Teni and Niniola: Society and Sister Ties

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It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences. – Audre Lorde

One of my earliest memories of sisterhood in pop culture was the relationship between Tia and Tamera Mowry. Identical twin sisters who featured in American movies and sitcoms together, they wore similar clothes, and behaved alike on screen.

I watched them grow from Sister, Sister to Twitches. Their characters were scheming teenage girls, who wear soft makeup and helped each other out of trouble in each episode. As a child with two brothers, all I wanted was a sister to plot with. 

Teni and Niniola

There are some places in the world where only one daughter of the family can inherit property from deceased parents. Even when women manage a success story, there is a scarcity concept that dictates that only one woman at a time gets to bask in the spotlight. As time passes, patriarchy continues to establish itself as a common enemy of all kinds of women all over the world.

Though in pop culture today, successful female characters are rarely depicted as stern women who have to deny themselves pleasure, the reality remains that successful women are often pitted against each other in the media. This tactic designed to divide and conquer by the patriarchy respects not even blood bonds.

Take Beyonce and Solange for instance, there are articles, think pieces, essays about their relationship. Although their music genres differ and diversify, whenever either of them drops an album, or goes on tour, the impact of their projects are measured against each other.

The same disservice is done to American professional tennis players, Venus and Serena Williams. This competition is also extended to Nigerian music industry where, sensational sisters, Teni and Niniola co-create. 

Niniola’s career garnered a major boost when her single Ibadi was released in 2014, Teni’s followed shortly after in 2016 after her song Amen was released. So far, neither of them have featured on the other’s album. Like Beyonce and Solange, their music is inherently different.

Niniola describes her music as Afro-house, a blend of Afro-beats and House music and refers to Angelique Kidjo as her inspirations. Teni’s music, on the other hand has been described as local hip hop, with King Sunny Ade as her major inspiration. 

Their sense of style also differs. Niniola’s fashion style can be likened to a subtle aversion from the conventional style of a woman because it dares to be different. Teni, however, is nothing like the conventional female artist. Her style has evolved into an androgynous athleisure bordering on masculinity. The only thing their brands have in common is that they combine english with Yoruba to make melodious music. 

Despite excelling in their distinct genres, the Nigerian media still attempts to create competition between them. In an interview by The Punch, Teni was asked if she feels pressure to succeed as her sister is doing well. To which Teni replied, ‘I don’t feel any pressure. I don’t care or think of what anyone says’. In a similar interview by the same news agency, Niniola was asked how she handles being competitors with Teni. She replied curtly, ‘We are first sisters before any other thing’. 

This myth that only one woman at a time deserves fame has been identified by feminists, like Audre Lorde and Mona Eltahaway, as one of the many ways the patriarchy restricts women. It leads women to believe that there is only one spot for women in the limelight.

This extends outside biological sister bonds to societal bonds. It’s hard to miss Twitter polls asking users who the more beautiful woman is, who the better singer is, even asking who the better mother is. 

It is important for women to refuse this hierarchy. This is why representation in the media is important. More stories where women, sisters or not, co-exist in the limelight and even cross-promote each other should rule the media.

A fine example of this would be the recently concluded Femme Africa event. Femme was created by Ayomide Dokunmu, to facilitate community amongst women in the African creative industry. On the 13th October, Lady Donli, Ezi Emela, Tems, and Princess Okoh sang the night away to the delight of the audience despite several media tactics to foster animosity between them. Another would be the Wine, Whine and Whine event which took on the 30th of November 2019, where Lagos women gathered to drink, dance and discuss issues particular to them. 

However, while sisterhood is important and should be encouraged and celebrated, it is also healthy for women, female artistes to able to create within the bubble of individuality. Audre Lorde emphasized the importance of oneness as woman in Sister Outsider saying ‘When we define ourselves, when I define myself, the place in which I am like you and the place in which I am not like you, I’m not excluding you from the joining – I’m broadening the joining.’

Here’s to a world where women can just be.

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