Words by Damilola Layode
Music as we know it today in Africa emanated from our culture and tradition. Back in the day, there were different songs for different occasions and the contents of the songs were usually myths and history of the people, rendered in the people’s tongue. On the home front, women taught their children and ward the history of their people by singing them folklores. These practices were the same all over Africa.
From the time I could comprehend happenings in my surroundings i.e. as a child growing, songs by Nigerian women have been on the airwaves. I can particularly remember ‘seun rere’ by the late Christy Essien Igbokwe and ‘Dancing in the sun’ by Onyeka Onwenu who is arguably the most successful indigenous Nigerian woman to ever venture into music. Other Nigerian women making the headlines with their music at the time (late 80s’ to early 90s’) include Christy Essien Igbokwe (R.I.P),Evi Edna Ogoli, Tina Onwudiwe, Stella Monye, Evi Edna Okolie, and the teenage sensation Tosin Jegede. Others are Ese agese, Duchess Maria, Chichi of Africa and the Fuji queen Salawa Abeni who Originated Waka style of Fuji and was incidentally the first Female artiste in Nigeria to sell a Million records. These women entertained us with music that had conscious content.
Women practicing music was not a rampant occurrence here in Nigeria as a result of our culture which believed women in entertainment in general, tend to be promiscuous. Of course, this believe is now shunned as a result of the rise in prominence of some of today’s stars like Asa. The believe experienced a turn around in the mid 90s’, coincidentally around the same time urban music, hip hop and RnB to be precise started becoming popular with the listening populace. Around this time, artists like Yinka Davis, Azeezat,Weird M.C and Ego (Lagbaja) started becoming prominent. Back then, there were just a few women in music and as such, the support wasn’t as forthcoming as today’s female artists enjoy. These constraints reflected on the works of the older artists, as the content of their music was always positive. They should be celebrated even more for being able to thrive under the unfavorable conditions they had to contend with.
Women have always had problems with outshining their male counterpart in music, all over the world. In Africa and Nigeria to be precise, the situation is no different. Then, it used to be as a result of the public’s perception but now, we can blame the inability of women to rise above male artist in prominence, on their not being able to assert themselves. Take for instance an artist like Sasha who had just a single on radio for over 5 years after she went solo as a result of Da Trybe’s breaking up. But far more correct than this, is the fact that our industry does not have the required facility to push the female artist to the limits of her potential. Let us take for instance, a concert. All a male artist requires to prepare for the concert is a good haircut and good costumes. A female artist requires more. She’d require a good hair stylist, a good makeup artist, costumes that would make a statement etc. These and more are some of the factors that have hindered the female artist from exploiting their potentials to the fullest.
Today in Nigeria, there are no record labels in the real sense of the word. This is one of the factors that have made it impossible for the female artist to grow both in her works and in acceptance. Asa is a perfect example of this trend. She was signed on to Kevin Luciano’s QuestionMark records and despite her undoubted talent as an artist, her potential was not in equity with her status on the music landscape. As a result of this fact, she had to relocate to France to attain the level of critical acclaim she’s enjoying at the moment. Another artist with a similar story is Nneka. She is based in Germany and has been on tour with the who is who of world music (Nas,Damian Marley,K’naan, and The Roots). These occurrences points to the fact that the music environment here in Nigeria is conditioned to limit the potentials of the female artist, as we can see the performance of those that have been able to find support outside and thrived abroad.
This knowledge begs asking, what is wrong with the industry in Nigeria and how does it affect Nigerian women in music? This is a very complicated question to respond to but I’ll give it my best shot. First off, the music industry is a male dominated industry, as is almost all other facets of our society. This makes it hard for women to conquer. Another problem is the structure in place. In Nigeria, there is no major record label. The closest thing to this is Kennis’ music and if you look at their roster, you’ll find out that there’s only ever been about 3 or 4 female artist signed on to the label till date. This statistic alone gives a vivid picture of the mind state of the people running the industry. They are conservative when it comes to financing female artists. In the absence of proper finance, the women are forced to channel their efforts into other ventures that will help them make a decent living. That is why you’ll find an artist like Sasha having just 1 album(s) to her credit in a career that has spanned over 10 years. Her former label mate, the rapper called Blaise is another example. she is good without a doubt but doesn’t have enough materials out to reflect her potentials or number of years in the industry.
For Nigerian women to attain any status of relevance amongst their male counterparts, the structure of the industry would have to be reviewed and readjusted. PMAN will have to step up and push for legislations that will enable it to regulate the distribution of works of these artists. Record labels will have to start following due process in their operations by catering for their artists’ needs, especially the women artist. The short of it is that, music will have to be run like the business that it should be, sentiments and prejudice removed. There are talented women out there and more are still being discovered every day. It really is a miracle, how we still have women interested in doing music. This is a tribute to Nigerian women in music, their resilience has been commendable, but they need to justify investing in them by first of all coming with that quality content that was synonymous with their older colleagues.
– See more at: http://web.archive.org/web/20130807122607/https://nigeriansounds.com/archives/589#sthash.zmz7Jb6l.dpuf