was elated when the head of content approached me to write a piece celebrating women as the month of March is known as The International Women’s Month. It was an honour to be chosen and I heartily jumped on it. As I sat down to plan the writing I felt the weight of this enormous responsibility that was thrust on me and I almost crumbled.
In today’s society where gender is an issue and there is a more present and ever increasing need to write women better, it will be wrong for me and you to assume this is easy writing and that a quick fix is sure to do it. It is no small job to write about the impact of women in the Nigerian Music Industry. Though it is an honour, a weight of responsibility I know that the sisters are cheering me on as well as depending on me to ensure a job well done
As a people and culture, music has always been part of us. The Nigerian music industry is one that has spanned over 30 years and has churned out many music legends that are recognised globally. Sadly in the whole of these three decades there are just a handful of women that are found. It makes me wonder if women were short in music talent, if no opportunity and support was given to women in music or women were not properly captured in history and are still not being captured or supported?
The music industry is not just about the artists that we see front stage and center, the industry includes other players such as the managers, talent finders, sound engineers, producers, promoters, PR practitioners , lawyers, dancers etc and you will find women functioning in various capacities in all of these areas across the world.
THE IMPACT OF WOMEN IN THE RISE OF AFROBEAT
In 1967 Fela began his music career. He named his music style Afrobeat and is on record as the pioneer of Afrobeat music. What you often don’t read about is the impact, that his dancers “The Fela Girls” had on his rise to prominence.
Known as Afrobeat Queens after his marriage to them, these ladies acted as dancers, singers, makeup artists and most importantly these women elevated afrobeats to the level of global phenomenon. When Fela returned in 1970, somewhere around that time to 1973, Fela opened the Afrika Shrine in the courtyard of the Empire Hotel. At that time the big artists were King Sunny Ade, Chief Commander Ebenezer Obey, Onyeka Onwenu and the likes.
In an attempt to outshine them both musically and in craftsmanship Fela introduced female dancers to his stage performance. The release of his “Shakara” in 1972 featured female backup singers, a first of its kind of some sort. This introduction became an instant hit which then had a positive impact on the soundscape of Fela’s music.
As dancers these women helped Fela rise to fame even more quickly. The controversies surrounding the relationship between Fela and these women made for news often. These women were scantiningly cladded young girls that danced in sexually provoking ways and flocked the Shrine and Kalakuta Republic causing a moralistic attack on the band.
Whilst the middle and lower class Lagosians found these women refreshingly different and appealing and showed their appreciation by buying Fela’s records and tickets for his show the upper class found it preposterous and Fela’s relationship with the girls ambiguous. This constant attention on Fela also attracted foreign press to write about him and his ladies.
The introduction of female dancers and singers gave Fela the much needed hype at home and abroad. These women made a way for Afrobeat in the global space. Fela was an artist that was appreciated for his music genius and his stage presence but all thanks to the women that sustained him. Even in the fight for freedom Kalakuta had women that were fearless in the face of oppression, who stayed with him through every jail term and were bruised with him.
WOMEN ARTIST AS KEY COMPONENT TO THE GROWTH OF THE NIGERIAN MUSIC INDUSTRY
What is the music industry without the men and women who are at the forefront of bringing it to our ears, the artist.
Also known as the Afro Beat Soul Sisters, the Lijadu Sisters were the most successful female group in Nigeria in the 70s.
What stands out about these ladies is that they were able to make a name for themselves in a male dominated sector and also break many stereotypes. Their music was as unique as they were, a fine blend of afro rock, highlife, disco and soul music.
Afro-Rock!!! Have you heard of that genre recently? I don’t even know anyone else who made music in that genre. They exploited western music and infused their heritage to create something distinct and unique. These ladies took on a path that was new and stayed the course sadly they never got the deserving recognition. It is worthy to note that they used their music to also fight bad governance.
CHRISTY ESSIEN IGBOKWE
I am at a loss on how to start writing about the beautiful singer. Her achievements are laudable. Christy Essien Igbokwe sang in Igbo, Yoruba, Hausa, Ibibio, Efik and English. She released her debut album in 1977 but her most successful record was her 1981 album “Ever Liked My Person”. A woman and Child right activist she starred in movie roles that addressed child abuse and female circumcission.
With a strong desire to see an improvement in the life of Nigerian artistes she initiated the first Performing Musicians Association of Nigeria (PMAN) meeting in 1981. The body was founded the following year with King Sunny Ade as President and Sunny Okosun as Vice. Christy later rose to become its first female president. PMAN is the only national body for musicians in Nigeria. This body is saddled with the responsibility of the welfare and protection of Nigerian musicians.
She is on record as a founding member of the Performing and Mechanical Rights Society (PMRS) of Nigeria. The society is concerned with the general responsibility of negotiating, collecting and distributing royalties on behalf of musical copyright owners.
Also Christy played a role in ensuring that FRSC remains a separate entity from the Nigerian police today.
The living legend Onyeka Onwenu started out as a journalist. In 1981, she released her first album “Endless Life” which was an instant success.
As a musician Onyeka, known as the Queen of African Pop, was able to cross pop with juju and highlife and she remains the only musician to have done that. She was also multilingual in her music and used her song to address developmental issues and caught through ethnic boundaries.
When the Nigerian Family Health Service Project teamed with The John Hopkins University’s Population Communication Service to produce music on sexual responsibility Onyeka and King Sunny Ade teamed up to sing “Wait for Me” and “Choices” which survey showed to have had great impact on youths.
Onyeka used her influence as a musician to cut through tribal lines and sang songs that foster unity.
It is quite important to note that in the 70s and 80 music was used as a patriotic tool. Songs were sung against bad governance, for unity of Nigeria and to address other social issues.
Asa is a musician of fine taste. Her first album “Asa” got to platinum level and topped charts in Europe, Asia and Africa.
Although it was heavily influenced by jazz, the album topping charts in other continents was sure to bring the spotlight to the Nigerian music industry.
One remarkable thing about Asa is when she studied at the IMPF school of Jazz, Asa was told by her teacher that she was ready to become a recording artist, not a student.
Tiwatope Savage aka Mama Jam Jam is the current Queen of Afrobeat. One remarkable thing about Tiwa Savage is her unflinching resolve to be herself despite all the backlash and wrong labelling she has faced in the Nigerian music industry.
Accepting her sexuality and fearlessly displaying it in her music video she has helped young African girls accept and own their own sexuality.
In 2018, Tiwa Savage won Best African Act at the MTV Europe Music Awards, becoming the first woman to win in that category. A bright laurel for her and the Nigeria music industry.
As a first it brought greater light to Tiwa and her nation of origin, granting more access to Europe, creating a channel and demand that other artists could exploit or take advantage of.
Yemi Alade Eberchi is a Nigerian afro pop/R&B artiste, song-writer, composer, actress and entertainer. She is popularly referred to as the “ghen ghen babe” and “the Yoruba-Ibo girl” by virtue of her electrifying stage-craft, music, edgy and un-matched style, evolving African style and her bi-tribal descent.
She is the First African Female Afropop artiste to hit over 90 million views on Youtube and VEVO with her Smash hit single JOHNNY, which is now over 120 Million Views is also one of the most viewed video from an African artiste.
Yemi Alade has managed to stand out from other performers. always delivers an energetic performance, with a lot of Art and dance. Over the years, she has collaborated with other musicians such as Jennifer Hudson, Juan Santana, Pixie Lot, Steve Aioki, Kat deluna, Trey songs, Awilo Longomba, and many more.
To complement her musical style, Yemi Alade has created an image that includes African inspired outfits, and a variety of Hairstyles.
The Queen Of Afro-House, Niniola is one of the most successful and acclaimed female artists in African music. Hits like “Maradona” and “Boda Sodiq” have won her glowing endorsements from the likes of Drake and Timbaland; none other than Beyoncé has looked to her for musical inspiration, borrowing from “Maradona” to compose “Find Your Way Back” from the iconic singer’s Grammy-nominated The Lion King: The Gift project. Making Niniola a Grammy Nominee.
WOMEN MANAGERS AS PERSERVATORS OF TALENT IN THE NIGERIAN MUSIC INDUSTRY
A manager is a core part of preserving the artist in the industry and also bringing in more artists into the industry. A manager helps with album projects, responsible for booking gigs, lobbying for their artist and protecting the image of their artist.
Mama Burna doubles as Burna Boy’s mother and manager. At every key point in Burna’s music career you would find Mama Burna as a watchful lion over her cub behind Burna.
Not a stranger to the music world herself, her father, Benson Idonije, was a music critic who managed Fela Kuti. She has successfully managed Burna Boy as an artist and ensured several successful projects, the album “Twice as Tall” and the multiple international deals following almost immediately after the release of the album is a pointer to how good she is at her job.
Aside from being a manager, Mrs Bose was a lecturer at the University of Port Harcourt where she taught French, she was a translator for the Federation of West African Chambers of Commerce. She is the founder and CEO of Spaceship Collective the holding company to Spaceship Records and Spaceship Publishing
Jada manages one of Nigeria’s biggest musical exports at this time. This is no small position as it is paramount that this brand remains stain free and always crispy.
Her position as Wizkid’s manager means she must always negotiate lucrative deals for this multinational and ensure his brand remains likable. The record does show that she is doing a damn good job. She started managing starboy in 2012 and his brand has not suffered a day under her watch
WOMEN AS VIDEO VIXEN AND DANCERS AS CREATIVE INTERPRETERS IN THE MUSIC INDUSTRY
Every artist hopes to create befitting videos for their music. A key part in making this a reality are the video vixens.
Get angry at them all you want for their excessive exposure but if you are being honest you would say their appearance does add some colour to the videos. Also not all music videos with a video vixen has to do with nudity.
From the days of Annie Idibia in “African Queen” to Kodak Who featured in Beyonce’s Black is King and Kaffy who has shown that dance is essential to music, women play an important role in the interpretation of the musical creation of every artist.
WOMEN AS MUSICAL SUBJECT AND THEME FOR RAPID GROWTH IN THE MUSIC INDUSTRY
From “Ifunanya”, “Ada”, “Amaka” to “Olufummi”, “Bolakito” “Ijeoma”, “Chioma My Lover” and the endless list of women that have been sang about is exhausting. From male music stars creating a brand that position them as bad boy or lover boy to female music stars position themselves as the ultimate woman to be, the industry has used women and women appeal to accelerate their success rate. Love songs and break up songs about women, women all over have helped the growth of artists and the industry as a whole.
There is hardly ever a successful artist that does not have at least three to four songs about women. 2baba African Queen, Kizz Daniel Woju, Olamide Yemi My lover, Wizkid Holla At Ya Boy, Omah Lay Bad Influence and the list goes on and on.
Even some have created projects that are just targeted at the female market.
There is another group of people I must not fail to acknowledge in the growth of industry and that is the audience members, the one the music is created for in the first place but most importantly the female audience members.
This group of people are vital to the growth of the industry, yes you sister are vital to the industry’s growth, without your constant listening, reviewing, sharing, tweeting, liking, fighting, ticket purchase, Merch purchase for your favorite, the industry might have a stunted growth.
Female music writers, critic, reviewers like myself, Chioma Onyefuosaonu and my colleagues Bimpe Olaosebikan, Toluwani Adeboye, Eniola Lasaki, Yemisi Efunuga, Folashade Okeremilekun, Kolesola Boyade and people in management like Omosalewa Liadi and Bummi Omogoroye whom the spotlight flickers on only so often are part of the beauty this industry has become and I celebrate you and every other woman on this list on this universally accepted month of Women celebration and every other little opportunity I get. I employ you to #choosetochallenge and call out gender bias and inequality and celebrate women achievement very loudly.
Happy International Women’s Month.
Written By; Chioma Onyefuosaonu