#IWD2016: Onyeka, Salawa, Weird MC…5 women who played major roles in defining Nigerian music

Christy Essien Igbokwe

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Born in 1960, Christie began her career as a performer who sang at bars and clubs on the weekend. She got her big break in 1976, thanks to a role on the TV series, ‘The New Masquerade’ aired by The Nigerian Television Authority (NTA).  Using her newly found fame as a platform, Essien Igbokwe dropped her debut album Freedom in 1977, marking the start of a stunning career that spanned over 11 music albums and countless Nollywood lead roles. Christie Essien Igbokwe set herself on the entertainment map as Nigeria’s premier diva but there was more to her. She was in active forefront of issues affecting women and children, particularly starring in movies that openly addressed child abuse and female circumcision. Her greatest legacy was being the brainchild behind the creation of the Performing Musicians Association of Nigeria (PMAN).

Evi Edna Ogholi

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Afro-reggae songstress Edna Ogholi decided to be a superstar before she could even think for herself and that she did. She moved to Lagos in 1985 immediately after completing her secondary school education and 2 years later, released her debut album, My Kind of Music. Effectively breaking gender stereotypes as Nigeria’s first female reggae artist, Ogholi’s magnum opus remains her 1988, Happy Birthday album which featured the now classic lead single of the same name.

Onyeka Onwenu

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Broadcasting superwoman, actress, politician and singer, Onyeka Onwenu is one of Nigeria’s most celebrated female entertainers, thanks to an expansive career that has spanned so many walks of life. Though her debut album For The Love Of You was released in 1981, Onyeka did not come to national attention until the release of  her BBC documentary titled Nigeria: A Squandering of Riches.  She returned to music afterwards, serving for the longest time as the perfect cross over blend between Nigerian jazzy highlife and Western preppy disco hits of the 80s-90s. Though her music has matured in recent times to incorporate faith and health, Onwenu is still very active in Nigerian entertainment. Most notably she served as a judge on the X-Factor series and co-starred alongside Chiwetel Ejiofor and Thandie Newton in the screen adaptation of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun

Queen Salawa Abeni

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Popularly referred to as Gentle Lady, Salawa Abeni is a singer who rendered her music primarily in the Yoruba Language. She began her music career with Leader Records in the 1970s, mostly supplying back up vocals until her debut album Late Murtala Muhammed was released under the same label in 1976. The album crossed the one million copies sold landmark making it one of the most successful Nigerian albums till date. Abeni gained fame thanks to her iconic Waka style, an age-long traditional Yoruba music style with tonal leanings towards Islam and Hausa influenced Shantu music. She is the first woman to succeed in a field mostly dominated by men who sang Fuji music in the same language.

Weird MC

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Born in the United Kingdom in 1970, rapper Adesola Adesimbo ‘Weird MC’ Idowu actually set out to be a basket baller. Her inability to get support from the Nigerian government drove her to hip hop in the 90s. In 1996, after the success of her self produced single and video, Allen Avenue,  Weird MC put out her debut album, Simply Weird, an album many commentators have listed as the first full-length rap LP by a Nigerian artiste. Though the album didn’t sell too many copies due to the unfamiliarity of the market with the music genre, it made way for other rappers like Nigerian American group Sound on Sound and pidgin rap duo Junior and Pretty, both of whom were popular household names in the late nineties. While younger pop culture enthusiasts remember Weird MC by her ground breaking animated video for Ijoya, Weird MC’s greatest legacy was paving the way for Nigerian rap music.

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