Celebrating Leading Ladies Of Naija Music
A woman might have named NIGERIA, but that certainly does not dilute the acute gender disparity that exists in every facet of its existence. Like a majority of other sectors, its music scene is a heavily male-dominated space. However, over the years, some female musicians have successfully reached the helm of prominence in the industry, trampling over gender-biased obstacles to achieve their ambitions.
History would be incomplete if we ignore the female golden hit makers of the 90s, who flourished at a period where women were increasingly back-seated in the industry’s development. It took the likes of Onyeka Onwenu, the Elegant Stallion, who created danceable, yet introspective evergreen music; Evi-Edna Ogholi, who co-pioneered Reggae music in Nigeria with her Isoko-laden melodies; Salawa Abeni, the Queen of Waka Music, who was the first female Yoruba artiste to sell a million records (bearing in mind that these were all physical copies as internet streaming had not yet been baptised into the industry by then); and the legendary Christy Essien-Igbokwe, who created socio-conscious music in six different languages – Yoruba, Hausa, Igbo, Ibibio, Efik, and English; to propel the perception of females in the music industry as growth-drivers and successful figures.
A lot more women, such as the sonorous wonder, Nelly Uchendu, Kefee of ‘Branama’ fame, Esther Ebigbo of ‘Resonance’, among others, also piloted this great paradigm shift. These women hacked the blueprint for continental success. With their careers, they demonstrated that success in the industry rested beyond the contours of physical beauty, sass, and vocal prowess; it required hardcore grit, consistency, and bravery to contribute to the apogee of Naija’s music industry.
Today, history seems to be repeating itself again. With the dawn of the millennia, several other feminine songsters emerged to pick up the baton from these forerunners. These songstresses have had an impressive run dusting off the sticky stereotypes associated with female artists, to achieve longevity, prestige, and prominence among the divas of the game.
Displaying a disciplined consistency, a fattened discography of award-guzzling hits, dynamism, adaptability, critical acclaim, and vocal prominence, these women have become the captains of a new vanguard of female musicians. Some of these women have had staggering popularity. However, their popularity is not a measure of their standing in this review.
These women have remained relevant in the scene, for a lengthy time frame. Their names are becoming more legible on the annals of fame, with each passing day. They have also inspired an array of other female musicians. And they are…
NIGERIA’S Aretha Franklin, but with the soothing Yoruba Soul and RnB blend, Bukola Elemide, professionally known as Asa, has stood out as a Queen Bee in the hive of Naija’s soul music scene. When Cohbams Asuquo produced Asa’s self-titled debut album, in 2007, only he then had seen the musical genius that was embedded in the Paris-born songstress.
Her music – laden with pure and innocent, expressions on love, survival, and life’s struggles, among others – easily infected the bustling Naija music scene of the 2000s and has remained relevant to date. After four studio albums, in 14 years, Asa has created a legacy of powerful hits and industry refining projects. Donning an RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) platinum certification, and several other French and African award wins and nominations, the 39-year-old France-based singer has created a rock-solid discography that continues to warm her seat on the high-table of feminine wonders in the Naija music industry.
SHE easily reminds you of the legendary Salawa Abeni, the famed lingua juggernaut. Dropping hits in English, Igbo, Yoruba, French, Swahili, Portuguese, and Pidgin, Yemi Eberechi Alade stands tall as one of the amazons in the Naija music scene.
The Afro-pop/dancehall queen tapped her fame from emerging winner of the prominent Peak Talent show, in 2009. Since then, the singer has gone on to create sensational music that lingered on both dance floors and continental music charts. With over five studio albums and one extended playlist, Alade has created a storyline that flaunts her prowess as a vocal beacon of African music. Her loyal Afro-fashion style, which she prides on at concerts and music videos, has all combined to push her pan-African narrative. Recently, she was also featured on Beyoncé’s Black is King album, last year.
WHEN ‘Mama Jam-Jam’ served us Kele Kele Love in 2013, she spelled out her intentions with the ink of solemnity – she was here to stay. With over four studio albums in her arsenal, she has soared with a sensation that prides her as the Beyoncé of Lagos.
Tiwatope Savage had already attained some international recognition before coming to Nigeria in 2012; she had worked on Grammy-nominated projects as a songwriter and backup singers with artists such as Fantasia, Babyface, Kat Deluna, Monica, Mary J. Blige, to name a few.
However, the acclaim she gained as Mavin Record’s first lady sparked such a buzz that left her records spinning endlessly in global radio stations as well as on local dance floors. Tiwa’s biggest trademark, actually, is in her vocal dexterity.
Subtracted from contemporary production magic, she can actually survive on her own as a singer. The Berkley College of Music graduate has a voice that not only composes but also commands.
IN the world of the Christian gospel, Osinachi Egbu is, arguably, Nigeria’s biggest musical export. The 47-year-old singer has created a stunning discography of hits that have held the Christian music scene spellbound from her 2008 debut to her 11th studio album released last year.
With a consistent supply of intentional, commanding, and motivational tunes, Sinach’s fame has traversed continental stardom, making her one of the most sought-after Christian gospel singers in the Naija music industry. She is among the set of individuals that have piloted the Naija gospel sector of the industry to its current acclaim. Her voice is a vibrant beacon for Nigeria’s female musical quarter guard.
“OGA buy me, bottom belle, coolu my heart eh!” And so goes Omawunmi’s 2012 classic, Bottom Belle’, which has refused to fade. Omawunmi Megbele has carved a niche of making tropical Afro RnB/Dancehall music that educates, excites, and entertains at the same time. Her longevity has been like palm trees growing by the river banks; from her records bagging several continental recognitions to her musical genius being relied upon by prestigious juries of music contests.
The West-African Idol finalist (2007 set) has always flushed with an ace of a spade when her fans become restive for new sounds. She has charted her ways through acting, brand ambassadorship and singing, to remain the powerhouse that she is. With three albums and one extended playlist, the Warri native has successfully built a portfolio of a 14-year career that is worth the awe.
IF you listen to music a lot, you cannot fail to appreciate Tope Alabi’s wealth of artistry. Baring one of the most commanding voices in the game, the 51-year-old singer dons very high esteem among the divas of Nigerian music.
The Ogun State native, also popularly known as ‘Ore ti o common’ or ‘Agbo Jesu’, has easily thrived as one of the leading Christian gospel musicians of the 2010s. With no debut album, but several scores of hit singles under her belt, Tope has charted a safe spacecraft for longevity, which she has been cruising on for the past 20 years.
AT some point, she retired, and her fans were all the bitter for it. When a woman whose vocal range covers three octaves and her RnB melodies excite you at every listen, suddenly decides to permanently drop the mic, it is sincerely unnerving.
For non-music scholars, all you need do is listen to any of Aituaje Iruobe’s two albums, and you would definitely concur. With a powerful vocal texture and a mature hit-laden discography, Waje has built a reputable career that still stands on a tripod leg after more than 14 years. Actually, despite her earlier retirement statements, the superstar has still gone on to release new music and also appear as a guest feature on other artists’ projects, late last year.
LIKE others in this class, Oluwaseyi Joshua’s prominence has nothing to do with her popularity or experience. The 35-year-old British-Nigerian has strengthened the exports of Nigerian music to the global spotlight. Her RnB/Pop music is fraught with easy-going, love-related lyrics and groovy melodies.
Her vocal texture is a lighthouse for many other Nigerian singers, who have even taken on her Shakira-esque approach to music and stage performances. With just one studio album and an extended playlist to her name, Seyi Shay continues to ride with the leading women of the game, at this moment.
OFTEN heavily criticised for her sensual lyrics, Niniola Apata is one of the most underrated and yet iconic female musicians in the Naija music scene. The paradox of her personality, perhaps, can be better portrayed in the discography she churns out.
One minute, she is churning roof-hauling Afro-House music, the next it is angelic and serene RnB love playlists; she is as versatile as she is popular. However, her talent radiates more importantly than even streaming numbers.
Effortlessly commanding any genre she picks on, Niniola convinces any listener instantly of why she remains a force to reckon with in the industry. The 34-year-old singer and elder sister to Teniola Apata, a.k.a. Teni Makanaki, has been around for a long time too, from her stint in the 2013 MTN Project Fame to her 2014 debut, and her recent Grammy nomination certification for her work on Beyoncé’s Lion King: The Gift’ album.
SIMISOLA Kosoko, also known as Simi, is another laurel of the Nigerian music space. The 32-year-old mother-of-one emerged into the limelight with a unique vocal texture and musical craftsmanship that has since trademarked her as a superstar in her own right.
Simi’s music is powerful and easily flushes as evergreen. The music producer, sound engineer, and songwriter/singer continues to cut her coat to a very large fitting, commanding a mature and hit-laden discography. Simi thrives with over four studio albums and one extended playlist, giving pride to a 13-year music career that has smoothly sailed across local and global waters – grit and grace altogether.
WHILE the assembly of female musical wonders in the game might have been stretched long already with the above list, there are also some newcomers who are already treading similar paths and creating awe-inspiring and iconic discographies.
Musicians such as Tems ‘the Nigerian Rapunzel’, Teni Apata, Lady Donli, GoodGirl LA, Efezino, Dr Adaku, Bella Alubo, Liya, Ayra Starr, Nissi Ogulu, Olayinka Ehi, Somadina, Töme, Wande Isola, Fave, and so many others in that train, have already created a formidable force in the music industry, creating jaw-dropping moments with their music. They are definitely the future of the industry.