Sylph-like bodies, synchronized dance steps, a collective uniqueness, near-perfect harmony, sex appeal by the buckets, and millions of half-crazed fans define in more ways than one, more often than not, bands. This definition bends and weaves, narrow in some places, and wide in others when gender becomes a defining factor.
Thus, bands have a wonderful appeal, boy bands have a great appeal, and girl bands are THE appeal.
And there’s plenty of evidence to support the last sentence. From the early days of blues and jazz and soul and RnB to gospel and pop and rock and roll and now, there’s nothing quite like seeing a woman frontlining a band, or a band made up entirely of women or girls.
It is a most heady feeling.
There have always been representations of how much women can achieve when they unite through music and dance, in movies, like the Barbie-animated movies, some Disney movies, and in real life: Diana Ross and the Supremes, Gladys Knight and the Pips, The Shirelles, Destiny Child, The Pussycat Dolls, The Bangles, TLC, Salt-n-Pepa, Spice Girls, Girls Aloud, Little Mix, Fifth Harmony, G.R.L, Red Velvet, and most recently, BLACKPINK.
What’s puzzling about this representation is the demographic where they are found: the USA, the UK, Canada and South Korea. It is puzzling because Africa has always had her answer or option to whatever genre that the West, a term I use loosely, offers the world. Case in point, they offered hip hop and rock and pop, we offered Afrobeats – a genre that is multi-encompassing with many sub-genres within it; they offered NSYNC, Westlife, Boyz11Men, Backstreet Boys, and One Direction, we offered PSquare, Mafikizolo, Sauti Sol, BQuatro, H_Art the Band, Toofan, X-Maleya and Mi Casa.
And so, it does beg the question, where is Africa, or more specifically, Nigeria’s answer to the girl bands from overseas?
Why focus on Nigeria, why not Africa?
It is because Nigerians are a tough crowd to please, and at the risk of sounding notoriously biased, Nigeria and Nigerian influence on the global music industry can’t ever be overlooked.
So, where are the girl bands?
It certainly isn’t a lack of talent. No, that is far from the case, the churches, mosques, streets and highrises are teeming with talent, both discovered and undiscovered. Walk past any school or house without a fence and hear teen Beyoncés and Mariah Careys, go to church on Sundays and watch reincarnations of Nina Simone and Diana Ross, watch reality TV shows and experience rapture. So, it certainly isn’t a case of talent or the lack thereof.
Nigeria’s music industry in the words of Isaac Atser, ex-music producer and A&R is not so kind to bands. He says,
In Nigeria for a start, bands don’t seem to catch on as much generally. Plantashun boys lasted for the whole time it takes to make an album before the break up and reunion. The only multiple acts we have in the Nigerian industry right now who are making waves are The Cavemen and Ajebo Hustlers which are not even fully blown in the industry so bands don’t really work here too in terms of marketability.Isaac Atser in an interview with Modaculture, August 2023
Atser says the concept of “blowing” is subjective to opinions because artists such as Portable, an afro-street artist, and Odumodublvck, an afro-cult artist, have seemed to gain a following among Nigerians and others like Dremo and Ladipoe who have released a few songs have blown as a result of elite association.
When it comes to female acts in the Nigerian industry, it seems there has to be an abundance of both sex appeal and musicality for a chance for success, for example Tems, Ayra Starr and Tiwa Savage, those acts had to work with Don Jazzy and WizKid to break into the mainstream.Isaac Atser in an interview with Modaculture, August 2023
It is hard enough to sing, even harder is cultivating a sex appeal.
And one cannot succeed without sex appeal, sadly, because very few Nigerians care about tone and texture and power and agility. Most, including A&R executives and producers/executives, care about marketability, which is often geared towards visual appeal than actual talent.
The Nigerian music industry is at once cynical and hypocritical. Females have to work twice as hard as males for half the success, and then fight tooth and nail to preserve their reputation from detractors, haters and merciless tabloids. And shyness is exploited, strictness is considered arrogance, charisma is considered waywardness.
As Ogaga Sakpaide, music executive and A&R, puts it,
The industry favours men than women. Women are subject to humiliating requests and conditions for the chance to record a demo, and this has caused many would be artists to quit.Ogagus Sakpaide in an interview with Modaculture, August 2023
He further goes on to say that,
A lack of collaboration among top female artists also weakens the chances of anyone putting out an all female group. The females like to add male features on their songs when the truth is that, the females do more than thrice the work that the males do and have more reach.Ogagus Sakpaide in an interview with Modaculture, August 2023
Sakpaide also points out that longevity is an issue for females as societal expectations and needs also factor in for A&Rs and record labels who may be willing to take on girl groups. Sakpaide, however, believes that the new wave of artists, GenZ artists as he puts it, may be the change that we will see, becoming pop culture symbols for a younger generation that is quickly evolving.
This is not to say that girl bands overseas have it easy. Far from it. This is to say that Nigerian music executives ought to consider girl bands. GenZ and GenAlpha tastes are changing quite rapidly, and every girl has always dreamed of being in a band with other girls and singing and signing autographs and touring and doing magazine cover shoots and getting endorsements and ambassadorships.
Would girl bands in Nigeria work?
Of course, it would. The Cavemen worked, Mafikizolo worked, Sauti Sol worked, PSquare worked, and Ajebo Hustlers worked. It would be taxing and tiring and frustrating and annoying and draining but it would work. It would be an entirely new market and Africa would lean towards it.
Actual talent plus a great songwriting team plus a wonderful record label executive and a stroke of luck could create Nigeria’s and indeed Africa’s answer to Little Mix, Fifth Harmony and BLACKPINK.
On a personal note, I would love to see a girl band start by sampling hits by some of Nigeria’s biggest female acts, like “Johnny” by Yemi Alade, “Soldier” by Simi, “Kele Kele Love” and “Eminado” by Tiwa Savage, “One Love” by Onyeka Owenu, and “Aww” by Di’ja. And maybe songs by Olamide, Wizkid, PSquare, StylPlus, Adekunle Gold, Fireboy DML, Burna Boy, Johnny Drille and Chike.
Girl bands can be possible in Nigeria, someone just has to put in the work.