Akon’s multi-platinum career as a recording artist is hard to outshine, but his work outside of the recording booth may prove to be his brightest legacy. The St. Louis, Missouri, born singer is the voice behind the soundtrack to much of the mid-2000s, when songs like “Locked Up,” “Lonely,” and “Smack That” were hard to escape – and those were only his singles. As featured artist, he helped catapult singles by Baby Bash, Young Jeezy, Obie Trice, DJ Khaled, and many others. However, he hasn’t put out a full-length solo project since 2008’s Freedom and although he’s released a couple of mixtapes and songs out in the years since, his presence has been felt more strongly in the world of philanthropy than music.
Having moved to his family’s native Senegal as a child, Akon has devoted much of his attention to Akon Lighting Africa in recent years. Co-founded by Akon in 2014, the project is a bold initiative aimed a bringing electricity to the hundreds of millions of Africans for whom a functioning lightbulb is a luxury. According to its website, Akon Lighting Africa “seeks to provide a concrete response at grass roots level to Africa’s energy crisis and lay the foundations for future development” for the approximately 600-million Africans without access to electricity. Furthermore, “this initiative aims to develop an innovative solar-powered solution that will provide African villages with access to a clean and affordable source of electricity,” a goal that could have tremendous implications for future generations.
In a recent exclusive with HipHopDX, Akon discussed his philanthropic work and shared what Akon Lighting Africa represents to the man himself. According to Akon, the initiative was created because he himself “grew up without electricity, clean running water, the basic necessities.” Growing up in the Senegalese village of Kaolack, Akon says he never realized “how much of an impact electricity was to me because I didn’t have it,” and that it wasn’t until he came to the United States that he realized its power. “Going back home, it was almost like I felt naked – literally. It was one of those things, a lot of things that I had enjoyed doing in the States, I just couldn’t do,” he shares. After realizing that, 20 years later, his old neighborhood still didn’t have the most basic of modern amenities, Akon says he decided to launch his program.
He is then asked to expound upon the operations of Akon Lighting Africa including the mechanics of bringing electricity to parts of Africa that are sometimes incredibly rural. “The whole concept of it is to be electrifying all the rural areas as far as out to where the grid doesn’t reach,” says Akon. ” And of course in Africa, sun is limitless — that’s our biggest resource. So there’s is no way that you not use that sun to bring energy.” For that reason, Akon Lighting Africa has focused primarily on solar energy, a resource made available through “a PPP (Public Private Partnership) with the government where you can bring private investors in, the government subsidize and the people also have an access to be able to come in and invest,” he explains.
The scope of Akon Lighting Africa’s work does not end with simply bringing electricity to those who have never had access to it before. As stated on its website, the initiative will also be addressing issues related to health, citing “without access to electricity, over 3.5 million Africans die every year from harmful pollutants or fires in the home produced by costly and toxic solid fuels.” Additionally, having electricity would allow many African families to pursue education more effectively, namely due to the fact that children “cannot study at night without proper light and [often must] complete their homework by candle light, an additional expense for parents.” Thus far, Akon Lighting Africa has implemented “a wide range of quality solar solutions, including street lamps, domestic and individual kits, have been installed in 14 African countries,” and it’s only the beginning.
Also discussed in the interview are whether Akon plans to release music by year’s end, to which he replies “[n]o question. Regardless of what’s happening outside of music, music is always being created.”