The ‘Smack That’ hit singer has had a huge impact on the international music industry. His tracks have gone on to top charts winning him prestigious awards such as the Billboard Music Awards winning in the artist of the year category in 2007; and the American Music Awards for the RnB Male Artist of the year in 2007 among others.
The ‘Lonely’ crooner has also been nominated for five Grammy Awards and collaborated with some of the world’s biggest artists such as Eminem, Snoop Dogg, Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson.
And that is not all. Akon’s Record Labels, Konvict Muzik and KonLive have signed up commercially successful artists such as Lady Gaga and T-Pain who have span successful careers and left an indelible mark in music.
The musician is therefore giving back to society, in this case Africa.
“Growing up in small villages in Senegal, one of the biggest problems we faced was lack of electricity. Women, children and the society at large would suffer because it was hard for them to do anything, especially when it was night time,” Akon, born Aliaune Damala Bouga Time, says during our one on one interview at Rural Electrification Authority office.
The 42 year-old artist and producer would go ahead and leave Senegal and settle in the US where he is making it big in the entertainment industry.
But it was a trip he took to his former village a couple of years ago that put things into perspective.
“Here I was back to the village where I grew up. Things were the same. The same lighting challenges I had faced growing up were the challenges the women, children and the society at large were facing. It awoke something in me, I felt that I had to do something,” he says.
Akon therefore teamed up with Senegalese Political Activist Thione Niang and Malian Entrepreneur Samba Bathily to launch the Akon Lighting Africa initiative. They also partnered with Solektra International in the project.
According to the initiative, as many as 600 million Africans live in total darkness making basic activities such as doing homework and carrying out basic household chores at night a nightmare.
The initiative therefore wants to take solar energy to these villages, in the hope of lighting up these communities.
This is not an easy task.
“It being a huge initiative, we have taken credit that amounts to US$1billion from international banks,” Akon says.
Since its launch in 2014, the initiative has been launched in over 10 countries including Mali, Senegal, Niger and Burkina Faso among other countries.
The initiative has also come to Kenya’s Kajiado County where work has already begun.
“Akon Lighting Africa aims to provide a concrete response to the energy crisis in Africa, while democratizing access to energy thanks to innovative, clean and accessible solar solutions,” he explains.
The solar solutions being provided by the initiative will therefore include home-based solar kits, micro-generators, lamps and recharge stations.
His strategy is also a winning one.
Electrification has largely been a reserve of governments. Akon is therefore conducting Public-Private-Partnerships to do the job.
In an op-ed letter in Huffington Post (United Kingdom), Akon states that artificial light will enable uninterrupted learning, allow small businesses to continue operating and spur the development of new enterprises.
“Africa enjoys more than 320 days of sunshine a year and we are harnessing that energy and bringing it to the continent’s most remote villages. Solar technology exists, and new innovations enhance its potential every day,” he wrote.
Going forward, the initiative hopes to leave an indelible mark; to create jobs through the network created on teaching the youth on how to install and maintain solar solutions. It also hopes to take electricity to more villages in Africa.
“In 2016, we plan to develop our activities in a further 11 countries that include South Africa, Angola, Mozambique and Democratic Republic of Congo among other countries.”
I ask the artist, who is dressed in silver designer suit, starch white Shirt with diamond cufflinks, why he has not had a new record for close to a year. He explains that he has had a lot on his plate with the Lighting initiative and a soon to open Solar Academy in Bamako, Mali.
“I have however been in the studio and will have new music in December this year,” he concludes.