For Mowgli Dodhia, the caged parrot symbolises the potential that African artists can unlock in the trade of 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 Chief Executive 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 pictures, songs, tweets or videos whose unique ownership is recorded in the blockchain and guaranteed by an NFT certificate. The trade-in NFTs dates back to 2014, but it was only after the Covid-19 pandemic that the trend went mainstream.
Millions of artists confined to their homes and deprived of live event earnings took to the digital marketplace to reach consumers. Trading in NFTs has surged in the past year, and the global marketplace is worth billions of shillings.
Late last year, Kenya’s marathon champion Kipchoge Keino auctioned off two videos of his career highlights for Sh4 million in the first major NFT sale by a Kenyan.
According to Mr Mowgli, the adoption of the technology is still nascent in the region, and artists and musicians have a lot to gain in getting on the bandwagon today.
“On this side of the world, we are always finding ourselves playing catch up with new technology,” he says.
“Artists who come out find that they have thousands of others to compete against in the global market place and using NFTs can level the playing field.”
Kasuku offers musicians and artists the opportunity to participate in the NFT marketplace at low entry points.
One of the biggest challenges is associated fees. Making NFTs can cost between $60 (Sh6,900) and $400 (Sh46,000) on the major platforms, depending on the “gas” and “minting” fees prescribed.
This is out of reach for a lot of creatives and is one of the pain points Mowgli’s Kasuku platform looks to address along with the user-friendliness of the technology.
“The first thing we’ll do differently is affordability,” says Mr Mowgli.
“It is going to be extremely affordable, and we will have a fully integrated wallet so that it’s no different from logging into Facebook, for example.”
Kasuku also promises to give its users the advantage of their work being more discoverable to potential consumers.
“The platform will give artists the ability to geo-stamp their work,” explains Mr Mowgli.
“At the moment you cannot filter art purchases according to the country on the existing NFTs market places,” he adds.
Artists will also have the ability to advertise on the platform where advertising slots of up to an hour daily will be sold to artists who want to be featured on the Kasuku home page. Mr Mowgli also says the platform addresses systemic challenges in the music and art business that are blamed for thinning margins for creators and driving up the retail cost of products.
“There are many hurdles in the music industry, for instance, that undermine the ability of musicians to earn properly from their work such as gate-keeping, corruption, and piracy,” he explains.
“NFTs are the perfect solution to these challenges, and as Kasuku we’ll only charge 2.5 per cent commission, while the artists will get 97.5 per cent of the money,” said Mr Mowgli.
The platform also offers middlemen in the art business such as gallery owners the opportunity to own digital stores on Kasuku and lists inventory where users can conduct virtual visits and make purchases. Kasuku recently held a competition on social media to establish a waitlist where more than 3,000 artists from 40 countries signed up.
A total of 100 artists were selected to receive free mints for the first NFT trades on the platform that are expected to commence next month.
“For us, it’s enhancing what blockchain is all about; transparency, immutability” explains Mr Mowgli.
“We also don’t want to do a marketplace exclusively for Kenya because that is not very useful. It’s about proving that right here in Kenya we can push the boundaries of tech. We did it with M-Pesa, but since then we’ve been slacking.”