Over the years, the Nigerian music industry has taken giant strides, rising to heights of international recognition. Built on the hard work of founding fathers and mothers, Nigerian music has travelled the world while managing to maintain its cultural heritage and diversity.
While most Nigerians are familiar with the work of male artists such as Fela, Sir Victor Uwaifo, Oliver De Coque and others, the impact of female Nigerian powerhouses in the industry cannot be overlooked.
In this article, we look at five legendary female musicians that were the blueprint for Nigerian music.
Salawa Abeni began singing at the age of 10. She hails from Ogun State and entered the limelight after releasing her debut album Late General Murtala Ramat Mohammed in 1976. Salawa’s genre of music is called Waka, a traditional Yoruba music style that is Islam-influenced. Waka music is a much older genre than Fuji and Jùjú, popularised by Batile Alake, a famous Waka musician. Salawa Abeni was crowned the “Queen of Waka music” by the Alaafin of Oyo. Some of her hit songs include Gentle Lady, and This Is Waka Music. She is also credited as the first female Yoruba artiste to sell over a million copies of an album.
Popularly known as “Lady with Golden Voice,” Nelly Uchendu was an Igbo highlife and gospel singer. She was also a performer and composer well known for popularising and modernising traditional Igbo folk music. Nelly began singing at an early age and was a part of Professor Sonny Oti’s music group, where her extraordinary vocals made her stand out. In 1976, she released Love Nwantiti under Homzy Sounds, shooting her to the limelight. Some other hits to Nelly’s name include Mama Hausa, Aka Bu Eze and Waka. Nelly Uchendu was popular beyond the shores of Nigeria, performing in London with Sir Warrior and his Oriental Brothers in the 1980s. The songstress experimented with various genres, including pop, gospel and Igbo highlife, further establishing her in the Nigerian music industry.
Born and raised in Port Harcourt, Onyeka Onwenu is more than an artist. She is a multifaceted creative – an actress, journalist, musician, professional journalist and politician. Her music career began in 1981, when she still worked at NTA, with her debut album For The Love Of You, a pop album featuring a cover of Hold Me Tight by Johnny Nash. Her second album was produced by the renowned Sonny Okosun titled Endless Life while she was signed to the record label EMI.
In 1992, she delivered to the label Benson and Hedges Music, where she released her self-titled album Onyeka!, her only album with the label before she transitioned to Gospel music. Her hit songs include One Love and Wait For Me, featuring the legendary King Sunny Ade. Onyeka hails from Imo state and holds a BA in International Relations and Communication from Wellesley College, Massachusetts, and an MA in Media Studies from The New School for Social Research, New York.
Christy Essien lgbokwe
Dubbed “Nigeria’s Lady of Songs”, Christy Essien Igbokwe was an Akwa-Ibom singer. The multi-lingual songstress released records in various languages, including Ibibio, Yoruba, English, Efik, Hausa and Igbo. Many of her songs were centred around societal issues, mainly gender-based problems. Christy released multiple hit songs like Seun Rere, Rumours, and You Can’t Change A Man. Christy was also the first woman to become the President of the Performing Musicians Association of Nigeria (PMAN).
Evi Edna Ogholi
Alias Africa’s Queen of Reggae, Evi Edna Ogholi, is a Nigerian reggae artist popular for her hit song Happy Birthday. Edna, who hails from Delta state, released her debut album My Kind Of Music in 1987. Emma Ogosi managed her, her husband at the time. Some of her popular hits include Look Before You Cross and Oghene Me. After a long hiatus from music, Edna returned in 2020 and signed a five-year record deal with Eno records. She released an EP titled Peace and Love, which contained a remix of her smash hit Happy Birthday under the label in August 2020.
Naomi Overo is a cultural writer, avid reader, and part-time musichead. She lives in Abuja where she enjoys hiding out in cafes and documenting the lives of young Nigerians.