Over the years, the Nigerian music scene has greatly benefitted from an ample crop of renowned women who have come in and out of the spotlight and lent a hand in granting Afro-pop its current domineering and profitable presence. It’s no news that in recent times, there’s been an evident global scramble for African music and culture, with Afro-pop as a genre receiving majority of the attention – and finally, the men aren’t the sole focus.
This was certainly not always the case. Women have always been dealt the short end of the stick by the industry. Back then, female artists not only had to deal with simultaneously fighting for visibility in the industry as well as the one seat at the men’s table ‘graciously’ allotted to them but also had to grapple with pigeonholed stereotypes and being policed on the content of their music. Thankfully things are much different these days; attitudes towards women have changed – for the most part – and we’ve begun to take command of our own narratives. Thanks to digital advancements and social media, women now gain visibility on their own, doing away with the need for a seat at the men’s table to be seen. And yet, amidst such positive progress, women are still being placed in boxes with little to no room for personal innovation.
Male artists are often granted more freedom to explore different soundscapes and genre combinations, with artists like Rema, Santi, and Odunsi [The Engine] receiving praise for their genre-meshing music. Their female counterparts aren’t so lucky. Usually, as a woman in mainstream media, if your music isn’t similar to the cookie-cutter Afrobeat sound signature to the likes of Tiwa Savage, Yemi Alade and Teni, your chances at seeing any real success are rather slim.
Women are also constantly policed on the content of their music. Female sexuality is a mainstay in Afro-pop and yet it’s an area women often tend to shy away from. Male artists write a million and one songs centering women and the female anatomy as sexual objects, yet when women attempt to take back the power and reclaim autonomy over their bodies; it’s often met with an uproar from the media and the masses, forcing them to suppress their own sexuality to gratify the audience.
In 2014, Afrobeat superstar songstress Tiwa Savage released the controversial video for her single ‘Wanted’ which portrayed her singing raunchy lyrics and seductively dancing in a nude bodysuit. This release, of course, accrued hostile and demeaning attention from the media and masses, cumulatively giving their unsolicited opinions on how a (newly) married woman like herself should behave in the public eye. And while we all know such conversations surrounding a woman’s autonomy over her own sexuality are tired and quite frankly, very obsolete, the rest of the society seemingly haven’t followed suit.
What we also know is that things are changing for sure. We exist in a time where the top 2 spots on the highly coveted Billboard Hot 100 chart are occupied by four (black!) women talking their shit, spitting explicit rhymes, and expressing carnal desire. This age of progressiveness has also found its way to homeland shores with Nigerian female artists feeding into the phenomenon and taking complete control of how their sexuality is perceived. Just recently, Odunsi enlisted Ghanaian pop princess Amaarae, style icon DETO BLACK, and singer Gigi Atlantis on his body and sex-positive number, ‘body count’.
The cut saw the female trio challenging the purity culture African women have been expected to conform to with expressively lewd lyrics, spurring women around the world to let loose and live freely. And this was rewarded with a well-deserved number one spot on the Nigerian Apple Music charts on release day, proving that going against the grain to speak your truth isn’t as much of a taboo as many make it out to be – people are listening.
In this light and in a bid to champion empowerment and liberation for women in music amongst other sectors, we’ve highlighted 5 young female artists on the rise breaking set barriers, removing themselves from the boxes the industry has placed them in and sticking a middle finger up to the androcentric industry and it’s misogynistic standards. Get to know these badass queens!
‘’ I do whatever the fuck I want cause I can. “Boxed in’’ doesn’t exist in my world. I’ll always pull a new trick like ‘’oh I didn’t know she could do that too’’ – SGaWD
22-year-old sultry vocalist Seddy – known more popularly by her moniker SGaWD – has sparked quite a level of interest on the scene. A graduate of Law and Marine Biology, the tenacious singer’s musical journey began when she moved back home in Nigeria, where her previously discovered passion for songwriting and music creation was ignited. Struggles with being overweight and acne in her early teenage years took a toll on her self-confidence and inherently served as the reason for positive self-affirmations being her mandate, as is well reflected in her music.
Influenced by Hip-Hop/R&B greats like Foxy Brown, Lauryn Hill, Jill Scott and Lil Kim, SGaWD’s vibrantly eclectic sound portrays her as anything but one-dimensional. ‘I can be sultry, sweet, dominant, assertive, full of love and faith, sexual – I can be so many things. The world hates to see and believe that women can be many things – multifaceted – it’s sad but that doesn’t change shit’, she tells me. Her music sees her spitting fire bars on songs like ‘Are You Dumb?’, bringing the energy over boom-bap beats on songs like ‘Came Back For You’ and delivering sultry verses and expressing her carnal desire on R&B tunes like ‘No One Minute Man”. Whatever sonic intention the singer/rapper takes, she’s determined to talk her shit.
With carnality as a running theme in her music, it’s easy to see how society might want to police her content, but she has no care for that. ‘Now women are speaking up, now women are owning themselves in their entirety. There is a different community where there is no shame for being sexual and being open about it. Eliminating the shame in the music is a huge step, bigger than people understand’, she states. Her ever-changing sound might mark her as a wildcard to industry powers so she adamantly refuses to be tamed by a label. Instead, she plans to spend more time building her discography, sharing more music, performing live, and getting to know her fans better. Taking it one step at a time, she’s determined to make the world recognize the name, and she’s doing it on her own terms.
‘’I guess the importance of a sound like mine is just – to bring a different perspective, a new perspective. And sometimes it’s not going to be the most profound but it’s nice to just vibe to a song about wanting bagels y’know?’’ – ria
We are witnessing a new renaissance of female rappers globally, with enigmatic characters like Tierra Whack, Rico Nasty, and Noname who have maintained their authenticity as opposed to embracing the femme fatale persona often associated with women in the Hip-Hop stratosphere. Enter Rami, now known as Pocketsizedria, a 20-year-old Leicester based rapper, and producer, whose sounds draw parallels with the aforementioned iconic women. Born Miriam Iman Said, she began making music as a child, writing amateur songs with her friends back in primary school, and only got into production back in 2015.
‘I don’t know what to describe my sound as though really, maybe I’d say ‘bubble-gum video-game day rap’ ?’’ she tells me, alluding to the plethora of game boy samples littered in her music. Self-produced, her music often finds her spitting eccentric flows over quirky, unorthodox beats. As carefree and goofy as her sound presents itself, she certainly puts in a lot of work and is very intentional with its creative process. ‘I work in bursts, so I usually just sit down and spend half the day making a beat and then right after will try to write to it and lay down vocals and that. [That] will usually take me into the wee hours of the night’, she explains. Such dedication may stem from being a full-time film student while simultaneously juggling a budding music career.
Her latest offering, Nice Kill!, a 3-track pack, is a 6 minute whirlwind of self-assuring, goofy lyrics and unconventional beats – an untapped niche in the African music space. Her music, inexplicable as it may seem, finds the young artist confessing feelings for a love interest, admitting her insecurities, and just talking her shit. ‘I just make things and hope people like it you know? I’m not inventing the wheel, I’m just…existing. If I didn’t make music, I would probably be a very bitter, angry person’, she admits. Grounded in her authenticity and speaking her truth, this young woman’s trajectory is certain to only go up from here.
‘I’d like to think I’m versatile so i wouldn’t wanna be put in a box, not now not ever.’ – Rindss
Dorinda Amara, otherwise known as Rindss, officially began making music back in 2018 with the release of her debut single, ‘Money’. Since then, the 21-year-old singer has gone on to release music tackling an array of sonic intentions.
‘I get inspired by the tiniest of things you know. I’m very observant and I pay a whole lot of attention to details. So when I’m writing songs, I like to stay close to what inspired me, take the theme and dance some atilogu around it!’ she reveals to me. Her latest release, ‘2 AM MUSIC’, is a sultry Trap&B number picturing the artist graphically narrating her sexual intentions to a man on her radar. Such explicit themes are peppered throughout her discography, coupled with sex-positive lyrics depicting her stance on the sexual liberation for women in the industry. Irrespective of any pushback, Rindss is determined to speak her truth.
‘As a woman in the industry they expect you to come with the whole package or nothing, your voice is never enough. Your artistry is never enough. You have to be sexy and daring it’s honestly so demanding of us. Being reduced to sex symbols that are,’ she tells me, alluding to the ridiculously obscene standards the music industry often demands of women. The industry is majorly centered on female sexuality but doesn’t offer room for women to occupy it themselves – they’d just have to make do with being sex objects. Well, Rindss begs to differ. She’s dead set on breaking down set notions our deeply conservative society holds, through her music.
‘The Nigerian industry is begging for something new. We all need the diversity’ – Merry-Lynn
21-year-old rising soul singer-songwriter Merry-Lynn began her career professionally back in 2015 when she met producer brothers, Veen and Kiienka. Since then she’s gone on to release resonating music, incorporating her alluring vocal textures and vivid lyricism to grant the listener a one of a kind experience.
Drawing inspiration from Soul legends like the late Amy Winehouse, Erykah Badu, and Lana Del Rey, Merry-Lynn’s soundscape – a delicious blend of Afro-jazz, Blues and Reggae – is certainly unorthodox in these parts. And she’s perfectly fine with that. ‘I’ve never thought about switching my sound to appeal to the mainstream masses, but I’ve had people I work with suggest that to me’, she reveals to me, adamant on standing her ground and sticking to what’s most authentic to her.
Her latest release, Petrichor EP, is a delectable meld of Reggae, Neo-Soul, and R&B with a modern twist. The 6-tracker served as a form of catharsis for the Abuja based songstress. ‘Making this project was a downpour of all the emotions I was holding on to after so long, and when I was done I just felt the weight leave. The atmosphere was breathable again, it was loving and calm afterward. That is why I called it ‘Petrichor’’’, she unveiled in a recent Okay Africa interview.
‘I’d love to see more collabs between talented women. Honestly, I wish the few female artists we have up there could help out other women on the come up so we don’t always have to entertain disrespect from men [who function as the industrial gatekeepers]’, she tells me, speaking on the state of the Nigerian music industry. ‘I know for sure that a time will come when I’d have to prove myself twice [as hard] or have people critique my choices because of my gender’, she further admits. Amidst this painful realization, she’s still determined to stick to her roots and keep speaking her truth. ‘If you keep talking, eventually someone will listen’, she positively asserts.
‘I’m very 10-dimensional when it comes to genre; I try so many different things’ – Adanna Duru
Indie recording artist, Adanna Duru has literally been singing since she popped out of the womb. Thanks to her supportive parents, her early years were filled with auditions for singing competitions which landed her top spots on Season 3 of ‘The Voice’ and Season 14 of ‘American Idol’ respectively. Since then, the LA-based artist has gone on to record music taking on a vast range of sonic directions, from Alternative Pop to EDM. ‘I’ll say my sound can be best described as artistic and honest pop music’, she tells me; ‘ABBA and Michael Jackson are huge influences on my sound’.
Her latest addition to her prolific discography, ‘Acid’ is a fiercely hazy record oozing with self-assuring lyrics while she sends a message to naysayers that she’s not one to be played with. While her songs usually take on different genres, the common denominator lies in the fact that her music constantly harbours themes of self-confidence and undeniable power, even when she’s being delicate. ‘I find that Black girls everywhere, we aren’t really given that much space to express ourselves genuinely. We’re pressured to make a certain kind of music,’’ she tells me. ‘I love my music because I feel sonically; I represent all the different ways a Black woman can feel’. Comfortably switching between the ‘Manic Pixie Dream Girl’ (like on her critically acclaimed EP), ‘Depressive Gargoyle Goth Girl’ and the ‘Bad Bitch Persona’ tropes, Adanna embodies all the various ways a black woman can self-express.
‘Instead of focusing on what I think other black girls wanna listen to, I’m more fixated on being as authentic to myself as I can.’