Music
Lady Donli. Image courtesy of the artist.

The Struggle Of Making It In Nigerian Music As A New Artist

Because music in Nigeria is beyond talent, there's a formula for success.

In a dimly lit room in her home, Zainab aka Lady Donli, records music. The little room has a setup consisting of her laptop, microphone, monitors and headphones. A magazine serves as a table mat for another table beside her setup. On this table, there's a bottle of cologne, cough medicine and her notepad for lyrics and random scribbles.

Since she started out as a musician in 2013, Lady Donli has almost always recorded music in her room, carrying her equipment—a laptop, microphones and a little console—around with her. She never pays for studio sessions and only goes to one whenever a producer invites her over to work. In her production process, she only ever pays for mixing and mastering. Her mobile studio costs a little below £1000—money she saved up while in school.

Her hit single with Tomi Thomas, "Ice Cream," listed in Complex's Bout to Blow category, was first recorded in a studio and re-recorded in her room when she was a student in London. "From the beginning, I've never had to pay for making my music or promotion. I had a good network of friends that were really supportive, so I sent out emails and put my music out on social media and it just went from there."


Lady Donli represents a new, rich crop of musicians popping up in the Nigerian music space. While there are always new musicians in every market, and most new acts start out as independent and unsigned musicians, the Soundcloud generation, as they are called, is a new take on the creation and content of music. According to Folu Adebakin, the Editor in Chief of RadrOnline, "Nigerian music is one repeated phrase over a danceable beat. Music here is based on the tempo of a beat and is mostly recycled. The New Age musicians are mostly introspective, making music for themselves and then hoping someone somewhere will relate to their message."

Social media has brought forward a democratization of music in Nigeria. Now, musicians in the class of Lady Donli are gaining levels of clout that were previously controlled by record labels through their funding and networks. But it's still a huge financial investment to make music and get it to the streets.

Amobi Ohia, a stylist, publicist and talent manager, believes the playing field will never be level—not even with social media. "It costs N100,000 for good but not great studio recording, another N100,000 for mixing and mastering, and as high as N7,000,000 to make a music video. But this is where the work begins. Artists still need to make under the counter payments to get airplay on TV and radio stations. A lot of these stations constantly advertise that these payments are illegal, but with an industry churning out over 100 new songs everyday, the odds of getting your song selected is very low."

This is where Lady Donli has been able to excel. Because the Soundcloud generation in Nigeria is pretty young, they exist within a community backed by media companies like Pulse Nigeria, Native Mag, Lucid Lemons & More Branches helping push out music as soon as it lands.

But Nigeria's reality means that most new artists can't save up for expensive equipment. Edwin Madu, a Fintech consultant and musician that goes by the moniker Dwin, The Stoic could not save up for a home studio. Instead he got a job and started saving to record a song a year. He started in 2014. "I have been writing songs for close to a decade and [I] have been scared or too broke to do anything about it except record like one song a year." While he is looking forward to a chance to help offset the production costs attached to making music, he is not particularly excited to have his music censored by a record label because "Nigeria might not be ready for [his] music. Unless you're making music that's for the club, you're not seen as making music for the Nigerian market."

"I have been writing songs for close to a decade and [I] have been scared or too broke to do anything about it except record like one song a year."

But Nigeria has shown, especially recently, that it's ready for music that is expressive and introspective away from the regurgitation of dance-themed records. "Musicians like Donli, Olu, Davina and Fasina share fans and it's a community of artists supported by a growing crowd of Nigerians that are on social media and get them," Segun Akande, the producer of Loose Talk a podcast about Nigerian music, explains. According to him, the new wave of musicians making the music different to the Nigerian sound are creating their own markets that did not previously exist. "While arguments might be made that these guys can't cut it in mainstream Nigeria, Odunsi and his Universal music group deal has shown that their music is here to stay and will be especially very profitable. The bulk of the listeners of their music comes from places like New York and London," Segun finishes.

"But Nigeria is not developed enough for niche music. We have had a lot of musicians doing amazing music like what the new kids are doing but have not been able to keep up especially because of the economics of music," Joey Akan, music editor for Pulse Nigeria, explains. "There's a reason Nigerian music is the way it is and other people had to cross from R&B into the shaku shaku sound. The majority of the Nigerian public doesn't want to listen to your music that talks about your struggles and pain," he finished. While he believes the new school of Nigerian music is essential, commercial viability in their music might not work out.

But things are changing in Nigeria. Platforms like Taruwa in Bobogiri, Lagos are offering open-mic nights to new artistes. The Rhapsodies of Art concert organised by Israel Afolabi—a filmmaker in Lagos was the debut of Dwin, The Stoic's "Are You The One" and Celeste Ojatula's "Black." Offline events are coming up for indie musicians to gather a fanbase in Lagos.

Beyond record and album sales, some musicians have been able to hack finances. In December of 2017, new comer Nonso Amadi held his concert in Lagos. Lady Donli & Olu performed at the Palmwine Music festival organised by music duo Show Dem Camp. Native Land organised by Native Mag in December 2017 was headlined by Skepta and Burna Boy but featured a lot of alternative musicians. Because the music buying Nigerian public might be moving away from traditional channels to outside spaces and concerts, the niche music that's made by these new entrants into Nigerian music might just be here to stay. And if Nigeria does not "get" them, there's always the rest of the world.

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Angelique Kidjo performs onstage during the 62nd Annual GRAMMY Awards Premiere Ceremony at Microsoft Theater on January 26, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic)

'Take Africa Out of It and There's No Music for Y’all,' Angelique Kidjo on Success, ‘World Music’ & Championing New African Talent

OkayAfrica caught up with the legendary Beninese singer following her recent Grammy win and her feature on the collaborative electronic track 'Milambi.'

Last month, Angelique Kidjo won her fourth Grammy in the 'Best World Music' category. But it wasn't quite like every other year she had been nominated for the award. This time she shared the nomination with fellow African act Burna Boy, the first artist of the continent's current afropop scene to earn a nomination. While there's no question that Kidjo, who won for her 2019 album Celia, was beyond deserving (this was by no means a Kendrick-Macklemore scenario), Kidjo made the conscious decision to dedicate her award to Burna and urged viewers to pay attention to the wealth of new talent coming from the continent. "The new generation of artists coming from Africa are going to take you by storm and the time has come," said the artist.

Her vocal support for African talent isn't new though. As Kidjo notes, she gave a similarly memorable speech when she won four years ago for her album Sings, and she sounds fierce and impassioned as she speaks about it over the phone. After all, Kidjo has always been notably forward-looking in life and in music—experimentation doesn't scare her. Her latest work is on a futuristic, electronic project from Swiss DJ and producer Pablo Nouvelle and she expresses excitement about the novel methods in which African artists are creating and amplifying their music.

We caught up with Kidjo following her latest Grammy win and the release of her joint single with Nouvelle, "Milambi," to discuss her support of the new crop of talent emerging from the continent, fame, the controversy around the 'Best World Music' category, and remaining true to her identity in a Western-oriented music industry.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

The Grammys were a big moment. Why did you decide to dedicate your award to Burna Boy and acknowledge the new generation of up-and-coming African artists?

I'm always in contact with my continent. I go back on a regular basis, and that's where my source of inspiration is from. Throughout the years going back and forth, I've been seeing the entrepreneurship of the young generation coming up. When I started music—there was none of that. You just went to the studio, and you found people to help you do your music. Now you can be a self-producer. I have nephews and nieces, and I'll just say "Ok, what's new? Let me listen to the new stuff." And I just realized that the rest of the world has no clue about what's happening in Africa.

Four years ago, when I received my Grammy for the album Sings, I said "Brace yourself, because Africa is coming. You have to open your heart, your mind and ears to listen to what is going on and what is coming from the new generation of my contient"— I said that four years ago, and the time has come because [with artists like] Burna Boy, Wizkid, Davido, Yemi Alade and many more from Nigeria, and Sho Madjozi from South Africa—you have so much happening culturally in Africa. I have the feeling that sometimes people just completely turn their head away from Africa and I just wonder how one could possibly turn their head away from where they come from, because Africa is the cradle of humanity. Culture comes from there—there's no music on this planet that doesn't have Africa in it.

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Is this why you've chosen to work with a lot of younger artists from the continent like Yemi Alade most recently?

I'm so proud of this new generation of musicians that are using the technology to tell a positive story about Africa. It's no longer about our suffering. Everybody suffers. So, why should people be focusing only on our suffering and not seeing just the human beings that we are, and how joyful we are? Then suddenly, you realize that joy becomes political because if your society, your people are perceived as joyful, then a leader cannot complain anymore that something is wrong. Beyond all that, [I do it] to pay tribute to the entrepreneurship of the young generation. They aren't waiting on help from anybody. If you are famous in your country and on your continent, there's nothing that can stop you. You have billions of people that will love you, so why should the rest of the world look aside when you're passing by? They should pay attention.

That's why I use my platform to bring the attention of the media to this new generation coming. They don't want to be caught by surprise because I've been telling them to pay attention. If something happens, and they don't pay attention, at least I've done my work.

I do think it's really amazing how new artists have been able to gain traction and put their music out despite their not being a lot of support by African leaders for creative industries. Do you think that African governments, and the folks with money should invest more entertainment?

I think they should because we create jobs. People make money, and it's not only the artists. There's also the people helping them make videos, or cut tracks—music creates jobs.

I think we have to educate our leaders and our business people in Africa. Who can carry their brand better than us? Who are the best ambassadors of our cultures, our countries and our continent? It's us artists across different forms of art, from painters, to storytellers, to people in theatre and movies. Every form of art is about telling the story of ordinary people and the people that have come before us. How do you know about your own history, if not for the elderly people that tell you the story of who you are?

In order for us to tell our story, we need to have a voice. We need to say it through different mediums. Music is one of them. We shouldn't let anyone else tell our stories anymore. That time in history has passed. We have new narratives, we have proof of how entrepreneurial we are. Africans can make money in Africa and anywhere else. The world is open to us—the world is ours. No one can stop us.

So many African artists look to you as an inspiration and a model for longevity in the music industry. I'm wondering which artists served that role for you when you were first coming up.

There are many, many of them. I would say it started with traditional musicians because I was a very curious child. I come from that background of traditional musicians telling me stories through songs. [Growing up] my brothers were playing music, my father brought the instruments for them, and freed a room in a crowded house for them to rehearse. I heard every genre of music in the '60, '70s and '80s through them, but my role models start with traditional musicians, both male and female. [But at a certain point] I noticed that every album that would be brought home had just men on the covers. I was like, "Okay, so women don't sing? They can't do albums too?" Then you had Western women start coming in and I was like, "Okay, at least some women are making it through [in the industry]."

Then Miriam Makeba came and Aretha Franklin came. The day Aretha Franklin came, the singer of my brother's band—who had such a fucking ego, you couldn't even put it anywhere—said "there's no song I can't sing." [But] Aretha came and he couldn't sing. I'm like, "What? A woman is whooping your butt. I like that."

So, there have been strong men and women as musicians that have informed the music that I make today. The only way I could absorb it and make my own music, and become a role model to others today is because I am proud of my culture. I know where I come from, I'm not trying to copy anybody because everybody copied what we have. There wouldn't be any music in America without the input of enslaved people that came from Africa. The blues came from slaves. It doesn't matter how hard the slave owner wanted to dehumanize us—they even took the drum away from us. But we had many ways of celebrating culture. We had many ways of celebrating our humanity—singing was one of them. We sing our pain to lift it up. We sing our joy to share it with people. That's what African music is. The essence of what music is comes from that place. We've seen it all, we've been through hell, yet here we are prevailing still.

"I have to be able to sing my songs till I die."

You've always championed African culture and identity, whether it's through singing in Yoruba, or representing Benin through various endeavors. Did you at any point, ever face pressure from the industry to tone down your "Africanness" to appeal to certain audiences?

They have a saying in my country, that "the advisor is not the payer." [It's about] what you do with the advice people give you. I'm always listening, I'm always ready to sit and hear constructive criticism. But if you want to critique for the sake of criticizing me—I've heard some journalists say that I'm not African enough in France because my music sounds too Western. I said, "What is the music of the West then? Tell me." Take Africa out of it and there's no music for y'all.

For me, I respect everybody, particularly the differences because there lies the genius. We all don't think the same.

People said, "Why don't you show your titties?" I'm like, "Well, I don't feel like showing my titties because my titties ain't singing. My voice is not in my breasts." You've got to be somebody, and I am African. I come from a rich culture. Why should I change to look like what? What do you want me to look like? I've never ever allowed anyone to say to me, "You can't do this." I have fought some producers that try to change my music. I say, "If that's the case, you take the microphone, you sing, it's not mine, I'm out of here." You have to stand for something. If you are afraid of not making it, then you become a fool to somebody.

People will say what they want to say. If I want to dress differently, I do sometimes. When I received the NAACP award, I wore a suit. A well-tailored suit, and I kill it too in a suit. It's not what you wear, it's who you are.

I always say, if anyone wants to work with me, I'm open. The bridge I'm trying to build, everybody's welcome on it in the respect of each other's differences. My strength might be your weakness, and then I supply. My weakness might be your strength. It goes both ways. I don't have the answer to everything, but one thing I know is that if we stop bitching at each other and blaming people for all the things that aren't good in our life will be better off because when we start doing that, what do we do? We create fear, and fear is dangerous.

I wanted to ask you about the controversy surrounding the Best World Music category at the Grammys. Many believe that it doesn't truly encompass the diversity of music coming from the continent. What are your thoughts on the matter?

Don't underestimate the recording academy. They have been thinking about it way before this. It's a conversation that we're going to be engaging in. Africa is not a country, it's a continent. The Latin Grammy exists. We should have the African Grammys too, because it's a continent, because it's vast, it's huge. So, it's a conversation we started having because the academy is also realizing this, and they are, at least, having that conversation. Right now, if you look at the "French Grammys" coming up, there's not one person of African descent [represented]. Not one. They just completely ban what is called "world music" out of it and we're in the 21st century. So, I think criticizing is one thing, finding solutions is another.

Let's work with the recording academy and find out how we can help to come up with something that works for everybody. That's all I'm about. I'm always about solutions. The thing is that we also need to recognize that we cannot be discriminating when it comes to culture. If we don't speak to each other, and we're always blaming and pointing fingers, there's no conversation possible anymore. We should have an open discussion about this and be creative about it. That's all I say.

Speaking on shifting genres, you recently worked with Pablo Nouvelle on his new project Eliso, I saw it described as your "maiden venture into electronic music." What was that experience like for you?

I started with electronic music. If you ask David Byrne, he would tell you that my first album, Logozo was completely electric, but African electric. So for me, working on this album brings me back to the beginning and, I'm not done doing that. I'm going to do it more.

So, we can expect a lot more of this electronic sound that you've already been working on?

I'm not saying anything.

We can't have a hint?

No, nothing, because I always follow my inspiration. If my inspiration changes a little bit, I have to change [my direction].

You just go with whatever feels right?

I have to be able to sing my songs till I die. All my songs, if I can't sing them, with just my voice and a guitar, it means it's not good. When writing a song, less is more because if you add too much stuff, then you kill the song. You're overstating it. Do the minimal. If it feels good to you, and you can sing it in your sleep, wake up dancing to it, and you can feel it in every beat in your body, it's right.

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Ayanda Jiya Pays Homage to Her Love for R&B in Latest Single ‘Lover 4 Life’ Featuring Stogie T

Watch Ayanda Jiya's music video for 'Lover 4 Life.'

On first listen, "Lover 4 Life" could be mistaken for a song about a person Ayanda Jiya is in love with. But pay close attention, you'll pick up she's paying homage to the artists who inspired her as a child, and she uses them as an entry point to tell the story of how she fell in love with music and chose the career path she's currently pursuing.

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Twice As Tall World Tour. Flyer provided by Atlantic Records.

Burna Boy Announces 'Twice As Tall' World Tour Dates

The Nigerian star will be playing shows across North America and Europe this summer.

Burna Boy is hitting the road again.

Following the celebrated release of African Giant—which came with nominations at both the Grammys & BRIT Awards and a trophy for Best International Act at the BET Awards—the Nigerian star will be embarking on a long run of shows that will take him across North America and Europe.

The Twice As Tall World Tour will kick off in May in Atlanta, and will see Burna Boy playing concerts across the US, Canada, Norway, France, Portugal, UK, Netherlands, Sweden, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland and more locations.

You can check out the full tour dates for Twice As Tall World Tour below and revisit Burna Boy's performance for Okay Acoustics.

Tickets are available now.

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Sarkodie "Bumper" (Youtube)

Watch Sarkodie's New Music Video For 'Bumper'

A dance-heavy clip for the Ghanaian star's turn-up single.

Sarkodie comes through with the energetic new dance video for "Bumper."

The new track is a high-octane affair that sees the Ghanaian star rapper delivering some standout rhymes and flows over an afro-fusion leaning production from Nigeria's Rexxie.

The new video for "Bumper," which was directed by Monte Carlo Dream, follows a group of dancers as they show off their moves inside a barbershop.

"Bumper" comes after the release of Sarkodie's latest album, Black Love, which features the likes of Donae'o, Idris Elba, Efya, Mr Eazi, Stonebwoy, Tekno, Maleek Berry, King Promise, Kizz Daniel and several other artists.

OkayAfrica spoke with the artist in November, following his win for Best International Flow at the BET Hip Hop awards. "[The album] is just about love amongst black people and it's 90 or 80 percent based on relationships," he said.

Watch the new music video for Sarkodie's "Bumper" below.

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