Why Are Igbo Girls Absent In The Nigerian Music Stage?

Face of Igbo girls

Mention three female Nigerian musicians of Igbo extraction? I can say Chidinma and Stormrex from the defunct Desperate Chicks group. You will say Sinach; we are talking Nigerian hip hop (releasing the brake may result in you going all Chioma Jesus, Chinyere Udoma, Rosemary Chukwu and the likes – not tonight). If, in contrast, I ask you to mention Igbo actresses in Nollywood, you won’t know where to start because there are hundreds of them. But why are Igbo hip hop musicians countable and painfully so? Even the Chidinma mentioned above seems to have past her peak and is struggling to scratch at the door of public attention; she hasn’t been successful yet and may never be. Stormrex has one good song from 2014 and a cameo in an Olamide/Phyno song in 2019. It is only true, harsh as it might sound, to say there is no single South Eastern female on the Nigerian music stage.

The dominant position of the church in the South East is one of the quick places people might point at as to why Igbo girls sing only gospel. The boys attend churches too and somehow they get to go to the studio and the girls can’t. And we can say, for the sake of arguing this line – just for that – that boys have more freedom than girls in many families and can easily go wayward which is what many parents will say of secular music. But this argument can’t sell. There are Igbo strippers, Igbo call girls, and Igbo street girls. These are the real “wayward”. Are you then suggesting that our saintly parents and the all-powerful church fail to stop girls from singing but not from the street and Otigba Junction? Stop pointing at the church/parents.

If Igbo women were not well-represented on the pitch, on the big screen, on TV, and on the runway, I may be tempted to say that it is a genetic combination in them that shies away from the entertainment of singing. They are not just represented in other arms of show business, they are doing huge numbers which makes it more troubling that the music industry has made itself an impregnable cult for Igbo women.

But why?

The South East is hostile to hip hop music development

If you are in the East trying to become a hip hop star, you will find the atmosphere in the region stifling. Get me right, Igbos love bangers and would nod to it when it plays at bars, filling stations, on radio, TV, and elsewhere. But you are not going to find a lot of people who will attend a show of upcoming artistes even for free. If you make it, they would come out to support you and claim you as their own but there is certain laziness when it comes to supporting new arts. The FM stations try but there is so little 30 minutes a week programs can go in building the industry. How many studios are in the southeast? How many record labels? How many shows feature the unknown on a weekly basis? How many dons are willing to invest in upcoming stars rather than on containers on the high sea?

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It is not just for the sake of moving that Phyno and Flavour left the east to advance their career. The environment in Lagos is the heat for many budding careers and it is easier to be charged up there. Ibadan is not bad and there are many lukewarm towns in the West for music. Enugu and Onitsha are sleeping on the cold floor.

It is easier to become a high life musician in the East and there are many who aspire to be the next Osadebe and the next Oliver De Coque. Perhaps the fact that you can do launching for your high life music and invite Chief Kalu and Onwa to chair the occasion and raise money makes high-life more attractive for the short-term and respite money for an artiste whose mother in the village might be struggling to feed. This launching culture keeps high life and gospel music vibrant in the East but it encourages mediocrity and shuts the very talented who lack connection out.

But we still have Igbo male musicians make it in spite of these challenges, you say. True, but I never said male Eastern stars are performing well. Compared to the West, they are doing poorly. They are just doing better than women. Side note: an industry that makes it hard for male artistes would make it near impossible for female stars. A more tolerant, nay, more encouraging atmosphere in the east will make more men stars and make room for a sizeable number of women.

There is no legendary Igbo female hip hop star to look up to

When the Nigerian music industry started gaining traction and becoming a national force with the like of Tuface, P Square, D’banj, and Faze, Weird MC was there to represent the inspiration of the Yoruba girl. When the Nigerian music industry boomed with the likes of Davido, Wizkid, Olamide, Patoranking, Don Jazzy’s Mavins, Tiwa Savage was there for the Yoruba girl. Remember that Asa has always been there to offer her milk of inspiration to upcoming Sades, Adokes, and Bunmis.

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There was no Igbo female superstar at the table. Onyeka Onwenu and Christy Igbokwe are legends but they are of the older generation, singing when most of these girls’ parents were yet to get married, and they sang more traditionally. Mama G’s “National Moi-Moi”  did zero to inspire any Igbo girl because it lacks depth and was an extension of the quickies of Nollywood rather than a torchbearer for the music industry. If the Resonance duo of Esther ‘E-Star’ Abigbo and Uche ‘Gucheano’ Ozoigbo that released “Chinwe Ike” had become true stars on the music stage, or if Chidinma went beyond “Kedike” or if the Desperate Chicks actually did more than shake bum, we might not have been here today. The failures have seemed to normalize the absence of Igbo girls at the very top of Nigerian secular music; it is now normal for an Igbo girl to come out, make one good song, sell AdSense for Youtube, attend a few shows then fizzle out – just like that.

The cheapness of making movies in the East

I live in Enugu and I have seen first hand how cheap it is to make movies in the southeast. My guy’s guy bought a car the other day and said it was for his acting gigs because he is actually a producer though he is a secondhand shoe seller. He knows someone who owns a property in Independence Layout and someone with a camera. Now the main protagonist has a car to drive, a house to live in, and a camera to be recorded with. Just like that. They churn movies out as easily as they produce toilet papers. It makes mega sense, you shoot a movie with 200 thousand naira and make 600 thousand naira. If you shoot 100 movies in a year that is 40 million naira profit. Why would this Abakpa producer waste his time making cinema and licking someone’s ass on Twitter in order to sell tickets?

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This cheapness is affecting our sister’s musical creativity. Musical talents growth takes time and while waiting, Igbo girls are distracted and deceived with Upper Iweka/Asaba movie productions. The argument is easy: act in this film and make your 15 thousand naira to keep body and soul together until you blow as a musician. But they never blow; soon enough, they want to be the next Regina Daniels or Nkoli Nwa Nsukka. There goes their music dream.

What can we do to help Igbo girls reach their musical goals

First, the question is who are “we”? We as bloggers, music lovers, stakeholders, or government? Certainly not the government. Everything is not government biko. Neither is everything about solutions. I have made my point, I have, hopefully, started a conversation. There is a problem with Igbo girls and hip hop – they don’t mix. If this becomes a hot topic, I trust smarter people would think of solutions with Twitter threads and maybe build a sentimental base strong enough to launch our girls and keep them up there until a real gem turns up to wow the nation and become the focal point.

I watch Africa Magic Igbo music programs and there is this Ogochukwu girl. She sings rather fine with a beautiful voice and obvious talents. I will keep an eye on her. She also does gospel and in December 2019, I read an interview where she says she was crushing on Davido. Bia sister, be guided, you might be the superstar we need to start a revolution. There are plenty Ogochukwus out there and supporting them any way you can will go a long way. We need one of them to seriously blow and Uju, Ifeoma, and Nneka can tap from it.

With the Igbos completely shut out of Nigeria politics, business and creativity are what we do best. We have one rival in the creative aspect, the Yorubas, and we run neck-in-neck in many of these genres. But when it comes to music, they lead; when it comes to female music, they butcher us. I am not happy. You shouldn’t be.

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