Discussions can be a very powerful thing. It is one of my favourite things to do with my friends. There is always something to be gained from trading thoughts and opinions with different people. While it was Ladies Month here on LL (back in March), a lot of the conversations I was having, revolved around women and their issues.
I decided to hit up a friend of mine, Lady Donli, for one such conversation. I ended up interviewing her about her experiences as a woman musician.
Firstly, I’m pretty sure you get asked this a lot but I’ll ask it anyway. How did you first get into music?
Sigh. Yes, I am, lol but I’d tell you though. I’ve always enjoyed making sound.When I was little I would write poetry and hum around the house. Poetry turned into me rapping and rapping turned into me singing. The love I had for singing never died, plus it helped that my big brothers were also into music. Back then they had a record label type thing so they’d always come back home with cassettes of their music and I would play it on and on and write some of my own songs. My parents kept all those ideas and from time to time, I look back on them and get pretty inspired.
And how did people first react when you started letting them know that this was something you wanted to do?
This plays into the first question. I had shown interest in music at such a young age that it made sense that it would be something I would continue to do. So the reactions were pretty normal. It was already expected so no one thought it was too much of a big deal, well, besides my friends who didn’t really know I was into music that much but they were pretty supportive as well.
As a woman, do you feel like that identity plays a part in the kind of music you create?
It definitely does. I feel like some of the things I talk about might resonate more with women because they might have been in my shoes at some point, and this works both ways. I sing about certain things because that’s what I have experienced as a woman. My direction would probably be different if I wasn’t.
I was discussing with someone who brought up the point that, while song topics aren’t really gendered per se, there are some topics you rarely hear from (especially Nigerian) female artistes. What is your take on this idea?
It depends on what topics you’re talking about. I feel like music is personal a lot of times and we all experience things in different ways. So, the way one female artiste might choose to convey her experiences will differ from the other. Also, a lot of music is open to interpretation. I feel like a lot of female artistes I listen to are really different. I’ve listened to love songs, political songs, empowerment songs. You name it, someone has sung about it! You just need to look a little bit harder to find it. Listen to Nneka, ASA, Simi, Tiwa Savage, Yemi Alade, Jorja Smith, Little Simz, NAO, and Ray BLK. The list is endless. People are singing about any and everything these days
Have you ever faced any scenarios where you felt like you weren’t being taken seriously as an artiste because of your gender?
I mean, when I first started making music, someone commented on my song saying ‘Female artistes never make it far in Nigeria so I should quit”. At that point I was just 17, so you can imagine how I felt. Clueless, sad, and a bit demotivated but I realised his analogy was (forgive my language) BULL SHIT! I know I’m going to go far, it might not happen at this exact moment but it will. Also, sometimes when I try to work with some men, as opposed to taking me seriously as an artiste, they start off with flirting with me. Which is really distasteful. We’re all trying to make music so all I want to do is focus on the vibe and the sound. So it does really get frustrating, especially in Nigeria where there are only a few female artistes making it big, whereas their male counterparts are on all the charts. I definitely think there’s a problem. It might be because of the deep-rooted patriarchy in our culture because I refuse to believe that female artistes don’t work as hard.
Who are the artistes you would say you draw the strongest inspiration from?
Erykah Badu, Sade, Lauryn Hill, and Nina Simone
In your experience, do you feel like there are potential female artistes out there who don’t pursue music because the ‘upcoming artiste’ phase is usually seen as a thing for guys?
There probably are. I think I am still in that “upcoming” phase and it is a frustrating one but as I always say, nothing good comes easy. So whenever people hit me up with their fears I tell them that! It will be worth it in the long run if you work hard, smart and most importantly if you do not let the labels define you. I hear terms like “SoundCloud artiste”, “upcoming artiste”, etc., all these boxes and I ignore them. To me, I’m an artiste period. I make music, people listen, I perform, and people show up. I’m just in the stage where not too many people know about me, which is fine. Everything happens in stages and we all just need to learn to appreciate and cherish each stage were in.
What’s your opinion on the sexualization of women in the mainstream music industry? Do you think our generation of artistes could remedy that?
We can do anything we set out to. The only question is “do we want to?” I feel like a lot of things these days are about marketability. People want money the quick way! They want what can sell. Sexualisation of women sells. Most people are afraid to challenge the status quo; thankfully I am not one of those people. Women are amazing, and can literally do EVERYTHING they set out to do. To destroy this system, we first have to destroy the problem that is patriarchy because it reflects in every aspect of our lives and has fed its way into the music industry like a PLAGUE. We need artistes not afraid to challenge the norm, because truth be told female artistes should be topping the charts, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be.
I believe that you are approaching the status of being a role model to young women everywhere. Do you have any words of inspiration to those that may be preparing to go into music as well?
The best advice I could give to anyone is “stay true to yourself.” A lot of people get lost in an illusion. For me, my music is only pure because its real, and I am not afraid of being myself. So don’t try to be anyone else because it’s a waste of who you are. It is a waste of that thing which truly makes you special. So, don’t neglect your identity in the quest for fame. It’s never worth it.
I agree with many of the things she said. There is a patriarchal problem with the [Nigerian] music industry but with a new generation of artistes beginning to break their way in, perhaps things will begin to change.
It’s always my pleasure discussing with her.
Follow her on Instagram & Twitter: @LadyDonli
And what do you think about women and the music industry? Let’s discuss.