Senegalese Music Start-ups Race to Be West Africa’s Spotify

Senegalese start-ups are testing a fledgling market for online music platforms in French-speaking West Africa, where interest in digital entertainment is growing but a lack of credit cards has prevented big players from making inroads.

Long celebrated in Europe for their contribution to “world” music – with Mali’s Salif Keita, Senegal’s Youssou N’Dour and Benin’s Angelique Kidjo household names in trendy bars – West African musicians have struggled to make money back home, where poverty is widespread and music piracy rampant.

Online music providers such as Apple’s download store iTunes and streaming service Spotify are either unavailable – no one can sign up for Spotify in Africa yet – or require a credit card or bank account, which most West Africans lack.

But smartphone use is surging and entrepreneurs say there is latent demand for platforms tailored to Francophone West Africa, whose Malian “desert blues,” Ivorian “zouglou” and Senegalese “mbalax” cross African borders but are only profitable in Europe, via download and streaming services.

“We started by saying, look, there is a void. Because digital distribution products are made in Europe or the U.S., for Europeans and Americans.” said Moustapha Diop, the founder and CEO of MusikBi, “The Music” in the local Wolof language, a download store launched in 2016.

MusikBi, like its rivals, is small and cash strapped, but with more than 10,000 users, Diop sees potential.

The company received a boost in May when Senegalese-American singer Akon bought 50 percent of it, which Diop says will allow the company to start a new marketing campaign.

MusikBi and rival JokkoText allow users to purchase songs by text message and pay with phone credit, mobile money or cash transfers. Both want to expand throughout West Africa.

Many of the new industry entrants like MusikBi and JokkoText are based in Dakar, which is an emerging tech start-up hub for Francophone West Africa, partly thanks to the fact it has enjoyed relative political and economic stability compared with most of its neighbors.

On the streaming front, Deedo, created by a Senegalese national in France and backed by French bank BPI, will launch in Senegal, Mali, Ivory Coast and France next month, and will offer similar payment options. Senegalese hip-hop group Daara J plans o start a streaming platform next year.

There is scant industry presence elsewhere in the region except in Anglophone Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation.

Pirates to Payers

Every evening young people jog down Dakar’s streets with headphones in their ears. Most download music illegally online or buy pirated CDs and USB memory sticks in street markets.

Convincing them to pay for content is a challenge, but not an insurmountable one, analysts say.

“Experience shows that people are willing to pay for convenience,” said David Price, director of insight and analysis at London-based industry federation IFPI.

“If you give them something attractive and affordable, they stop pirating,” he said, adding that local platforms have gained followings in Latin America and India.

France’s Deezer has also targeted the region in partnership with mobile operator Tigo, but has not gained a large following. Deedo meanwhile plans to launch a version of its site in Pulaar, one of West Africa’s most widely spoken a languages, founder Awa Girard told Reuters.

Senegalese singer Sahad Sarr told Reuters he had sold some songs on MusikBi and was excited about Deedo, but added: “The culture here is not to buy music online. Change will be slow.”

Most of his listeners on Spotify and other platforms are Senegalese people living in Europe or North America, he said.

At Dakar’s main university, students showed Reuters the many websites they use to download music illegally.

Some said they would pay for a good service, but others were less convinced, like 22-year-old Macodou Loum. “Between two choices, free and not free, we will choose the free one,” he said.

Build a better website in less than an hour. Start for free at us.

more ...

Saudi Women Will Drive, But Not Necessarily Buy New Cars

What’s your dream car to drive? Saudi women are asking that question after the kingdom announced that females would be granted licenses and be allowed to drive for the first time.

An Arabic Twitter hashtag asking women what car they want to drive already had more than 22,000 responses on Thursday. Some users shared images of black matte luxury SUVs. Others teased with images of metallic candy pink-colored cars. A few shared images of cars encrusted with sparkly crystals.

Car makers see an opportunity to rev up sales in Saudi Arabia when the royal decree comes into effect next June. But any gains are likely to be gradual due to a mix of societal and economic factors. Women who need to get around already have cars driven by chauffeurs. And many women haven’t driven in years, meaning the next wave of buyers could be the young.

That didn’t keep Ford and Volkswagen from trying to make the most of the moment. They quickly released ads on Twitter congratulating Saudi women on the right to drive. Saudi Arabia had been the only country in the world to still bar women from getting behind the wheel.

American automaker Ford’s ad showed only the eyes of a woman in a rearview mirror with the words: “Welcome to the driver’s seat .” German automaker Volkwagen’s ad showed two hands on a steering wheel with intricate henna designs on the fingers with the words: “My turn.”

Checking that optimism will be the reality that many women will continue to need the approval of a man to buy a car or take on new responsibilities.

“The family has always operated on the basis of dependency so that’s a big core restructuring of the family unit,” said Madeha Aljroush, who took part in Saudi Arabia’s first campaign to push for the right to drive. In that 1990 protest, 47 women were arrested. They faced stigmatization, lost their jobs and were barred from traveling abroad for a year.

“I had no idea it was going to take like 27 years, but anyway, we need to celebrate,” Aljroush said.

That won’t entail buying a new car, though. She hasn’t driven in nearly 30 years, she says, and her two daughters still need to learn how to operate a vehicle.

Allowing women the right to drive is seen as a major milestone for women’s rights in Saudi Arabia, but also for the Saudi economy. The kingdom’s young and powerful crown prince is behind a wide-reaching plan to transform the country and wean it off its reliance on government spending from oil exports.

Allowing women to drive helps to ensure stronger female participation in the workforce and boosts household incomes. It can also save women the money they now spend on drivers and transportation.

The Saudi government says there are 1.37 million drivers in the country, with the majority from South Asian countries working as drivers for Saudi women. The drivers earn an average monthly salary of around $400, but the costs of having a driver are much higher. Families must also pay for their entry permits, residence permits, accommodation, flight tickets and recruitment.

Rebecca Lindland, an analyst for Cox Automotive in the U.S. who has studied the Saudi Arabian market, said families with the means likely already have enough vehicles because women are already being transported in them, with male drivers. Those women could simply start driving the vehicles they already own.

There are also many Saudi families who do not have the money to buy new cars.

“The idea that 15 million women are going to go out and buy a car is not realistic,” Lindland said. “We may not have incremental sales because those that are already with more freedoms already probably have access to a car.”

The industry consulting firm LMC Automotive sees only a small boost in sales next year due to the royal decree, coinciding with a small recovery in sales from a slump.

The Saudi market peaked at 685,000 new vehicles sold in 2015, falling to under 600,000 in 2016, and is forecast to finish this year at 530,000. LMC had predicted a modest recovery next year based on an improved economy and sees a little added boost from women drivers.

Although Saudi Arabia has a reputation for liking luxury goods, mainstream brands dominate the car market with a 93 percent share of sales, according to LMC. Hyundai was the top passenger car brand with a 28.6 percent share of the market, followed closely by Toyota at 28.4 percent and Kia at 8.3 percent, the company said.

There are also societal factors to consider. Even if the law allows women to drive, many will still need their fathers or husbands to buy a car.

A male guardianship system in Saudi Arabia gives men final say over women’s lives, from their ability to travel abroad to marriage. Women often are asked to have the written permission of man to rent an apartment, buy a car or open a bank account.

“If you don’t have credit, if you don’t have money, your male guardian will be the one to decide whether you buy a car or not,” Lindland said.

While car sales might rise in the long-term, ride hailing apps like Uber and local rival Careem could see revenues decline. Female passengers make up the majority of the country’s ride-hailing customers.

To celebrate Tuesday’s decree, several Saudi women posted images on social media deleting their ride sharing apps.

The two companies, however, have seen strong investments from Saudi Arabia. Last year, the Saudi government’s sovereign wealth fund invested $3.5 billion in Uber. This year, an investment firm chaired by billionaire Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal invested $62 million in Dubai-based Careem.

Aljroush says the right to drive will not immediately change women’s lives, but it will change family dynamics at home and will change the economy.

“Men used to leave work to pick up the kids. The whole country was paralyzed,” she said. “It’s a restructuring of how we think, how we operate, how we move.”

Build a better website in less than an hour. Start for free at us.

more ...

US Supreme Court to Hear New Challenge to Labor Unions

A Supreme Court with a reconstituted conservative majority is taking on a new case with the potential to financially cripple Democratic-leaning labor unions that represent government workers. The justices deadlocked 4-4 in a similar case last year.


The high court agreed Thursday to again consider a free-speech challenge from workers who object to paying money to unions they don’t support.


The court could decide to overturn a 40-year-old Supreme Court ruling that allows public sector unions to collect fees from non-members to cover the costs of negotiating contracts for all employees.


The latest appeal is from a state employee in Illinois. It was filed at the Supreme Court just two months after Justice Neil Gorsuch filled the high court seat that had been vacant since Justice Antonin Scalia’s death.


The stakes are high. Union membership in the U.S. declined to just 10.7 percent of the workforce last year, and the ranks of private-sector unions have been especially hard hit.


About half of all union members now work for federal, state and local governments, and many are in states like Illinois, New York, and California that are largely Democratic and seen as friendly toward unions.


The Illinois case involves Mark Janus, a state employee who says Illinois law violates his free speech rights by requiring him to pay fees subsidizing a union he doesn’t support, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. About half the states have similar laws covering so-called “fair share” fees that cover bargaining costs for non-members.


Janus is seeking to overturn a 1977 Supreme Court case, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, that said public workers who refuse to join a union can still be required to pay for bargaining costs, as long as the fees don’t go toward political purposes. The arrangement was supposed to prevent non-members from “free riding,” since the union has a legal duty to represent all workers.


A federal appeals court in Chicago rejected Janus’ claim in March. Gorsuch was confirmed in April and the appeal was filed in June.


The justices will hear argument in the winter.

Build a better website in less than an hour. Start for free at us.

more ...

Switzerland Tests Delivery by Drone in Populated Areas

Drones will help deliver toothbrushes, deodorant and smartphones to Swiss homes this fall as part of a pilot project, the first of its kind over a densely populated area.

Drone firm Matternet, based in Menlo Park, California, said Thursday it’s partnering on the Zurich project with Mercedes-Benz’s vans division and Swiss e-commerce startup Siroop. It’s been approved by Switzerland’s aviation authority.

Matternet CEO Andreas Raptopoulos says the drones will take items from a distribution center and transport them between 8 to 16 kilometers to awaiting delivery vans. The van drivers then bring the packages to homes. Raptopoulos says drones will speed up deliveries, buzzing over congested urban streets or natural barriers like Lake Zurich.


The pilot comes as Amazon, Google and Uber have also been investing in drone delivery research.

Build a better website in less than an hour. Start for free at us.

more ...

Calming Cars, Human-scented Robots: Advances in Smell Technology

Would you buy a car that sprayed soothing odors when you’re stuck in rush-hour traffic? Or how about a robot that smells like a human being?

Scientists say that new technology means we will soon be using devices like these in our everyday lives. At this month’s British Science Festival in Brighton, researchers from Britain’s University of Sussex offered a demonstration of the technology that could be just around the corner.

The 3D animations of Virtual Reality have become commonplace. Now scientists have created virtual worlds that even smell like the real thing. When users open a virtual door and step into a new world, in this case into a rainforest, diffusers spray the appropriate scent for added authenticity.

Immersive experience

“It is a really immersive experience that you have because you’re exploring this environment and you have smells that correspond with it,” festival visitor Suzanne Fisher-Murray told VOA.

Smell technology has been tried before, famously in the United States with Smell-O-vision movies in the 1960s. Multisensory researcher Emanuela Maggioni of the University of Sussex says it’s on the cusp of a comeback.

“The connection with emotions, memories, and the potential to use the sense of smell, the odors, under the threshold of our awareness — it is incredible what we can do with technology,” Maggioni said.

And not just for entertainment. In another corner of the room, a driving simulator has been fitted with a scent diffuser.

“In this demonstration, we wanted to deliver the smell of lavender every time the driver exceeds the speed limit. We chose lavender because it’s a very calming smell,” co-researcher Dmitrijs Dmitrenko said.

Scent and human behavior

Scientists are experimenting with using scent instead of audible or visual alerts on mobile phones. Businesses already are using scent to influence customers’ behavior.

“Not only for marketing in stores, so creating the logo brand. But on the other side, you can create and stimulate impulse buying. So you’re in a library and you smell coffee and actually you are unconsciously having the need to drink a coffee,” Maggioni said.

She adds that scent is vital in human interactions — for example, when men smell tears, levels of testosterone are reduced and they show more empathy. That physiological reaction can be applied to new technology.

“In the interaction with robots — how we can build trust with robots if the robots smell like us,” Maggioni said.

It portends an exciting, and perhaps for some, daunting future. Scientists say the sense of smell, until now largely unexploited, is about to stimulated by the march of technology.


Build a better website in less than an hour. Start for free at us.

more ...

Calming Cars and Human-Scented Robots: Scientists Hail Breakthrough in Smell Technology

Would you buy a car that sprayed soothing aromas when you are stuck in rush-hour traffic? Or how about a robot that has the scent of a real person? Scientists say that new technology means we will soon be using devices like these in our everyday lives. Henry Ridgwell visited this month’s British Science Festival in Brighton, England, to find out more.

Build a better website in less than an hour. Start for free at us.

more ...

Equifax Apologizes as U.S. Watchdog Calls for More Oversight

Equifax Inc promised to make it easier for consumers to control access to their credit records in the wake of the company’s massive breach after the top U.S. consumer financial watchdog called on the industry to introduce such a system.

Equifax’s interim chief executive officer, Paulino do Rego Barros Jr., vowed to introduce a free service by Jan. 31 that will let consumers control access to their own credit records.

Barros, who was named interim CEO on Tuesday as Richard Smith stepped down from the post amid mounting criticism over the handling of the cyber attack, also apologized for providing inadequate support to consumers seeking information after the breach was disclosed on Sept. 7. He promised to add call-center representatives and bolster a breach-response website.

“I have heard the frustration and fear. I know we have to do a better job of helping you,” Barros said in a statement published in The Wall Street Journal.

Equifax announced the free credit freeze service after the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB) director, Richard Cordray, told CNBC earlier in the day that the agency would beef up oversight of Equifax and its rivals.

“The old days of just doing what they want and being subject to lawsuits now and then are over,” Cordray said.

He also called for implementing a scheme of preventive credit monitoring.

“They are going to have to accept that. They are going to have to welcome it. They are going to have to be very forthcoming,” Cordray said.

The Equifax hack compromised sensitive data of up to 143 million Americans and prompted investigations by lawmakers and regulators, including the New York Department of Financial Services (DFS), which issued a subpoena to Equifax demanding more information about the breach.

Federal laws give the CFPB the power to supervise and examine large credit-reporting firms to ensure the quality of information they provide. In January, the CFPB fined TransUnion and Equifax $5.5 million in total for deceiving customers about the usefulness and cost of their credit scores.

Cordray called for expanded powers to cover data security to prevent breaches and suggested placing monitors inside credit reporting firms, borrowing a tactic from the regulatory regime for banks.

The CFPB is working with the Federal Trade Commission and New York’s DFS on a new regulatory framework, Cordray said. He also called for Congress to tighten oversight of the industry.

TransUnion said in a statement that it had “long been subject to regulatory oversight from state and federal regulators including the CFPB.”

Experian did not respond to requests for comment.

Build a better website in less than an hour. Start for free at us.

more ...

Carmakers Welcome Arrival of Saudi Women Behind the Wheel

Saudi Arabia’s decision to lift its ban on women driving cars may help to restore sales growth in an auto market dented by the economic fallout from weak oil prices, handing an opportunity to importers of luxury cars and sport utility vehicles.

Carmakers joined governments in welcoming the order by Saudi Arabia’s King Salman that new rules allowing women to drive be drawn up within 30 days and implemented by June 2018, removing a stain on the country’s international image.

“Congratulations to all Saudi women who will now be able to drive,” Nissan said in a Twitter post depicting a license plate bearing the registration “2018 GRL.” BMW, whose X5 SUV is the group’s Middle East top-seller, also saluted the move.


WATCH: Activists: Driving Augurs Further Expansion of Saudi Women’s Rights

Midrange brands dominate the Saudi market, with Toyota, Hyundai-Kia and Nissan together commanding a 71 percent share of sales.

Market had shrunk

That market has shrunk by about a quarter from a peak of 858,000 light vehicles in 2015 to an expected 644,000 this year, reflecting the broader economic slowdown. But the rule change adds almost 9 million potential drivers, including 2.7 million resident non-Saudi women, Merrill Lynch has calculated.

“We expect demand to rise again on news that women will be allowed to drive,” said a senior executive at Jeddah-based auto distributor Naghi Motors, whose brand portfolio includes BMW, Mini, Hyundai, Rolls Royce and Jaguar Land Rover models.

The arrival of women drivers could lift Saudi car sales by 15-20 percent annually, leading forecaster LMC Automotive predicts, as the kingdom’s “car density” of 220 vehicles per 1,000 adults rises to about 300 in 2025, closing the gap with the neighboring United Arab Emirates.

A middle- to upper-class Saudi family typically has two vehicles, one driven by the man of the house and a second car in which a full-time chauffeur transports his wife and children.

The rule change could spell bad news for some of the 1.3 million men employed as chauffeurs in the kingdom, including a large share of its migrant workforce, while boosting upscale car sales as households upgrade for their new drivers.

Entire market likely to benefit

“The move to allow women to drive is set to benefit the entire market,” LMC analyst David Oakley said. “But we might expect to see a disproportionately positive impact on super-premium brands.”

Luxury brands including Lamborghini and Bentley are about to launch SUVs, a vehicle category that has proved popular among women and accounts for more than 1 in 5 cars sold in Saudi Arabia.

Welcoming the announcement, British-based Aston Martin said it was well timed for the arrival of the James Bond-associated sports car maker’s DBX model, due in 2019.

“The SUV crossover boom across all segments has been powered by women,” spokesman Simon Sproule said.

Build a better website in less than an hour. Start for free at us.

more ...

Trump: Foreign Country Plans to Build, Expand 5 US Auto Sector Plants

President Donald Trump said on Wednesday a foreign leader told him at the United Nations last week that the country would soon announce plans to build or expand five automobile industry factories in the United States.

“I just left the United Nations last week and I was told by one of the most powerful leaders of the world that they are going to be announcing in the not too distant future five major factories in the United States, between increasing and new, five,” Trump said in a speech on tax reform in Indianapolis.

He added the factories were in the automotive industry.

He did not name the country. The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Automakers in Japan and Germany have both announced investments in the United States this year, with companies coming under pressure from Trump’s bid to curb imports and hire more workers to build cars and trucks in the country.

Investments to expand U.S. vehicle production capacity also reflect intensified competition for market share in the world’s most profitable vehicle market. In August, Toyota Motor Corp said it would build a $1.6 billion U.S. assembly plant with Mazda Motor Corp.

Toyota also said this week it was investing nearly $375 million in five U.S. manufacturing plants to support U.S. production of hybrid powertrains.

Last week, German automaker Daimler AG said it would spend $1 billion to expand its Mercedes Benz operations near Tuscaloosa, Alabama, to produce batteries and electric sport utility vehicles and create more than 600 jobs.

Rival German luxury automaker BMW AG said in June it would expand its U.S. factory in South Carolina, adding 1,000 jobs. And last month, Volkswagen AG’s brand president Herbert Diess said the company expected to bring electric SUV production to the United States and could add production at its Tennessee plant.

Build a better website in less than an hour. Start for free at us.

more ...