In a music industry skewed towards male musicians, a handful of female Nigerian musicians have distinguished themselves.
Think Omawumi, Waje, Tiwa Savage, Yemi Alade, Seyi Shay, Simi—but not necessarily in that order. As an aside, there is hardly any order in the ramshackle structure we may wish to situate our musical canon, hence, we shouldn’t expect anything different with our female musicians.
The final word on the most popular female musician is contentious. Tiwa Savage has, in the last couple of months, put forward the strongest work of her long career. Think her Sugarcane EP, a mere six songs, but through which she practically upturned previous notions.
Add this to the MILF rumour that she was kicking it with the much younger WizKid. Mai Lo, the song that spawned this rumour, was one of the best songs of 2017. Either way, her treatment of the rumour was a wide-eyed snobbery that didn’t satisfy gossip mongers but it put her music in the limelight.
Recently, she shut down the O2 in London. You can now call her the First Lady at Mavin and golden goose at the same time and Don Jazzy won’t argue..
Tiwa Savage’s biggest contender for most popular female musician is Yemi Alade. Easily the most hardworking female musician in Nigeria (check her tour itinerary) and the fact that she has done three albums in four years, she continues to engage with African countries in a most exciting manner.
Visit East Africa and you will realise that this prophetess has got no respect in her own home country. Of course, it has been a long way since Johnny, her monster breakthrough song chronicling, rather humorously, the story of a male philanderer as told by his scorned lover.
The song raged across the entire African continent like a wild fire. And since then, she has parlayed that success making sure that she doesn’t leave a lacuna in her discography
Her first album, King of Queens followed quickly; a glut of vocal possibilities from gospel ad-libbing to soul singing to owning glossolalia at its peak with the delightful Nigerian-speak in her Fliptyce-produced song, Kissing. Add that to the conscious effort of doing French versions of her music and you have a singer in her own league.
Her second album, weighed down by ambition, did not pass unnoticed. It felt hurriedly curated and the subtext of her Mama Africa title was a crown too big for her head at the time. The album had gems, but fillers abounded in ways that weakened the entire product.
But was she relentless? She mastered the skill of performance, giving energetic dance shows with sweat-breaking choreography and decent vocal delivery of her finest hits. Little wonder the rest of Africa was taken by her shtick.
A few months ago she quipped about the gender inequality in the music industry suggesting that she is at par with WizKid. It seemed like a brag but anyone familiar with numbers will know that she is spot on.
Tiwa Savage may appear bigger than Yemi Alade today in terms of popular music in Nigeria but we shouldn’t forget that there are gems who don’t bubble to the surface of commercial acclaim.
There is Omawumi who is a queen in every sense of the word. Simi who is staking a consistent claim. Storm Rex who has been perennially snubbed. Seyi Shay who keeps fighting for relevance but whose luck has been stuck on the reserve bench.
In retrospect, Yemi Alade may have been right when she dared call herself Mama Africa, her vision was popular music, not political leanings, vocal excellence or loyalty to traditional ancestry. It is about popular music and she is currently winning.