Lady Donli's 'Enjoy Your Life' Reminds Us Why We Need To #ListenToNigerianWomen


To commemorate the top of Women's History Month, I am finally sharing one of my most cherished pieces. Written shortly after EYL's release back in August 2019 a few things have changed since I first penned the post, but still, unfortunately, over half a year later, these words are no less relevant.

Let's put in the work to change that.

Music all over the world is markedly male-dominated – Nigeria is no exception.

The first indication of androcentrism in Nigerian pop plays through the music itself: the misogynistic subject matter that has been adopted so frequently we’ve become pretty much deaf to the sexist undertones of most mainstream afropop hits.

Look no further than Nigeria's golden child, Davido. Though his debut album, Omo Baba Olowo would have indicated otherwise – "All Of You", "Dami Duro", "Back When" all show lyrical range – these days, a Davido verse doesn't run its course without him offering to buy a woman's love. Even his attempt at an empowering single, "Wonder Woman" plummets into this same hollow grave on its catchy hook "shey make I wire wire, if na pounds or na dollar dollar, I go send you figure wey you go manya manya" – an ironic soundtrack to the accompanying "Nice For What" knock-off music video that spotlights powerful, *financially independent*, Nigerian women.

Unfortunately, this flies. In fact, this is the norm. Because beyond the content, male artists are, in the first place, afforded more visibility than their female counterparts, who are expected to perform their craft exceptionally just to even get noticed. And after working twice as hard to earn half as much, before any female artist reaches the top she'd have to outdo Tiwa Savage, because God forbid multiple successful women exist.

Even in the reporting of the borderline clickbait “alté scene”, renowned for its progressive politics, international publications are quick to recognise the efforts of Odunsi and Santi and even an artist as enigmatic as AYLØ, but were surprisingly quiet when it came to the release of Enjoy Your Life – one of the most hotly anticipated debut projects on the scene, unmissable to anyone with even the faintest interest in the alternative cohort of musicians coming out of Nigeria.

Though not a strictly female-only body of work, Lady Donli’s collaborative masterpiece comes as a rare concession in the Nigerian music industry, where joint efforts between female artists make up a very small percentage of overall collaborations.

Of course, that is not to say these don’t exist. There are recognisable pairings such as Dami Oniru and Tems – whose Femme-fortified friendship now aids their professional exploits (Tems’ last single, “Try Me” includes additional vocals from Dami Oniru) – as well as Waje and Omawumi or Preyé and Davina Oriakhi. Still, we don’t get nearly enough collaborations between women, and – with the most successful Nigerian female artist, Tiwa Savage having never featured another woman in her decade-long career – of the few we do get, most are hardly visible.

Queue Lady Donli's Enjoy Your Life. Thanks to a phenomenal rollout which spanned months – growing more intense in the month between the second single off the tape, “Suffer Suffer” and the album itself – Enjoy Your Life garnered quite some attention before its release, setting up the tracklisted contributors for their moment in the limelight.

Leading the charge on “Good Times”, Tems’ magnanimous vocals set the bar sky high for the other collaborators on the album, and there are no disappointments. Somadina emerges with the best vocal performance on the project, her compelling voice juxtaposed by amaarae’s signature soft tones that deliver an impressive roll of fiery bars on "FLAVA". Sister duo, VanJess’ execution on “Corner” kicks off the number excellently, whilst SOLIS’ take on the latter track of “Confident/Feeling Cool” offers a phenomenal close to the double record, and the sweetest farewell from the Enjoy Your Life features. BenjiFlow, Tomi Thomas and Lady Donli’s go-to band, The Cavemen all join these ladies in delivering stunning performances, but ultimately the girls run the show, “as it should be”, says Lady Donli.

Noticing the multitude of gifted female singers Lady Donli lines up from the fast-rising cohort of Nigerian musicians surrounding her, one can’t help but delve deeper into the women breaking ground in that particular circle. Though not on the album, hard to miss on the scene is the mesmeric 234jaydaa who tapped The President for her first ever body of work, The Crescent Moon Collection on the meditative penultimate track, "Nila's Interlude". The likes of Bella Alubo, DJ Yin and Preyé are but a few more of Donli's previous collaborators that are well worth discovering.

Looking beyond this "alté" bubble, other emerging voices such as Temmie Ovwasa or Efe Oraka, unfortunately join old-hands, Di'Ja, Seyi Shay, Falana, to be lost in conversation about Nigerian music – an erasure that results in the misguided suggestion that there are barely any women making music in Nigeria.

The truth is, Nigeria isn’t at all lacking in female musicians – the situation is much more depressing than that. As is the case with most professions in our ugly patriarchal world, these meritable acts are unjustly denied the visibility or credit they deserve, simply because they are women. However, as Lady Donli ushers in a new wave of female talent on her debut album, Enjoy Your Life, she also illustrates the fact that many formidable women exist – and thrive – on the Nigerian music scene. Ultimately, Lady Donli's Enjoy Your Life is giving the industry a stern warning to pay attention.

Enjoy Your Life is a significant moment for women in music, no doubt, but we can't let it fade into just "a moment" – this project should make a lasting impact for women in music, and it's our responsibility, as the fans who care, to see that it does. Whether it's throwing your weight behind Femme (the music platform that looks to uplift women in all aspects of the business), being intentional about discovering female acts, or thwarting the constant pitting of women against each other, there are multiple changes to be made to ensure this moment is a definitive one for women in the Nigerian music industry.

Beyond the fans, now more than ever, established acts ought to take a leaf out of Donli's book, embracing women and working alongside them/each other. I'd love to see Davido line up more features with women in the industry, even if he refuses to yield when it comes to the content of his lyrics. Or Tiwa Savage put a fellow woman on, which she's yet to do in her entire career.

When it comes to the press, publications both home and abroad must also do a better job of reporting the Nigerian music scene, and all the influential artists working within it. Publications such as The NATIVE and OkayAfrica have consistently done a good job, however other Nigerian publications, as well as most international press, fail to report responsibly. Radio silent on Lady Donli's debut album, it seemed The FADER had abruptly lost interest in reporting all things "alté" until Santi released his "Raw Dinner" movie, which of course received a timely spread. More dire reporting around that time came from, HYPEBEAST whose spotlight of New Gen artists to look out for in the Fall– including Nigerian forerunners Santi and Rema – failed to include any female artists at all, from any country, in the entire world.

Yes, music all over the world is markedly male-dominated. Nigeria is no exception, but we should expect more. Especially as the global gaze on our country's music intensifies, it is important that what we present doesn't fail to represent.

So, in the style of Scottie Beam’s #ListenToBlackWomen playlist (go listen to that), I'm sharing my Jaydaa playlist, in the hopes that you discover artists that you love and new talents to support. Named after 234jaydaa, this playlist is comprised of my favourite offerings from the likes of Lady Donli, Temmie Ovwasa, Gigi Atlantis, and other phenomenal Nigerian singers. Hit me @dewoju on Twitter/Instagram with more acts you think I ought to discover.

Enjoy the listen, Enjoy Your Life.

#music #Nigeria