Songa by Safaricom is yet another attempt to get local music streaming right, will it succeed?

Safaricom has a new music streaming service. Dubbed Songa, a Kiswahili word for “move”, the mobile network operator whose portfolio keeps on diversifying by the day, hopes to get users on their feet, moving to the sound of the beat from their mobile devices. Quite a noble thought, isn’t it?

We’ve seen quite a number of past local efforts to get music streaming right. There’s Waabeh, Mziiki and the popular one, Mdundo, all three available as apps on Android via the Play Store and all promising to do the same thing. Another late entrant into this category, even though I didn’t see much of local content the last time I checked, is Boomplay, the music app from the makers of Tecno smartphones.

I have been trying out Songa by Safaricom for a few hours now after a few failed attempts since the app wasn’t accessible via the Play Store at first. Turns out, it doesn’t play nice with dual-SIM devices and I had to dump my other SIM for a moment just to get Songa set up.

Experience

  • The app has a couple of glitches which I am not really surprised that they exist. It’s an early build so this is to be expected. For instance, I have not yet been able to subscribe which means I have barely even been able to get the whole Songa experience.
  • Users are presented with two sign up options: using Google or using Facebook. I went with the former, like I always do and that was about it. The only other thing one needs to do is grant the app the necessary permissions so that it runs properly, pick their favourite music genres and… get jamming. Okay, hold on a minute. That, there is the problem.
  • Without a subscription, one is limited to just 15 seconds of music playback. Just 15, bummer.
  • There’s a 2-week free trial once one opts in to any of the 3 subscription options available. Billing only starts after the 14-day trial period has elapsed meaning that one can cancel if they change their mind within that time. I would’ve preferred a month but I will take this, shingo upande. Apple Music spoiled us all with a 90-day trial of the service but that did not come without its fair share of controversies. For a start, Apple wanted to withhold payments from artists during the first 3 months since it wasn’t making any money anyway but that blew in their faces and they had to backtrack. Since the whole point of Songa is to provide the best entertainment experience to subscribers and ensure that the content creators, in this case the artists, get their dues, I can live with that 2-week trial. I know, as Kenyans we are not the biggest fans of paying for some things that we always assume “ought to be free” (just ask someone, anyone, to pay for an app that costs a fraction of what they spend at Java and see their reaction) but it’s about time such thoughts left us.
  • Songa by Safaricom feels toooooooo Apple Music-ish. The colour accents, the onboarding experience, more so when selecting the genres and even the implementation of some of the core features like radio. In place of Beats 1, there’s an option to live stream local radio stations.
  • About streaming radio on Songa… It’s surprising that this is not free. At all. Without any subscription, I have been limited to the 15-second preview even when streaming radio, something that is free. I am a big fan of Homeboyz Radio and I make sure to tune in to GMoney in the Morning every day. I do that for free through the HBR app on the Play Store or the HBR site if I am working on my computer at that time. I used to do the same for Capital FM’s The Fuse but the app is no longer available on the Play Store (what happened?). What am I driving at? The rationale behind making streaming radio part of the subscription package. With more and more smartphones launching today without something as basic as FM radio, streaming apps are becoming a must-have. The cheap Xiaomi Mi A1, despite packing rarities like an infrared blaster, lacks native FM radio transmission so I have to rely on apps. Save for the TuneIn app which has since adopted a subscription model (in place of the old pay-to-unlock-forever model), there’s hardly any decent app on the Play Store that houses all the local radio stations. This is a perfect opportunity for Safaricom to capture that market. Since we’ll be listening via the app even without a subscription, doesn’t it make sense that occasional reminders and frequent interaction with the app will somehow convert some users into paying subscribers? Furthermore, on Apple Music, radio streaming is free. Beats 1, Bloomberg Radio… Name them.
  • The pricing looks right. Kshs 25 per day, 150 per week and 500 per month is just fine, if you ask me. That brings Songa’s pricing to the same level as Apple Music. As such, immediately, the question becomes, does Songa offer the same value as the latter? While the two services are heaven and earth, all that fades when you can pay almost the same amount for either. At the end of the day, as a consumer, it’s value that one is looking for. The ability to just choose shorter periods like a day or a week definitely sets Songa apart from its international competition which demand a whole month’s fee something that can be overwhelming for some users.
  • Safaricom’s own statement announcing Songa notes that, “The app curates, codifies and classifies vernacular, local music and a world class international music catalogue with over 2 million songs from over 400,000 artistes. Available music includes songs by Wizkid, Camila Cabello, Usher, Chris Brown, Beyonce, Davido and local hit artistes such as Sauti Sol, Mercy Masika, Nyashinski, and Eric Wainana among others.” That ability to mix local and international content is what set Skiza, Safaricom’s ringback tone service, apart. It is what sets Songa apart from any other regional competition. It gives the user who has lots of acquired/foreign tastes a chance to get the best of both worlds. Some of those international acts are the reason some of us pay for subscriptions to the likes of Apple Music and Spotify. If someone can offer them plus lots of local exclusives and local music that isn’t available on those platforms then why not? The challenge here is making sure that the content is as much as it is promised. I am not certain about where that stands at the moment. Safaricom says that it has hammered deals with Sony Music Entertainment, Africori, Africha, Ngoma, Expedia and more are on the way which means that there’s already a tonne of music and there’s more coming.
  • I like that there is both a dark mode and a light mode.
  • Safaricom says that users will be able to save tracks for listening while offline. That’s great because super fast internet is still not yet universal in this country.
  • I am yet to try out one of the key features that keep me hooked to Spotify all year long: awesome playlists. As such, I have no idea what to make of them, yet. Ultimately, it is how playlists are organized that will make or break the service. At least if most users tend to have habits similar to mine since for us, playlists go a long way in helping us to discover new music.
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Songa is available on the Google Play Store

Have something that you believe I need to have a look at? Hit me up: echenze [at] androidkenya.com