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In creative industry, men rule the market, women struggle to move up

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Akunyili Crosby in the studio

On a Friday night in Lagos. The air reverberated with beats. The rhythm flowed as high-flyers unwound after a hard day’s job.

The environment was raucous, but not riotous. Thank God it’s Friday (TGIF), and the crowd in the facility, by now, several pints in, roared approval to the song playing. No one spared any superlative, as Olamide’s Science Students rented the air:

Ogendegbe, ire ni ko moye
Isale Eko, e no dey for Malay
Brother onitafi, se ewe ni wo wa we
Asiri eko, oti tu loju ewe
Kosewe, kosegbo, kosewe, kosegbo
Kosewe, kosegbo, kosewe, kosegbo
Won ti po omi gutter po, oju ti dirty
Won ti po chemical po, awon omo Science Students…

A few people in the place focused on the sensuous body movement of a scantily clad lady. Their eyes zoomed on her tweaking.

After a-bottle-too-many, the girl breathed, “I need more adrenaline pumping music. Give me Legbegbe.”

Suddenly, she began to hum:
Oya e fun won legbegbe yee
Oya e fun won legbegbe yee
Oya e fun won legbegbe
Fun won je b’ishe n w’egbegbe…

Compare the lines of Olamide’s Science Students and Mr. Real’s Legbegbe with Asa’s Jailer:
I’m in chains you’re in chains too
I wear uniforms and you wear uniforms too
You’re a prisoner too Mr Jailer
I have fears you have fears too
I will die, you sef go die too
Life is beautiful
Don’t you think so too Mr Jailer

These artistes who are into up-tempo beats — adrenaline pumping Friday night delirium — are very likely to seal endorsement deals with corporate organisations. Though their songs are often lurid and vulgar in nature, very few male artistes attain fame without them.

Their performance on stage is characterised by the truly obscene act of grabbing their ‘scrotum’ and shouting ‘yea, yea’, hopping from one corner of the stage to another.

Except for a few artistes such as, Tubaba (Innocent Ujah Idibia), Dare Art Alade and Timi Dakolo, the contemporary Nigerian artistes have drastically reduced poetry in Nigeria music, leaving what many call ‘beer parlour sound’ with no depth or philosophical message, except useless lines that centre on butts of women.

Once an artiste sings about money, everybody follows. Then another sings about sex, and the rest will file in. And with the onslaught of Pentecostalism, which preaches that one should claim prosperity, even when he/she never worked for it, music that talks about Hennessey, Moet, Ferrari, Dollars and living large generally, comes handy for this generation.

Peju Layiwola in the studio


The ‘female artiste who cannot hold her ‘knockers’ is left to sing the best of tunes without getting the cash.

The female artistes, in truth, have more depth and more sensible compositions of songs and accompanying beats, yet show promoters and sponsors always sideline them.

The Guardian gathered that at public functions or shows, the male artistes collect big money, with Wizkid topping the list, as the highest paid hip-hop acts. In 2017 and 2018, only a female artiste — Tiwa Savage — was on the top nine earning list.

The general impression is that the culture and creative industry is harder for females. The Guardian learnt from a label owner and manger, “it’s harder to work with women, because it is a lot of stress and also money.”

Men run the Nigerian music industry from top to bottom. Every facet of the industry has men at the helm, ‘holding in it a crippling choke hold’.

Female artistes have it tough. First they have to deal with the restriction of a conservative society of Nigeria, which has resulted in the rife perception that women in entertainment are not exactly role models of purity.

For every one hit by a female singer, there are countless by the men, and this is due to the tough nature of the music industry, which rarely favours women.

Yemi Alade


Then they also have to deal with the sexism that is prevalent in the Nigerian music industry. No sane person with a career would admit to sexism, but the women are groaning under the weight of it.

The Guardian’s checks revealed that while the male artistes are judged on their material and its quality alone, the females are judged on more criteria.

Music has no gender, yet in the media, it’s obvious that gender usually precedes the talent. It’s common to see women described as ‘female rapper’, ‘female DJ’ or ‘female singer’. This gender description is hardly ever used in the case of men. Women also have to work harder with promoting their music.

Whether it is admitted or not, the (sexual) attractiveness is a marketing criteria. Sadly that’s why many women struggle to stay fit, battle weight issues and wear provocative costumes to ensure they keep eyeballs on them when really it should be about the art.

The struggle to stay ‘sexy and sassy’ and attractive results in more expenses. A popular industry saying goes, “If you spend 1 naira in maintaining a male music brand, a female brand will cost N10.”

From makeup to dance classes, through weight loss programmes, female acts have it tough in the packaging department.

Women also have their careers affected by childbirth, the gestational period and motherhood. Naturally, women are created to bear children. This function affects the career of women who decide to wear the hat of both mother and singer. There are some women who once their babies arrive their careers go silent.

According to Onos Ariyo, a gospel artiste, “as a woman in general the society is always quick to judge all she does, because there is already an existing expectation of how you are meant to behave or live your life, so, when you narrow that into being an artist/musician those things still come into play, which, therefore, puts the artist in unnecessary pressure to always deliver excellently at all times, for example, when a female artiste goes from being single to in a relationship and from in a relationship to getting married and then having kids, and most times, in having kids she puts on weight the people can leave the beautiful music she is delivering and start concentrating on her weight loss, forgetting she just had a baby.

Every stage of her life has some kind of drama the society would like to make out of it but what I always tell people is that if God has given you a gift and a message for your generation don’t allow anything stop you make every moment count.”

This situation, The Guardian learnt, has not been pleasing to the female artistes, who believe they deliver more content.

Angered by this lopsided patronage that female artistes get, the popular singer, Aijuaje Iruobe, popularly known as Waje, who first hit limelight when she featured in the remake of Do Me, the 2008 hit single released by now defunct music group, P-Square, in the early hours of Monday, March 25, 2019, shocked her fans when she announced a break for her music career.

Waje said she had been investing in her music career and not reaping as much as she should. She lamented that her latest album, which she thinks is one of the best that has come out of the country, has been largely ignored.

The 38-year-old actress recently started a media company with her friend and industry mate, Omawumi, and they just released their first film titled, She Is. They both featured in the movie.

Yemi Alade, the budding Afropop phenomenon, who is actively touring the globe, breaking YouTube records and adding awards to a growing resume of notable achievements, does not believe being a female artist, especially within her genre, has been a challenge.

“The world is structured and wired in a way in which the guys often come first. Just because I know that, I’m not going to allow it to stop me or be something that I complain about. I made up my mind a long time ago that I was going to go after this dream. I’m not thinking about gender or the boundaries that hold us back,” she told the media.

The ratio of male to female artists in Nigeria, and even across the globe, has always been strongly imbalanced in favour of men. In art schools for instance, men form the majority of faculty members and among art collectors, the inequality is even stronger. Women in the arts have suffered under-representation and been written out of the history books. In schools, students are exposed to the token female artist and for a lot of the young female artists this can be disheartening.

Whether in the plastic or performing arts, women artists face prejudice and discrimination in the world over, with their work selling for a fraction of the price of their male counterparts.

This dismal findings are part of a joint study by Artnet Analytics and Maastricht University, and they quantify what many female artists already know too well: Men rule the art market, while women must struggle to move up each and every rung of the ladder.

The study’s authors — Fabian Bocart, Marina Gertsberg and Rachel Pownall — used artnet’s database to examine 2.7 million auction results for Western artists, compiled from public sales between 2000 and 2017; they also scrutinised the rosters of 1,000 galleries in artnet’s gallery network, which cumulatively represent 4,750 living Western artists.

The study revealed gender discrimination in the cultural sector. And the results say, it’s hard to make a living as a female artist—but it’s ‘extremely’ difficult to become a market superstar.

The top artist, Picasso, sold a staggering $6.2 billion worth of art over the past 17 years. Andy Warhol in second with $4.9 billion. Both of them, individually, sold more art than ‘every single female artist in the database combined.’ That’s a total of 5,612 women.

Indeed, there are zero female artists in the very top slice of the art market—the top 0.03 per cent — which accounts for more than 41 per cent of the overall profits.

There are artists who firmly state, “I don’t consider myself a woman artist, I am simply an artist.”

They point out an artist whose work has nothing to do with her gender should probably not be labeled, in a stand-alone piece, a ‘woman artist’, particularly, when that artist has expressed animosity toward the term.

Critics often argue that the term ‘women artist’, or its sister phrase ‘female artist’, does more harm than good.

The term ‘woman artist’ necessarily pits women against men or it narrowly gauges women’s success in terms of men’s. In other words, by using gender as a filter through which creativity is analysed limits it.

According to Professor Peju Layiwola, Head, Department of Creative Arts, University of Lagos, “reception is getting better. It was far worse over a decade ago. There is now a greater acceptance and recognition for their efforts. In terms of number still fewer female than male.”

She continued, “women seem to have upper hand in administering art centres and are quite formidable in this regard. Rele Gallery by Adenrele Sonariwo, Layiwola’s Wy Art Centre, Revolving Incubator’s Jumoke Sanwo, SMO by Sandra Obiago, CCA was initiated by the late Bisi Silva, Art X by Tokini, Nike Arts Gallery. So, women have a voice and seem to be giving other a platform to air their views and get heard. So, in a sense, they seem to be in charge.”

But she argued, “I’m not aware that women are not getting as much as male artists. Njideka Akunyili-Crosby seems to be doing really well on the international art scene.”

It’s a constant source of disappointment to see the discrepancy in prices between outstanding female artists and their male counterparts.

“I do not also think that when a work hangs up in a gallery space that collectors would pay less because a woman artist makes it. I think the dynamics do not work out that way. Indeed, there are collectors that look out for women artists’ works knowing that they are more likely to get works by males. So, they pay good value for what they get,” Layiwola said.

The Los Angeles-based Akunyili-Crosby has a 2017 botanical painting, titled, Bush Babies, which sold for $3.4 million — her highest sale yet. The painting was initially valued at $80,000 by Sotheby, a New York-based art dealership reported to have sold the painting.

Her work commands a higher price to Ben Enwonwu’sTutu — A long-lost Nigerian masterpiece that had been missing for decades — sold for a record £1.2 million pounds ($1.68 million) at a London auction, more than four times the highest estimate. Enwonwu dubs the painting the ‘African Mona Lisa’.

The sale, albeit unexpected, reflects the spike in the value of Akunyili-Crosby’s paintings, which Layiwola said she has witnessed of late.

Like so many middle- and upper-class Africans of her generation, the painter Njideka Akunyili Crosby came to the United States to pursue her studies.

Born in the early 80s and raised in Enugu, she graduated from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and, later, from Yale University School of Art, where she refined her drawing, an art she had practiced since childhood. Now a painter living and working in Los Angeles, Akunyili Crosby creates works that capture the intimate universes of an African diaspora situated between two worlds.

Her paintings depict, in stunning detail, domestic interiors and private social gatherings. Akunyili Crosby, was recently awarded the Studio Museum in Harlem’s Wein Prize, cites the influence of classic and contemporary painters — Édouard Vuillard, Alex Katz, Chris Ofili. But her work is also very much indebted to photography — not just to fine-art photographers like J. D. ‘Okhai Ojeikere and Malick Sidibé but to the vernacular imagery of Nigeria.

For Beverly Naya, an actress and filmmaker, “being British first of all and having British accent is a challenge. People feel that because you studied abroad, you are more privileged and you have opportunities, because of the way you speak and if you don’t speak that way, you won’t even go far.

So, the challenge for me is thinking that I need to prove myself that I was deserving of the opportunities I’m getting and that I should be where I’m today. It’s hurtful. I was trying to prove myself to the point where I was losing myself, and as I was losing myself, I was becoming emotionally drained. I lost myself to the point where I didn’t even know who I was anymore. It was a struggle to get past the point to be the woman that I’m today.”

She, however, argued “I think the only reason women will have to put in extra effort and hardwork is because there are more female, especially in the movie industry, compared to the male counterparts. So, there is a lot more competition. To get a role, you are competing with about 10 to 20 people of the same status.”

However, Nneka Egbuna has this to say: “The only thing I see is the fact that we have to invest more time and patience. We need to develop more education and a passion for our creative works because we have all the resources.”


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