International Women’s Day…celebrating Naija female singers
The global music industry no doubt remains a largely male-dominated one.
Although female singers often front top bands or provide backing vocals to stars, they have traditionally been poorly represented when it comes to playing instruments and largely excluded from senior positions in the industry, as record label executives, producers, engineers, managers and promoters.
In most spheres of Nigerian social life, be it the corridors of political power, church pulpit, sports and nightclub bandstand, the maxim, ‘no place for a woman,’ has sufficed.
However, in Africa and across the world today, women have started to take on more prominent roles in previously male-dominated fields, particularly within the music industry, overcoming numerous obstacles on their way.
The prevalence of hyper-sexualised representations and negative images of women presented in popular music, which are closely linked to cultural views of masculinity, seem in recent times to have become dominant and magnified in most Nigerian’s popular musical lyrics, especially the modern hip-hop, afro beat, with the special blend of English and local dialect.
Women in a special way have become objects of ‘inspiration’ for these popular Nigerian artistes’ lyrics.
Everything about them (women) forms part of the musical lyrics- waist, butts and boobs- as most artistes bluntly refer to. And it is common sights to see and hear the women (particularly the young women) recite and dance to these tunes in socio-cultural settings.
Moreover, these young women form a heavyweight of the economic currency distribution of these musicals.
Nigeria is filled with super talented female singers. From the mainstream pop to the traditional RnB soul, these women have made and are making a difference in the African music sector with news of initiatives aimed at promoting the role of women in music, whilst reaching the core of the Nigerian audience.
As the world celebrates the International Women’s Day this week, The Guardian Weekend Beat looks at the achievement of female singers in the Nigerian music industry, taking a trip from the archives to present some of them.
In an industry dominated by male folks, these female stars have done well to stand out and be some of the biggest names in entertainment through the talent, and most especially their hardwork and consistency.
From Onyeka Onwenu, the Christy Essien-Igbokwe and Salawa Abeni to Tiwa Savage and Yemi Alade, Nigerian women have contributed immensely in the export of Naija music to the world.
Onyeka Onwenu, dubbed the elegant stallion, began her music career in 1981 whilst working with the Nigeria Television Authority (NTA).
She shot into limelight with her album, For the Love of You.
Unarguably one of the country’s foremost female singers, she has maintained her game in the industry.
Originally a secular artiste, she now does more of gospel songs and continues to write and sing about issues, such as health (HIV/AIDS), peace and mutual coexistence, respect for women rights and the plight of children.
Her latest effort, Inspiration for Change, focuses on the need for an attitudinal turnaround in Nigeria.
She recently rekindled her old passion, performing the evergreen song, Wait For Me, alongside King Sunny Ade (KSA), which they did together in the late 1980s, to set the tone for the maiden edition of #SpaceLegendSeries, held at Oriental Hotel in Lagos, and during KSA’s 70th birthday bash at the Eko Hotel & Suites, Victoria Island Lagos.
In 2013, she was named as one of the three Judges on the Nigerian version of The X Factor, a music reality show powered by Glo.
In recognition of her contribution to music and arts in Nigeria, she has been celebrated by professionals, such as Mahmood Ali-Balogun, Laolu Akins, Charles O’Tudor and former PMAN president, Tony Okoroji, among others in the arts industry.
Evi Edna Ogholi
Evi Edna Ogholi hit the Nigerian music scene and indeed the world as Nigeria’s first real female reggae artiste with her song, Happy birthday.
She released her debut album, My Kind of Music, in 1987 upon her relocation to Lagos immediately after her high school in 1985.
She thereafter released three more albums- On The Move, Happy Birthday and Step by Step, and all were very popular, with each going platinum, as she toured the West African region, dazzling audiences with her performances in 1989 at age 23.
Her songs were socially relevant and of great benefit to society at large. For example, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, one of her songs, Look before you cross, was used to lecture youngsters on basic road safety principles.
A master guitarist, her fans nicknamed her, ‘Njoku Reggae,’ as she made ‘njoku, njoku’ sound whilst striking the chords and sang mainly in vernacular and her native Isoko language.
In addition to the songs mentioned above, some of her other classics include Ririovara (Wipe Your Tears), Oghene Me (My God), Message to the Youths, Jealousy, Okioghne (God’s Time) and One Kilometre.
Till date, people still rock her songs at birthday celebrations, particularly the timeless happy birthday.
Born Salawa Abeni Alidu, but well known by her stage name, Salawa Abeni, she began her professional career in Waka music, a popular Islamic-oriented Yoruba musical genre, at age 10, when she walked into the Lagos office of the local recording label, Leader Records, and asked to be allowed to play a demo tape.
She released her debut album, Late General Murtala Ramat Mohammed in 1976 on the label and it became the first recording by a female artiste to sell over a million copies in Nigeria.
Abeni has since the late 70s been the acknowledged moderniser and leader of the women’s vocal and percussion style of the male-dominated Juju, Apala and Fuji music.
QSA, as was later day called by fans and admirers, continued recording for Leader until 1986, when she ended a relationship with the record its owner, Lateef Adepoju.
She married the late Kollington Ayinla and joined his record label instead, staying with him until 1994.
The Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Adeyemi, in 1992 crowned her ‘Queen of Waka Music.’
Oby Onyioha, as a singer and songwriter, first burst onto the Nigerian music scene with the album I Want To Feel Your Love, which was named after her hugely successful single of the same title in the 1980s.
The single is regarded as one of the greatest songs of her era in Nigeria.
Years after the release of her debut and long hiatus, Oby announced her return to the music scene and plans for the release of her third album, after Break-It, the second.
The album was a huge success and took the Nigerian music scene by storm in the 1980s and 90s, when disco break-dance music was considered the exclusive domain of western artistes.
Oby played a big part in helping to break the perception that music was a vocation for academically challenged women.
Her I Want To Feel Your Love album was so successful that at an auction in Europe, the Vinyl Record sold for $700.
When it comes to Bukola Elemide, popularly known as Asa, there are different schools of thought as to where to place her, in terms of female singers in Nigeria.
While she might not sound like your stereotypical RnB singer, she is unrivaled in pure musical ingenuity. She is indeed a complete musician, as she is involved in writing, composing and orchestrating her sounds to fit the kind of music she wants to put out.
Her debut album, Asa, with hit songs, such as Eye Adaba, Jailer, Fire on the Mountain, among others is considered a classic and one of the best albums in and from Nigeria in the past decade.
With the release of Beautiful Imperfection and Bed Of Stone, Asa has put out three albums that have not only appealed to the local audience, but internationally as well.
Tiwa Savage’s singing ability is never in question, as she is lyrically solid and performance wise, outstanding.
Her album, Once Upon A Time, is packed with major mainstream singles, including Eminado (arguably one of the hottest songs of all time from a new generation artiste), Olorun Mi and Folarinto, in addition to the mega hits, such as Kele Kele Love, Love Me (x3), with which she burst onto the Nigerian music scene.
With endless list of songs and numerous outstanding features, the Mavin Record queen has too many awards with her name inscribed on them to show for her efforts.
She has won the Channel O Music Awards twice, as well as the BET International act award.
The Johnny crooner might not yet be the ‘King of Queens,’ as her album title states, but she is well on the road to being that.
Yemi Alade’s ability to cut deep into Nigerian pop music is one of her most unique qualities with widely accepted singles, Johnny, Ghen Ghen Love and Tangerine.
Since her evolution into the scene back in 2010, Yemi has constantly grown and improved on every aspect of her music.
When you listen to her Farabale on DJ Klem’s Afro Funky Disco Soul, there is no doubt you would be convince that she has got serious gold in her wind pipes.
Though not your stereotypical vocalist, but Chidinma Ekile sure knows how to deliver songs in a way that every class of people in Nigeria can rock with.
From 2010, when she won the second edition of the MTN sponsored Project Fame, she had hit the ground running with her debut single, Jankolikoko, featuring Sound Sultan.
Her single, Kedike, became her trademark tune, winning her awards after awards, including Best Female West African Act at the KORA awards in 2012 and giving her the tag name, ‘Ms. Kedike.’
She followed up shortly after with another mega hit, Emi Ni Baller, featuring IllBliss and Suspect.
Her other singles, Oh Baby, Jolie, and Kite have done well to keep her status at a consistent level, giving her all the markings of someone that would be around for the long haul.
Call Omowunmi Mgbele the Queen and you are not mistaking, or the ‘mommy’ of divas in the new generation of Nigerian music, and you are right.
Omawonder, as she is often called, has been a consistent force in Nigerian music since she burst onto the scene in 2007, after finishing as first runner-up in West African Idol, a music reality show that held in Nigeria.
What stands Omawumi out is her unique ability to appeal to every class of people in Nigeria and the Africa continent.
Her choice of language to sing in (pre-dominantly pidgin) means that the woman, a company chief executive, and the man selling bush meat on the road can relate to her music very well.
Added to this are her vocal range, great lyrics (both playful and serious) and enticing stage performances.
With albums, Wonder Woman (which include singles, such as Today na Today, Chocolata, Love Nwantinti, and The Lasso Of Truth (singles- Bottom Belle, If You Ask Me, I Go Go), plus other post-album singles under her belt and countless awards and nominations, it is easy to see how Omawumi is one of highest paid female performers in Nigeria.