Nigeria's acclaimed afropop artist Yemi Alade and London-based afrowave pioneer Afro B.
The IMI 21st Aug 2023

IDOL on opportunities in Sub-Saharan Africa and wider global ambition

We speak to Thibaut Mullings, the services company's Head of Label Development and A&R for Africa, following deals for Afro B and Yemi Alade...

At the end of July, independent services provider IDOL announced two artist signings in Afro B and Yemi Alade. The company flagged the moves as further establishing a ‘longstanding commitment to championing genres originating from Sub-Saharan Africa’ – the fastest growing region in terms of recorded music revenues, it pointed out.

Yemi Alade is an internationally acclaimed afropop artist from Nigeria, who comes to IDOL via her own record company, Effyzzie Music. She is working with IDOL on her upcoming seventh studio album, expected to be released later this year. Meanwhile, London-based afrowave pioneer and Capital XTRA DJ Afro B also joins IDOL’s roster to release a number of singles this year in the run-up to his fourth album, due out in 2024, which will include features from Stefflon Don,, Pitbull and more.

IDOL’s Head of Label Development and A&R for Africa, Thibaut Mullings added the signings came after half a decade of laying the groundwork in Southern Africa: “We are now reaching a stage where IDOL’s selectivity, local appeal and international reach are producing results for our partners as well as attracting African artists with global ambition.”

Headquartered in Paris, IDOL has been through a period of global expansion, adding bases in London and New York prior to its most recent foothold in Johannesburg, South Africa.

On the surface, the Afro B and Alade agreements are global digital distribution deals – but the company has said it will be working closely with artist teams across strategy, global marketing, international co-ordination, audience development and channel management.

The IMI got in touch with Mullings to find out more about the double signing, the strategy in place for the artists, and opportunities in the Sub-Saharan markets more generally…

You spoke about IDOL attracting African artists with global ambition. What’s your strategy to help them meet that ambition?

Thibaut Mullings: What makes IDOL different is how A&R driven we are, choosing whom we work with, as well as our international agility. Our selectivity in signings enables us to have a different reach and international footing as it relates to our retail focus. When it comes to how we consult and help craft the right team around a project with global ambitions, our freedom and independence mean we can work with the best people around.

Internally, we can put together a dedicated team that will involve several IDOL offices when multiple-market expertise is required. Here, our core strengths are digital marketing, audience development, retail optimisation and international coordination. Externally, we can rely on our solid network to help bring third-party partners on board to cover specific needs in key markets. It’s about connecting all of the dots to make the moment happen, and becoming a bespoke extension of our distributed partner, whether that be a label or artist team.

"There are opportunities for artists from other territories in Sub-Saharan Africa, in terms of live performances, collaborating with African artists and growing Africa-based audiences on streaming services."

Where do you think Afro B and Yemi Alade could be in terms of stature in the business within the next five years?

TM: With globally recognised artists like Yemi Alade and Afro B, the sky’s the limit. At IDOL, we focus on improving their international presence, coordination and profitability. We use our global office network to maximise each region. Be that with rights management, localised playlist support and audience development strategies or even recognition at awards ceremonies. Both artists have huge worldwide potential, with their individual management teams and IDOL being focused on bringing new fans on board and activating new markets.

You’ve pointed to the growth in the Sub-Saharan market. What do you think its trajectory will look like over the next five years?

TM: In the Sub-Saharan region, the landscape is made up of very different markets, with each having unique trajectories and some having seen significant growth over the past few years (Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya and South Africa etc) thanks to streaming revenues. However, a lot of economic and social challenges need to be addressed before all African music is able to thrive and benefit from better monetisation. In the next five years, we can expect the leading African music markets to begin stabilising, whilst a second wave of smaller markets is also likely to grow and fill the gap.

Are there opportunities within the Sub-Saharan market for artists from other territories? What do they look like and how do you capitalise on them?

TM: African music markets have always experienced an excess in export over import. For historic and economic reasons, the first audience layer for African music tends to already be global via the diasporas. For an African artist today, having your music streamed in Western territories can translate to twelve times more revenue than the same amount of streams in your own country. So there is a pretty obvious incentive to export your music outside of the continent.

That being said, there are opportunities for artists from other territories in Sub-Saharan Africa, in terms of live performances, collaborating with African artists and growing Africa-based audiences on streaming services. However, due to the fact that monetising your music in Africa is still more challenging than in other global territories, those opportunities are still largely limited to established Western artists.

IDOL’s Johannesburg office is involved in facilitating local live performances and collaborations for artists based in the EU and the UK, such as Blick Bassy, Ibeyi, Djeuhdjoah & Lieutenant Nicholson. IDOL is working with the South African French Institute, as well as local venues and recording studios, to bring a more diverse range of UK and European artists to the continent and have them perform to African audiences, as well as collaborate with local talents.