To celebrate this year's international women's day, we've highlighted 7 women in the music industry who have contributed, in their own unique way, to break the bias.
Gender inequality, a routine and inveterate form of discrimination is one of the most prevalent forms of social inequality you’ll find in today’s world. This multiple-headed monster rears its head in just about every facet and sector of life; it’s deeply entrenched in the DNA of the society, continually propagated and anchored by everything from cultural legacies to religious norms. Since time immemorial, women have been handed the short end of the stick, sidelined or simply asked to take the back burner. Their blood, sweat and overall input have been vital to the development and sustenance of several establishments, industries and institutions as we know them today, but oftentimes, their contributions are usually belittled, unaccounted for or downright erased.
Tech, one of the fastest-growing industries in the world, like many other industries around today, is dominated by men. This, sadly, wasn’t always the case. In the mid-60s, women were the largest trained workforce in the computing industry. But as time went on and as the government began to realize the power and possibilities of computers, they systematically phased women out, mostly replacing them with men. In a detailed research report jointly produced by Accenture and Girls Who Code, it was shown that only 21% of women today believe that the Tech industry was a place they could thrive and that number falls to a lowly 8% for women of colour. Most of the women in the study cited misogynistic culture, non-inclusive policies amongst other sexist reasons for abandoning this booming industry. While the numbers might differ, this is a recurring thread that runs through several other establishments and industries all over the world and even a long-standing and widely populated industry like the music industry is no exception.
Women, over the years, have been crucial in building some of the biggest music industries across the world. A lot of the greatest songs this world has ever heard have either been composed, written or performed by women. Some of the greatest artists to have walked this earth have also been women. Yet, there still exists a gross imbalance in the music industry right from the top of the hierarchy down to the very bottom of the chain. A 2020 study by the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative at the University of Southern California shows that only 21.6% of artists, in the past nine years, that have appeared on the biggest musical chart in the world, the Billboard Hot 100, are women. According to another Statistica research on representation and equality in the music industry, only 2% of producers are women while approximately 98% are men. Those are frightening numbers and what’s even more frightening is, zero in on the Nigerian music industry exclusively, and those numbers are most likely worse.
It doesn't take much to notice the gaping disparity between men and women in the Nigerian music industry. Since it started taking shape, women were ー and still are ー some of the most important voices in the industry. The legendary twin duo The Lijadu Sisters, the elegant stallion Onyeka Onwenu, singer, manager and activist Sandra Iszadore, Queen of Waka music Salawa Abeni, Nelly Uchendu, Christy Essien-Igbokwe amongst many others are some of the most talented, defining and ingenious artists this country has ever had. They all, in their own unique way, laid the groundwork for what the scene is today. Yet they are not nearly as celebrated or regarded as their male counterparts and till this day, the cycle remains the same.
“In my short time in the music industry and speaking to music execs, I’ve quickly realized that there’s a smaller space or ‘slots’ for women in the industry as opposed to men who have so much more opportunities,” says Koel, a rising singer and songwriter who tells me about some of the stark truths and realities she has sadly come to terms with in her short time in the industry. “Label execs definitely prioritize signing men [regardless of potential] over women.” she continues.
In truth, while the bias towards women remains a huge problem, things aren’t the way they used to be. Several women, from the aforementioned legends down to much younger faces, have played their part in chipping away at the resolute and seemingly unending inequality, trying their possible best to tip the scale. Below are seven women who have in one way or the other contributed to breaking the bias.
Largely regarded as one of the continent’s most popular female rappers ever, Weird MC, real name Adesola Adesimbo Idowu, was very instrumental in the proliferation of Hip-Hop in Nigeria. Released in 1997, Simply Weird, her debut album was one of the very first albums to merge the gruff and gritty tones of Hip-Hop with Afrobeat rhythms ー a combination that has become commonplace in the current Nigerian soundscape. While the album wasn’t a commercial success, it garnered a lot of critical acclaim and it earned Weird MC the very first AMEN award for Best Hip-Hop album.
Today, while Weird MC is mostly remembered for her 2007 Don Jazzy-produced hit “Ijoya”, her work as a pioneer of some sorts, combining two distinct worlds, was key in the expansion of Nigerian music as a whole.
One of the foremost Nigerian female managers, Osagie Osarenz almost exists as a trailblazer, leading a vanguard of influential women in the Nigerian music industry. Famously known for managing Wizkid in the first few years of his career, she boasts an expansive client list ー Banky W, Dammy Krane, Reekado Banks, Reminisce, Laycon amongst others ー that only a few can boast of.
She currently heads operation at ONErpm, a full-service data-driven music business solutions provider and she is also the founder of The Zone Agency, a talent agency dedicated to discovering, enhancing and building talents.
They were very few acts that were more exciting and promising than singer and rapper Mo’Cheddah at the turn of the last decade. She broke into the industry at the young age of 16 (not many young Nigerian female musicians had made a name for themselves at such an age), proficiently melding 2000s Nigerian pop and R&B with juvenile, confident raps. Songs like “Koo Maa Roll” and “See Me” perfectly highlight are fusion of styles, interjecting her lush singing with short, zippy rap lines.
While she might not have enjoyed longevity, at least at the top level, her time in the limelight played a part in changing the narrative surrounding women in the Nigerian music industry.
Sasha P, the First Lady of Nigerian Hip Hop, helped paved the way for several other female rappers who came after her. Her stellar lyricism, buttery flows coupled with immense ferocity gained her success at a time when there were just a handful of women in the Nigerian Hip-Hop scene.
Her debut album, First Lady, released in 2006, received positive reviews and also earned her several awards and nominations both locally and abroad. This positioned her not only as one of the best female rappers around but outrightly one of the best rappers in the country.
While her focus has shifted these days from music to fashion, she’s still highly regarded and remains one of the best wordsmiths to have grabbed a mic in Nigeria.
Prolific talent manager and publicist Miss Amadi has been behind some of the biggest musical campaigns and artists both in and outside of the country from the last decade to this present day. From a clientele list that ranges from legendary singer Whitney Houston to Davido, she has used her immaculate skills to promote and manage several artists, taking them sky-high levels.
She has also brokered and played key roles in securing lucrative international deals for a couple of local acts, breaking them into foreign markets in the process. She currently heads VA PR, a management, music licensing, events and entertainment company
When Bouqui, a contemporary gospel Hip-Hop artiste, announced herself, wide-eyed and hungry, there was just a handful of women in the Nigerian Hip-Hop scene in general and little to no women in the Gospel Hip-Hop scene. She, just like Sasha P, went on to break down countless barriers, taking her place as one of the foremost female rappers who inspired and opened the doors for many others who came after.
Her eponymous debut ー which finely merged spirituality with free-flowing rhymes ー earned her several nominations and awards in 2007, including the highly coveted AMEN award for Best Female Act. While she’s not nearly as active as she used to be back in the day, she remains a respected figure in the Gospel Hip-Hop scene and her legacy, till this day, remains secure.
Tiwa Savage is the most popular face on this list and for obvious reasons. The 42-year-old since her move back to Nigeria several years ago has grown into one of the most talented and exciting voices in the country’s current pop scene. Her supreme confidence, alluring appeal and tireless work ethic mixed with pristine vocals and a willingness to constantly evolve and tweak her artistry have not only placed her in a class where only a few can lay claim to but it has undoubtedly made her a source of inspiration for several other women who are either currently in the industry or willing to be a part of it.
Over the course of her decade long career, she has contended with numerous double standards and unfair expectations but she’s surmounted most, if not all, making her continuous success that bit more inspiring. She’s also partly responsible for widening, regardless of how little, the unjustly narrow lane that women in music have been placed in Nigeria, a feat that has cemented her place as one of the greatest to ever do it.