As an artist it is essential to create a rollout plan that takes your audience on a journey as if they were with you everyday during the paper squishing, humming and 2am inspirations it took to finally put together the project. Lady Donli is an independent artist, and her path to creating this connection was documenting its different stages on social media.
From frequent candid tweets, to a pan-african rockstar club Instagram page, for a tailored experience of the album’s feel, to organizing listening parties in Paris, London, Toronto etc, culminating in a community of loyal fans who could not wait till the 22nd of September to stream her latest album “Pan African Rockstar.”
With every album, she takes her fans on a journey to understand her thoughts, partake in her experiences and most importantly, learn valuable tips. Deciding to be independent has given Lady Donli the artistic license to tell her story how she seems fit. With her alluring appearance and energetic performances, you have to look no further to get the pan-african rockstar experience.
Her sophomore album “Pan African Rockstar” is an eclectic blend of Afrobeats, R&B and Soul, with feel good songs, spiritually elevating music, as well as chronicles of topical social issues pertaining to young Africans. With 10 years of experience in her bag, Zainab Elizabeth Donli wants to be known as, multi-talented artist on a mission to create a musical tapestry that is innovative, relatable and timeless.
Alongside discussing the creative process of the 12 track album, Lady Donli sits with MoreBranches to share more details on her music, her journey, and the misogyny that creates a boundary for female artists in the music industry looking to make a breakthrough.
What has your journey been like?
I have been doing music for 10 years now, I started when I was 16/17. Before then, I was already putting out music in Abuja, under another name, in the Abuja scene, there wasn’t much of a scene then. But it was just like performing at any opportunity that we could get, you know, from like club nights to like secondary school club nights, stuff like that.
And then I moved to Lagos, I partially moved to Lagos when I finished university in 2017 that’s kind of where the scene is at and I wanted to really be able to tap into their audience, do shows, meet people, record and that seemed like so many of my friends made that move.
When I got to Lagos, I made a record with Tomi Thomas called Ice cream. And that was like, pretty much like the inception of Lady Donli that people got to know in Lagos. The record with Tomi Thomas really opened doors for me and he really put me on. I really learned so much from him, so Lady Donli’s journey would not be complete without him.
And after that, I kind of dropped like another EP and then I dropped “ENJOY YOUR LIFE” Which is like my most famous body of work right now. I have been working on Pan African Rockstar over the past three years, and struggled to put it up, because I’m an independent artist; so it’s really hard to put out music. This is because marketing resources are limited, and I really didn’t want the same thing that happened to “ENJOY YOUR LIFE” where it’s like, yes it’s an Alté classic, but there’s so much more to an album.
I’m more interested in making music that that helps people to like grow their confidence- Lady Donli
How would you describe your music?
Lady Donli: I think the older I get, things that are important to me have shifted so when I first started making music, I was making a lot of love songs and just like growing pains, you know, you’re a teenage girl, all the things that happened with a teenage girl so I was really documenting that phase.
But the older that I get right now, especially now, I’m more interested in making music that helps people to grow their confidence, because insecurity is something that I really struggled with, and I know that a lot of women struggle with it as well.
And I feel I really try to make music targeted as female experiences, which is why I make confidence building music. While creating music targeted at confidence building,I’m always trying to make music that’s fun; that’s the premise of making “Pan African Rockstar”.
Asides creating socially conscious music, you know about the state of things that are going on in Nigeria, because obviously as a Nigerian youth and as a Nigerian woman, I’m not blind to all the inadequacies in the system.
The system doesn’t exist for us to try. So, I think the older I get and the more affected I am, my music is more influenced by that as well. But it’s also a fusion of genres because I love so many different songs.
I love funk, I love rock, I love Afrobeats and I’m just trying to make eclectic music that fits into all the genres of music I like without feeling like I’m boxed. If I wanted to make pop stuff I would, but I don’t think I’m in that journey of my life yet.
What’s your style and you say it inspires your music?
Lady Donli: My fashion style depends on which version of me you are asking, like Lady Donli is different from Zainab. When I’m alone, I go for more easygoing fits but the most important thing to me in fashion is about patterns and texture, good quality material.
And for Lady Donli, it’s just flashy not to the extent one would rob me but to feel my aura. When you see me on stage, I want you to be interested in me before you even hear me because I feel people experience music with their eyes first.
“I feel we are constantly having conversations about women and why there are not enough women breaking out in the Nigerian music system but the truth is that we don’t have an ecosystem that allows for that”
What are major challenges you have faced so far?
First ones obviously, funding because I am an independent artist; I have to do a lot on my own. When you’re always spending money on music without investment, it’s not sustainable, so that’s for sure. I think because of the kind of music that I make, especially in Nigeria, there’s like, “oh, you shouldn’t be making this, you should be making that” it’s just a way of trying to be boxed into being like the stereotypical Afrobeats star.
Also, there’s also problems that come with being a woman as well. We are from a very misogynist society and the music industry is even worse. I feel we are constantly having conversations about women and why there are not enough women breaking out in the Nigerian music system but the truth is that we don’t have an ecosystem that allows for that because, a man can easily be co-signed to an artist’s label and even make music in their studio but you won’t feel safe doing this as a woman.
You also don’t want to be seen being too close with the men because it can be misinterpreted. There are different layers with it. So I think as women, it’s much harder for us to really make a break in the industry, they’re just so many odds stacked against us.
I have also seen cases where some of my male counterparts and the things that they’re able to do and the spaces that they are able to exist in, I can’t be in those spaces.
Amongst others would be closed mindedness. I think a lot of people are really closed minded to some music until it blows up and then you get feedback of “oh, okay, we like your style”.
Tell us more about Lagos Panic?
It’s a band that aims to re-envision Afrobeats and African rock music. I really love rock music, and I have been trying to think of ways to reimagine it and even beyond that there were like rock groups that existed in the 80s in the 70s in Nigeria, and I just felt like there’s a space for that, there’s a space for a band. And so I went about looking for the kind of people that could fit into that space.
And I created Lagos Panic and right now, we’re working on our first project together that I’m going to put out next year. I love being on stage. I love performing and I really love the art of live music. So with Lagos Panic, I’m just trying to capture the essence of live music and also show Nigerians that there’s much more to Nigerian/African music.
I hate that we booked ourselves into this Afrobeats era or Amapiano era where it’s like, this is African music. African music has to be this specific BPM but it’s not true. We’re Africans and we are the ones that have a monopoly of our identity. Lagos Panic is just a way to make a different type of African music.
Your sophomore album, “Pan African Rockstar” walk us through the creative process
With me when I’m making an album, once I realize they are thematically about the same subject matter, that’s when I know I am making an album and with Pan African Rockstar because the underlying theme is gaining confidence in yourself and just being happy with who you are, the process of making it was just me going through identity crisis.
There were different points where I asked myself, “Who am I?” Okay, I’m the Pan African Rockstar, but what does that really mean? And it just also was a period of time where I was testing different sounds because it took three years to finish the album.
At first I was taking the psychedelic rock music style but later on went for a fusion of various types of music. This helped to showcase how dynamic I am with sounds and the creative process depended majorly on how many songs I wanted to put out and to ensure all the songs selected preserved the quality of music I was going for. I wanted to make an album that’s sonically fitting and sounded like the name of the album, not just random songs.
“The world is my stage and I’m putting on an act for my viewers.”
On your IG, your profile category says “movie character” . Is there a reason you chose that profile category?
Being a Pan African Rockstar means performing as one so when I leave my house to perform, I embody that chars to give my fans an electrifying performance. The only version that’s truly me is Zainab Donli but when I put on the makeup, clothes, it’s a whole new personality.
Also when putting the album together, I imagined it from the view of a spectacle and for listeners to listen to it and feel like they were attending a show. Some parts of the album, you hear people clapping in the background and then I give an introduction before the song takes off properly. So I think that’s kind of like why I refer to myself as a movie character because the world is my stage and I’m putting on an act for my viewers.
For passionate and talented aspiring female artists, what basic guide can you give to them?
For me, one of the things I learned early in my music career was learning how to do everything myself, and investing in myself as much as possible. And when I say learning how to do everything yourself, some can produce by themselves, if you are not good at it, get softwares that can help out. If you have some money saved up, buy a mic, laptop etc.
The main point is to be as self-sufficient as possible. I recorded this album and others by myself because I couldn’t afford to go to studios. Nobody wanted to help out in the beginning, they wanted a favour back so you should try to be as self sufficient as possible.
Another advice I would give would be, don’t rush into getting a team because I noticed there’s this sudden urgency to have a manager, publicist etc. Currently, I manage myself though it hasn’t been easy but I have learnt a lot over the years.
Furthermore, do your research. Read and ask questions about the music business. Once you find a fellow artist who is accessible, reach out for advice and for music executives, you can reach out for mentorship.
Last but not the least, learn how to build your own community . You can start from sending your songs to 10 friends, they can post it before you know it, you can get 10 more people who like your sound ; from there you can start building a loyal fanbase.
My mantra as I grow older is get 1 new listener everyday. As artists we sometimes get consumed with the desire to acquire millions of streams but the real question is, how many people from the millions of streams you have recorded actually care about your music? If you were to have a show today? How many will show up? So connect with your loyal fanbase and watch your music go far as time goes on.
“In the next 5 years, I want to be the CEO of my own label.”
In the next 5 years, what visions do you have in mind for Lady Donli.
In the next 5 years, I want to be the CEO of my own label. I just registered my company and I really just want to help other artists get development as much as possible. I want to tour; I want to be able to go on a proper worldwide tour across all the regions possible.
But I really just want to give back because I didn’t have a moment when I was like 16 where I was like, “oh, I want to make music” and have the necessary information. I have literally wanted to make music since I have known myself as a child- I wanted to be a musician.
So I feel like the older I become, the more I think about music, not just as being a singer, but like all the different elements of the musical landscape that I enjoy. And one of the things I really do enjoy is helping people to find their own voices. So I think in the next five years, I really want to focus on how to build others.