Zahara_SAMA_2012As 3G networks continue to roll out in Africa, the continent is attracting ever more attention from music rightsholders. A partnership announced today between Universal Music Group and Samsung is one example.

Universal and Samsung Electronics Africa are teaming up to launch The Kleek, a mobile music streaming service available across Africa offering a catalogue of tracks, as well as artist, genre and celebrity playlists, exclusive album previews, charts and other content.

“With The Kleek, we are not just delivering the best local and international music, we are providing all of Africa with a unique and bespoke user experience,” says Randall Abrahams, MD of Universal Music South Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa. “The service will also help us focus on developing future stars from across the continent.” One such star being Zahara (pictured), who performed at today’s launch event in Cape Town.

The Kleek will “initially” be free to users, which hints at plans to charge for it in the future, although pricing details aren’t public yet. Samsung is the “exclusive smartphone partner” for the first two years of the service, which means the Kleek app will be embedded on its handsets, whose owners will get 12 months’ free use before they have to pay.

UMG tells Music Ally that people with other Android smartphones will be able to download the Kleek app from the Google Play store, though – the exclusivity is for the preloaded app – and there’s clearly also scope for a version to be released for other smartphones and perhaps even feature phones, although for now it’s Android only.

“With the explosion of smartphones and other mobile devices, The Kleek has the potential to attract tens of millions of music fans across Africa,” says Max Hole, chairman and CEO of Universal Music Group International.

Will artists signed to labels other than Universal be able to reach this audience through the Kleek though? In a word, yes. UMG says it already has some other African labels and publishers signed up, and that it’s in ongoing negotiations with others “big and small”.

Universal funded the Kleek, but the service is being run by mobile firm IMImobile. It’s soft-launching in South Africa today, with commercial launches to follow there, as well as in Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana and Angola in the coming weeks, before a broader rollout across Africa.

Samsung is the launchpad, but UMG is anticipating further deals with mobile operators across the continent to market the Kleek to their customers.

Android is a sensible place to start: last year, NPD Group predicted that low-cost Android handsets would account for 80% of smartphone users in Africa, India and China by 2015. More recently, Strategy Analytics pointed to strong demand for digital services in Africa: “The growing middle class is starting to demand more extensive data services on a widening range of smartphones, high-end feature phones and tablets.”

The Kleek doesn’t have Africa to itself when it comes to digital music, it should be noted. Orange and Deezer are working together in Africa, with Deezer’s Clement Cezard telling Music Ally in 2012 that “In Africa they listen to a lot of music: they use their mobile phones but they still buy CDs. If you provide a system where consumers will find the tracks they are looking for easily and which works on mobile, there is no reason they won’t use it.”

Deezer has launched in several African countries in 2013, while Apple recently launched its iTunes Store in South Africa and a number of other African countries, citing Zahara (her again!) as one of the local artists who’d be getting promoted on its store.

Local service Spinlet has also been operating in Africa for some time, 7digital recently inked licensing deals in South Africa, and digital music firm UrFilez has been working with telco Etisalat to launch its own service across Africa. There have been other attempts that ended in failure too, such as Turntable.fm-style streaming service Boom.fm in South Africa, which closed down three months ago telling users that its revenue streams couldn’t cover its operating costs.