Diamond Platnumz was surprised by his record producers when they rocked up at his house with a cake iced with YouTube’s logo to mark a milestone for the Tanzanian pop star.
As he was filmed getting dressed, the 30-year-old was proudly told by his team that he was the first sub-Saharan African singer to get one billion views on his YouTube channel.
Over the last 10 years, the award-winning musician has popularised “bongo flava” – a uniquely Tanzanian offering: romantic melodies with an urban beat influenced by traditional taarab music from the East African coast.
And with more than 43% of Tanzania’s 55 million people having access to the internet, mainly via mobile smartphones, there is a huge home-grown Swahili-speaking audience ready to lap up his love songs.
Other Tanzanian musicians like Harmonize are also huge on YouTube.
So how big is a billion views on YouTube?
It is difficult to assess the real significance of the one billion figure, given that Diamond Platnumz has more followers on Instagram than he does subscribers on YouTube – 9.7 million compared to 3.7 million.
DJ Edu says Instagram is more of an influencer of lifestyle and new platforms such as TikTok, which allows a 30-second copyright free use of songs, are a great way of getting younger fans.
“Some songs are becoming viral through TikTok, like Diamond Platnumz’ new one called Quarantine,” he says.
More importantly for musicians in Africa, over the last decade YouTube has allowed them direct access to an audience, rather than relying on TV stations.
How does he compare with other African stars?
Diamond Platnumz still languishes behind some North African stars, who have huge followings in the Middle East.
And then there are African artists based elsewhere such as Malian-born singer Aya Nakamura, who trumps the be-jewelled Tanzanian musician, with more than 1.7 billion YouTube views.
The 25-year-old, who moved to France when she was a young girl, is best known for her 2018 hit Djadja.
And Akon, the Senegalese-American rapper, smashes them both with 3.5 billion views.
In sub-Saharan Africa, Diamond Platnumz’s main competitors in the YouTube numbers game are Nigerian Afrobeats stars:
P Square – 810 million
Davido – 618 million
Flavour – 617 million
Tekno – 574 million
Burna Boy – 507 million
StarBoy TV (AKA Wizkid) – 480 million
Davido’s and Burna Boy’s numbers are particularly impressive given they only opened their YouTube channels in 2018. Diamond Platnumz has been on the platform since 2011.
Some stars opt to have their own channels to promote songs and cut bureaucracy as record labels take time to issue new releases.
Other notable mentions are Magic System from Ivory Coast – with more than 477 million views. The group is particularly popular in French-speaking West Africa and France.
“This following is literally built on their 2001 song Premier Gaou – it’s the one song that really connected the whole continent,” says DJ Edu.
While lower YouTube figures for South African musicians mask their popularity – they are able to make money through local labels, says DJ Edu.
And of course YouTube is not the only streaming service.
WizKid worked with Canadian rapper Drake on the 2016 hit One Dance – that alone has been streamed more than 1.8 billion times, but it was not officially released on YouTube.
What about globally?
Drake has more than seven billion views on YouTube and Beyoncé, who worked with African artists for last year’s Lion King album, has more than 12 billion.
To put that all into perspective, Justin Bieber, the 26-year-old Canadian singer who found fame in his teens, has a whopping 21.6 billion views.