The Headies considered Nigeria’s most prestigious music awards event, was held over the weekend in Lagos at the Eko Hotel & Suites Convention Center. The awards had 18 categories and about 70 nominees. Of the 70 nominees, 10 were women and 6 of them walked away with awards for the evening. One such woman was Aramide, a singer, and songwriter. She was nominated in the category of ‘Best Alternative Song,’ and was the only woman among six nominees in the aforementioned category. Her song titled ‘Funmi lo wo mi’ ft. Sound Sultan and Koker earned her the award. Coincidentally, the song is about an artist who has been commercially exploited in the music business but without compensation. She finally reaches a breaking point and demands to be paid for her services.
With her win, you would think that fellow industry persons would applaud if they disagreed that she deserved the win, there will be civility and respect shown. That was not the case. Instead, a so-called Nigerian comedian named Victor Ebiye took to social media to say the following:
“She can’t believe it, lol she prolly f**ked for the award, #Headies“.
Ebiye’s comments were so vulgar and outraged many. What was intriguing was that unlike many other scenarios where such defamatory statements are made about Nigerian women in entertainment, you saw a lot of Nigerian men stand up to defend Aramide. Many, however, cited the fact that Aramide is married and focused on the fact that the comments were disrespectul to her husband. So, if Aramide wasn’t married, would they still defend her? It is not uncommon for people to believe, in Nigerian society and its entertainment industry, that single women who have managed to crack the glass ceiling, did so by sleeping their way to the top.
Either way, Ebiye’s distasteful, defamatory, and downright hurtful comments bring up a much-needed discussion about sexism. Nigeria’s music business has a sexism problem, it’s systemic and we need to talk about it.
Here are my observations in almost 11 years of covering the music industry, and speaking to female artists about their experiences:
Breaking into the industry and establishing a career as a recording and performing artist or songwriter it is very difficult for female artists because of a clear gender barrier. Further, if you are one of the few women who manage to break through the glass ceiling, you are constantly subjected to physical and sexual assault and/or harassment.
THE AUDIO-VISUAL INDUSTRY
As you all know, it’s not enough for an artist to break into the industry. To get your music to the masses requires marketing and promotions via the broadcasting and advertising industry, among others. This is where controlling the narrative, for the Nigerian female singer, and creating the brand visuals where her voice is truly heard becomes extremely difficult. This is because the Nigerian female artist must deal with the fact that the average music video director (usually 99.999% male) sees no real value, per se, in her music, but shoots based on what that director believes men want to see from her. Many of the labels often dump the responsibiity of brand vision, direction and stroytelling on the directors. The directors in turn reason that men could care less what a female artist is singing about in her video. Her job is to look pretty, shake her booty, show cleavage and entertain. Accordingly, they shoot from that point of view. In fact, these days, many shoot the female artist as if she is a video vixen in her male counterpart’s music video. It is no wonder that the majority of female singers, unless they strongly object and are willing to take routes such as Aramide, Simi, and Teni, are reduced to sexual objects and accessories that are only fit to be in a music video but not good enough to have their voices heard.
I remember when this shift began under the influence of music video director Clarence Peters. Peters, unlike his predecessors, had figured out how to create great cinematography for the music industry and was shooting almost 90% of high budget music videos, the ones that 100% o the time saw airplay. Initially, he produced some great cinematographic work, and frankly, most were captivated by the fact that Nigeria could produce music videos that were on par with the West. However, over the years, as the excitement wore off, it became clear that his video placed picture quality over the art of storytelling. Peters, in my view, got away, for a long time, with lack of innovation and lazy directing, until of course, we started to see local and western artists call him out for alleged infringement of their content.
For Peters, it became clear as his career waxed strong that to produce quality music videos, of international standard, meant importing the hip-hop video vixen concept of America to Nigeria. Peters, in my view, is primarily responsible for leading the way in creating a misogynistic narrative of the Nigerian woman, which to me is a key contributor to the plight of the Nigerian female singer in today’s music industry. The Nigerian female singer, with a few exceptions, now believes to be successful she must market and promote her music through the sexual objectification of her body. Tiwa Savage, among the majority of the few women in the industry, validates this view.
Another observation that underscores sexism in the industry is that our record labels do not know how to break female artists, like really put them on. Can you name one label that has successfully produced a female artist on an intercontinental or global level? Tiwa Savage doesn’t count. She co-ownedher label, 323, with her husband till that didn’t work. Now, she is in some sort of 323 Entertainment deal with Mavin Records. The likes of Yemi Alade also doesn’t count as she is still building momentum. From EME Records (Niyola) to Chocolate City (Pryse and Victoria Kimani) to MMMG (Emma Nyra), where are the female artist success stories? Why does the average Nigerian male owned record label have such a hard time breaking female artists?
Some of the excuses I have heard is that women are harder to work with, demand more attention, and when it comes to the glam aspect of show business, require way more monetary investments. For example, a Nigerian male artist can quickly get styled and show up on stage or anywhere to perform. A Nigerian female singer, on the other hand, requires hours to get hair and makeup done, and get styled. I think all of that is baloney. As one who has been in the fashion industry and spent years backstage as a model and walking on runways, I know it boils down to having a competent style and beauty team. You the executive and/or record label owner, along with your marketing and branding team, should already have a clear vision of the brand image for each artist on your roster and instruct your style and beauty team on the execution. Of course, an artist’s input is critical so you don’t create a persona that is contradictory to their essence, and that they can’t maintain. However, the point is under good direction, most experienced stylists and beauty team are quite efficient in preparing a female artist for performance etc.
Often, a lot of executives have no clue what to do, have no set budget, and leave it up to the female artist to find and identify her style image, shop for the right clothes, get the stylist and makeup team etc. The end result is chaos, drama, waste of time, and a brand that is inconsistent with the music, and the label’s brand values.
On the artist management side, with very few exceptions, managers cannot seem to work with a female artist without having a romantic relationship with her. And when you think about how Davido, a label owner, some years back, said he could never sign a female artist onto his label roster because if he does, he can’t control himself and will have to have sex with her, you begin to understand the mindset of many of these managers and label executives approach a female artist with.
In the media space, especially new media, there are some strong leading female voices. So, it is rare you would find them asking silly questions of female artists. However, when it comes to traditional media, there is the thing they do that makes it hard for female singers. There is no recognition of what women have contributed to the industry. Instead, many journalists ask the dumbest questions of these women. They routinely ask when these female artists will get married, their relationships (breakups, divorce, who they are dating, who they should date), their likability in the industry and by other women, and competition with the few female singers trying to make it as well. It always revolves around the aforementioned topics and is rarely about the music. Quite astonishing, if you think about it.
FEMALE MUSIC EXECUTIVES
Let’s talk about female executives in the business. It is rare that you can point to female executives in the music industry. If you do see an executive, it must be the sister, wife or other female relatives of the male owner of the music business.
We do see a lot of women in ancillary industry roles such as hospitality, fashion (styling), and publicity. That seems to be where women are thriving. Those roles are very important to the survival of the industry, but they are also the roles men feel the most comfortable “allowing” these women to be engaged in. Seeing women in executive positions beyond this role is a problem because the average Nigerian male artist and industry professionals are not used to women calling the shots.
What about other key roles in the industry? How many female music producers does Nigeria’s music industry have? How many DJs? How many female record label owners? For music video directors, I think we have just Kemi Adetiba. Are there more women shooting music videos?
How many songwriters? Sound engineers? Music publishers? Artist managers? Here, I will have to give a shout out to Chocolate City Group, a media, and entertainment company. Yes, they have not been successful in breaking female artists and need to improve. But under Audu Maikori’s leadership, they have a woman leading the legal department of the entertainment company, and under M.I’s leadership, you now have DJ Lambo as an executive within its music subsidiary.
I know many women have complained in the past that they are grossly underpaid compared to their male counterparts, especially for live shows and endorsement deals, which is the only real source of income for most artists. A company can request the services of Waje for a concert, for example, and underpay her yet pay her male counterpart gets substantially more money. One could argue that it is contingent on who is negotiating the deal. But, the reality is gender does come into play.
Folks, when you consider the overt and covert sexism present in the industry, some of which I identify above, it is no surprise that even when a woman like Aramide is able to navigate the industry’s very tough terrain, is nominated and wins an award, a guy like Ebiye can get on social media and poop all over her hard work with “probably f**ked the award organizers to win.”
If we think this is an isolated incident limited to Ebiye, and not a systemic problem, then I don’t know what to tell you.
It would be remiss of me to conclude this article without also calling out the ladies. I have never been one that believes that I have to like someone (man or woman) to work with them. I have also never seen a marginalized group make change without working together in solidarity with a common vision for creating change. Many women, often, I find, are very distrustful of one another. They have been hurt and rejected by fellow women so they find it impossible to put that aside and work towards a common vision. The fact of the matter is no one will change the status quo for you as a woman in the music business unless you demand change. For change to happen, there must be solidarity and working with allies to move the needle forward. Ladies, you don’t have to like each other, really, to work together.
The requisite questions you must ask are: is this person professional? Does she have the requisite expertise? Can she get the job done? Is she honest? If all the answers are “yes,” then add that woman on your team, and join hands in working together to create a better industry for yourself and others. I do find often we want to be friends with the people we do business with or with industry folks, so we can form our little cliques.Just because we all work in the same industry doesn’t mean we are compatible as friends or should be friends. Get over liking people to work with them. The task at hand has no room for romanticizing about friendships with people or setting unrealistic expectations.
My point is if you are a woman trying to break into Nigeria’s music industry, expect to deal with a male-dominated business environment. Expect to be harassed. Expect to sometimes be belittled. Expect your safety to be compromised (whether physical assault, sexual harassment etc.). Expect no accountability. Expect that you will be asked and made to become sexual objects with your music or sexual references mandated in your music. But at the end of the day, you make a personal choice on the price you are willing to pay to pursue your music dream. You can refuse to compromise and possibly be part of the solution, or you can do what you believe it takes to get your music played. The choice is yours.
I am not writing this to discourage you. I am writing to push you, and most importantly, encourage you to be the willing catalyst to gather your fellow female artists, put aside the myths and notions about working with women, set realistic expectations, set boundary lines, and begin working strategically and systematically, to see more changes in the industry that provide better working conditions for you as a female artist. This, needless to say, will also require allies in men. There are men in the industry that want to be a part of the solution and will gladly help to push a more equitable agenda for female artists forward.
As an aside, as you probably already know, the sexism seen in the industry is reflective of that in society. There is a very weird cultural notion that a woman cannot work, and own her own place until she is married. You must live with your family until you are married. If you deviate from this, you are a prostitute aka “ashawo.” Another very weird culture is the use of religious references, especially Christianity, in the workplace to justify discrimination against women. How many times have you heard, “ a man is the head of the house” or a “man should be in charge?”Even Tiwa Savage for all her so-called progressiveness, made a similar statement when asked about the role of women in a society.
However, as you know or should know, nothing in the bible talks about women being subservient in society. Biblical references to women on the controversial issue of “subservient/submissiveness” focuses on a married woman in her home. A single woman pursuing her music career in the industry is nobody’s wife, and there is no biblical reference that demands that she be subservient/submissive to any man in the industry. Similarly, a married woman like Aramide pursuing her career in the music industry is nobody’s footstool and there is no biblical reference that extends her idea of “submission” to her husband in her own home, whatever that may be, to other men within the industry.
So, for all, including women, we must stop using culture and religion to terrorize fellow human beings, especially when these people are our daughters, sisters, cousins etc.
What Ebiye said was humiliating, disgraceful, distasteful, defamatory and terrible. From a legal standpoint, I wouldn’t accept sorry, since I understand he has now apologized. I would sue him for the defamtion and public humiliation, and to make a point as part of pushing the needle forward for change in the industry.
My 50 Kobo for all it’s worth.