Bringing Kenyan music, art to Africa's NFTs market

3D illustration of non fungible token of video game. PHOTO | NMG

Kenyans are now keen on diversifying their income streams given more investment vehicles for wealthy individuals that are emerging. One of these is non-fungible tokens, commonly known as NFTs, which are gaining acceptance by the day.

From music collections to artworks, digital and physical, and other precious commodities, NFTs are now some of the areas that are becoming popular, with investors in Kenya and Africa.

And with this development has been the rise of NFT companies on the continent, such as Emsany, founded by Moroccan aerospace researcher and techpreneur Anas El Arras, dealing in art collectables and targeting both artistes and collectors to drive the popularity of Africa’s creative work on the global scene.

Anas says the growing popularity of NFTs and Africans’ desire to put their money in other investment options outside the traditional channels inspired him to start the company that sells anything from wearable Ankara print garments to abstract art, photography and vivid illustrations of either a dragon ball or a ghost street.

So, what does it take to invest in art? What does one need? But foremost, are Africans buying artworks as an investment?

“Of course, our main target audience is Africans. This is both about artists and collectors. Even artistes themselves are buying works from others as a way to encourage them.”

Currently, the platform has different collectors and artistes drawn from around the continent, buying and selling artworks respectively.

Annas adds that the African community and culture have a strong global presence, promoted by the African diaspora, which is pivotal to pushing sales.

Anas El Arras is a Moroccan aerospace engineer, techpreneur and founder of Emsany, an NFT platform that deals with art collectibles. PHOTO | POOL

On what defines the average African artwork buyer, Anas says it is difficult to characterise a collector.

He explains: “The NFTs market has a variety of projects. Some seek profit through purchase and sale of art while others seek to recognise a specific artiste or their high-quality art.”

He adds, however, that most buyers are individuals of means. “Our audience is made up of art connoisseurs with considerable money to spend.”

Already, museums and art galleries are coming into the platform, bringing together an audience of both artistes and collectors. “This has created an ecosystem by connecting two worlds that were quite disconnected before, that is NFTs and traditional arts.”

The company says it is working on partnerships with local museums and art galleries to help them launch their collections.

“This will help us to tap into artistes and collectors of physical art. It is important to connect both worlds and to create synergies amongst all stakeholders by focusing on all types of artworks. This will also help to create exposure and a wider audience to these works.”

For many years, Africa has been home to a diversity of artworks and heritage, some of which are on display in museums and galleries abroad while others remain on the continent. How can these be harnessed to create value for owners? Annas believes the first step is by having platforms that are focused on African art.

“It gives me a lot of pride to have an African art platform with a community of talented artistes drawn from different backgrounds. Our incredible cooperation despite our many differences makes our art even more special and unique. This unity also allows Africans to market their art more easily.”

To Anas, NFTs are the future of wealth building in Africa through royalties by resale of artistes’ works.

To this end, Emsany is in talks with different government entities to develop and increase the adoption of blockchain and Web3 technologies to create a market for African art.

“When a sale is made on an online platform, it is not just the artiste or collector who benefits but the entire community as well,” he argues.

But what has the reception of NFTs as an investment opportunity been like in Africa? Anas says there are many success stories of decent returns and market value that have been generated through some of the collections sold.

“The industry is working to make this scenario tangible for the African market, where artists and collectors can get a good return on their investment.”

For the African market, especially in East Africa, to grow, experts recommend greater adoption of technology.

Anas agrees, saying adoption by the local population will increase when the NFT market consolidates itself on mobile platforms.

“The technology is currently very focused on the desktop. Africa can capitalise on the wide coverage and access to the Internet via mobile. Ours is a developing market with immense potential.”

To do that, he says gaps in the market must be bridged and awareness of this investment created and heightened.

“The main challenge we face is that NFTs and the concept of Web3 are difficult to grasp for many people as it is a new technology and ours a new market. We cannot limit [the trade] to only artistes and people who understand what NFTs are.”

The culture of NFTs, crypto, and Web3 is still being developed all over the world, with slow but steady adoption in Africa, he says, adding that more people will come forward to invest in the technology soon.

“We will see more and more Africans collecting and creating NFTs.”

He says making different platforms “democratic” by boosting access to the blockchain, Web3 and the NFTs markets to all Africans through education is a good place to start.

But has the technology and governance infrastructure supported endeavours such as this?

Anas believes Africa has a supportive environment that can be enhanced.

“There is a great desire among African countries to adopt new technologies. We see it every day, with new users, through conversations with governments and also by movements and organisations that seek greater adoption of the blockchain technology.”

There are also opportunities in the space that are ripe for exploitation such as what Annas calls “phygital”, a combination of digital and physical artworks integrated as a single piece.

“Many artistes across Africa are still not used to making digital art or digitising it. Through this, the artiste generates more money through their work while the collector receives two artworks, a digital and a physical one. These can then be valued over time. Adoption of this technique by artistes and collectors would go a long way to boost the NFTs market.”

So what does one need to invest in NFTs and what do they need to possess? Anas says only an internet connection and interest in art are required.

“Web3 is a democratic space where everyone can participate. There are, obviously small costs, just like in any investment.”

“Kenya is a big market with huge potential, with its emerging scene of Web3, NFTs and Metaverse. The country will be a great hub for these technologies.

There is also an incredible community of users, including artistes and investors, willing to popularise this movement. Progressively, there has been the adoption by artistes who had little knowledge about NFTs or none at all but who had interesting physical works that had earned a reputation at museums and art galleries,” he says.

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