For Mowgli Dodhia, the caged parrot symbolizes the potential that African artists can unlock in trading non-fungible tokens (NFTs).
“The bird is very beautiful, but caged,” he says. “So how do we break the cage?”
Mr. Mowgli is the founder and CEO of Kasuku, a platform that provides artists and musicians with a marketplace to sell their products to a global audience through NFTs. NFTs are digital assets that can be bought, sold, or traded based on the value of the file they reference.
Assets can be in various media forms, including images, songs, tweets or videos, whose unique ownership is recorded on the blockchain and guaranteed by an NFT certificate. Trade-in of NFTs dates back to 2014, but it was only after the Covid-19 pandemic that the trend became mainstream.
Homebound and deprived of live event revenue, millions of artists have used the digital marketplace to reach consumers. Trade in NFTs has grown significantly over the past year and the global market is worth billions of shillings.
Late last year, Kenya‘s marathon champion Kipchoge Keino auctioned off two videos of his career highlights for ATS 4 million in the first major NFT auction by a Kenyan.
According to Mr Mowgli, the adoption of the technology in the region is still in its infancy and artists and musicians have much to gain by jumping on the bandwagon today.
“On this side of the world, we always find ourselves trying to keep up with new technologies,” he says.
“Artists who come out are finding they can compete with thousands of others in the global marketplace, and using NFTs can create a level playing field.”
Kasuku offers musicians and artists the opportunity to participate in the NFT marketplace at low entry points.
One of the biggest challenges are the associated fees. NFTs can cost anywhere from $60 (Shh 6,900) to $400 (Shh 46,000) to produce on the major platforms, depending on the mandated “gas” and “minting” fees.
This is unattainable for many creatives and, along with the ease of use of the technology, is one of the weak points that Mowgli’s Kasuku platform seeks to address.
“The first thing we will do differently is affordability,” says Mr. Mowgli.
“It’s going to be extremely affordable, and we’re going to have a fully integrated wallet, so it’s no different than logging into Facebook, for example.”
Kasuku also promises to give its users the benefit of making their work more discoverable for potential consumers.
“The platform will give artists the opportunity to geo-stamp their work,” explains Mr. Mowgli.
“Currently, you can’t filter art purchases by country on the existing NFTs marketplaces,” he adds.
Artists also have the opportunity to advertise on the platform, where advertising slots of up to one hour per day are sold to artists who wish to be featured on Kasuku’s homepage. Mr Mowgli also says the platform is tackling systemic challenges in the music and arts businesses, which are blamed for eroding profit margins for creators and driving up the retail costs of products.
“For example, there are many hurdles in the music industry that undermine musicians’ ability to make decent money from their work, such as gatekeeping, corruption and piracy,” he explains.
“NFTs are the perfect solution to these challenges and as Kasuku we only charge 2.5 percent commission while the artists get 97.5 percent of the money,” said Mr. Mowgli.
The platform also offers art business intermediaries such as gallery owners the opportunity to own digital businesses on Kasuku and lists inventory where users can make virtual visits and purchases. Kasuku recently held a social media competition to create a waiting list, which attracted more than 3,000 artists from 40 countries.
A total of 100 artists have been selected to receive free mints for the first NFT trades on the platform, which are expected to start next month.
“For us, it improves what blockchain is about; Transparency, immutability,” explains Mr. Mowgli.
“We also don’t want to make a marketplace exclusively for Kenya, because that doesn’t make much sense. It’s about proving that we can push the boundaries of technology here in Kenya. We did it with M-Pesa, but we’ve slacked off since.”