African lives and narratives for generations. African creatives are using digital tools and the power of community to shape their future, largely on their own terms. They are creating their own platforms, distributing their own content, and building their own audiences. This is a new way of doing things—and it’s having a profound impact on Africa’s creative economy.
When it comes to African creativity, film and visual storytelling has played a major role. In recent years, there has been a surge of critically-acclaimed and commercially successful African films, music, and stories. These films have captured the attention of global audiences and have helped to make Africa a major center of creative production.
Film & Literature
From actors to film directors, painters to photographers, visual artists have been a major catalyst in reimagining the way the continent is projected to the world. However, literary artists set the tone for the reimagination we are now experiencing. Nigerian novelists like Chinua Achebe and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie have built worlds in their novels and catapulted African stories, helping a new generation of creators take human moments and turn them into cinematic and visual magic.
As a storyteller myself, and the founder of a creative studio called Melanin Unscripted, literature played a role in the making of my film The Ones Who Keep Walking. This collaboration brought together more than 20 leading African voices with crews across the continent, and the diaspora of more than 250 people. But it is film that has been key in changing perspectives, and giving Africans opportunities to excel behind and in front of the cameras, making authentic African stories that are commercially viable and some of the most exciting in the world. For example, the film The Ones Who Keep Walking reached 37.5 million people, with about 3.6 million viewers, and contributed to a 23% sales growth of the Johnnie Walker brand in Africa. It also generated 5.2 million hours spent with the brand and 191.9 million linear TV impacts.
African music is another area where creativity is thriving: musicians are fusing traditional sounds with modern innovations, creating fresh and exciting sounds that are resonating globally. Genres like Afrobeat, founded by music pioneer Fela Kuti, have continued to reinvent itself with each generation, giving birth to subgenres like Afro-fusion, Afro-house, and Afro-R&B. Whether scrolling through TikTok, reading the Billboard Hot 100, or listening to the radio, it's hard not to hear music either inspired by Africa or from African artists like Burna Boy, Davido, Rema, Tiwa Savage, Amaarae or Tems. While Afrobeats from Nigeria and Ghana continue to lead the pack, South African genres like amapiano are setting a new tone and expanding their reach. This genre, which is characterized by its catchy melodies, heavy basslines, and rapid tempo, is led by DJ’s like Uncle Waffles and Major League.
From Afrobeats to highlife to soukous, African music is diverse and represents ever-evolving genres that are sure to continue to grow in popularity. African music also expands beyond Afrobeats and amapiano with other genres like gqom, Kwaito, and African hip-hop.
The expansion of African music has elevated fashion as an extension of creative expression. African designers are using their talents to showcase the continent's rich cultural heritage, while also incorporating modern trends, resulting in a unique and stylish aesthetic in both high-end fashion and streetwear that’s also gaining attention worldwide.
What makes African streetwear unique is the way in which brands like Free the Youth have been able to create, collaborate, and distribute independently without waiting for industry gatekeepers. In addition, fashion weeks in Lagos have created significant opportunities for designers and artists who are helping them break ground and get the attention of global buyers.
Fashion has also played a major role in elevating photographers and visual artists on the continent. For example, the Victoria and Albert Museum exhibition "Africa Fashion" featured the work of Nigerian photographer Stephen Tayo, South African visual artist Trevor Stuurman, and Somali-Ethiopian self-portraitist Gouled Ahmed. These artists are using their work to explore the intersection of fashion, identity, and culture and the exhibition was so successful in London that it will be on display at the Brooklyn Museum this fall. This has also helped photographers like Trevor Stuurman take his visual work a step further, and launch his own creative studio and magazine, Manor Africa.
The growth of the African creative economy is also driving and being driven by tourism. Africa’s rich history and culture, along with the many stunning natural landscapes to explore, has been a major motivating factor. In recent years, there has been a surge in tourism to places like Ghana and Kenya which helps boost the creative economy across West and East Africa. “Year of Return, Ghana 2019” was a major catalyst for thousands of first-generation African and African Americans visiting the continent for the first time. Concertgoers packed out festivals like Afrochella (now AfroFuture) and Afro Nation, generating millions of dollars in tourism revenue. The growing interest of the diaspora investing in Africa has also been a gateway to building bridges that have the potential to shape the world. Kenya is following suit and recently launched their own tourism initiative making it visa-free for the African diaspora living in America.
Tourism is also helping to create new opportunities for African creatives and artisans to sell their work and services to tourists and international investors who often leave with souvenirs from their trips. While all very different, West Africa, South Africa, and East Africa are all benefiting from the creative expression coming out of their regions.
West Africa is known for its vibrant music scene, with genres like Afrobeats and highlife, while South Africa is a melting pot of cultures, reflectivein its creative scene and expression coming from fashion and dance. East Africa is home to some of the continent's most stunning natural landscapes, which is reflected in creatives using these backdrops as their canvas of expression.
The African creative economy is not just a force for change—it's a whirlwind of inspiration and innovation, rewriting the narrative of an entire continent! From telling authentic stories to connecting with global audiences, today’s creative class is making waves far beyond its borders, leaving an undeniable mark on the world. The rise of the African creative economy shows no signs of slowing down.The share of African CCIs [culture and creative industries] accounts for $4.2 billion in revenues and employs about half a million people. But it needs continued investment and support to truly soar.
There are challenges that need to be addressed for the African creative economy to reach its full potential. One of the biggest challenges is the lack of physical and safe spaces for creatives to work and collaborate, as well as funding opportunities for artists and entrepreneurs to build sustainably. In the end, the African creative economy is more than a movement; it is a profound testament to the spirit of our people. As we harness our collective brilliance, we illuminate the path toward a brighter, more connected, and thriving future for Africa–and the world.