The music industry is often spoken of as a male dominated arena, mostly because of the ratio of males to females in the leading positions of the different arms of the industry. The obvious areas are: the class of artists and artist managers; but in the less obvious fields like the field of producers, the gap between males to females is even more alarming – while there are leagues of male producers, Nigerian female producers, like Dunnie, are rare.
Dunnie handled the vocal and beat production of Sean Tizzle’s party-popular single titled “Pempe.” She is a skilled instrumentalist who learnt to play the drum, the guitar and the piano in her family church in Ibadan. Her music production career is an offshoot of her career as an Afro-fusion musician. She talks of the experience of being a unicorn in the field as “bitter sweet.” But she acknowledged its benefits saying, “I would say I have an edge as a producer than as a singer.”
Often times when the topic of the patriarchal nature of the industry is raised, the focus is on the fact that there are more male artists in every class of the industry’s structure than there are females – that female music professionals are few and less influential than they should be; but the attention given to the nuts and bolts of the subject is not serious. Dunnie thinks that some of the female artistes are more talented than the male artistes and should be rated better; but societal misconceptions limit the opportunities available to female in the industry like herself.
EARLY INTEREST IN MUSIC
Coming from a christianly conservative family, for a young lady with interest in music, usually means that she has to deal with opposition from family members, especially parents who would prefer that their daughter pursue professional career interests. Dunnie says in her case “it was not an option not to go to the university.” She completed a Bachelor’s degree course in Sociology in the University of Abuja. “I am not doing anything with it (the degree) except quote a couple of theories when I argue to show that I went to school”, she says jokingly.
She started with playing instrument for the church. And her parents did not have a problem with it. In fact, they are proud of her. “They liked the fact that I was doing music in church. They saw the glamour early and they saw my passion. They have always supported me”, she says. Even when she decided to leave the church to focus on a career in music, in 2014, they encouraged her; rather it was from the church that questions about the sense in the decision of their worship leader were raised – her pastor worried for her soul and thought she was “backsliding.”
“Well church people did not understand. They still don’t understand but it’s my vision and I don’t expect everyone to see things the way I do. After all they aren’t me”, she replies to my questions via WhatsApp. She added the woman shrugging emoji to emphasize that she owes them no explanation. “I knew from the onset my ‘ministry’ was going to be in the ‘world’”, she adds; explaining that her decision was influenced by her desire to express herself through music, beyond the confines of religious subjects.
Dunnie’s first set of projects were mostly covers. She recorded covers to Wizkid’s “Jaiye Jaiye” and Dr. SID’s “Surulere.” The reception of the covers was relatively good. “I got a lot of love online and in Abuja”, she writes in her text.
In 2015, Dunnie released her first song titled “My Tomorrow.” She did a mash-up of YBNL songs later that year and released “Bamidele” the year after. All these were done while she was based in Abuja.
Most people aspiring to positive change use the New Year to make resolutions about their aspirations. Dunnie’s 2018 resolution was to leave Abuja for Lagos “to network more, spread horizon and push music.” She calls it “Vision 2018.”
She knew Black Jerzey from her time in Abuja, so she linked up with him when she got to Lagos. She played some of her beats for him to “critique.” It was during one of those sessions that Sean Tizzle heard her play what would become the “Pempe” beat and showed interest. “I was playing the beat and Tizzle walked in. He liked it. Initially he thought it was Jerzey’s beat but I said ‘I own the beat’. He recorded it (Pempe) and it happened.” She describes the incident as “being in the right place at the right time and being ready with beats.”
Dunnie was producing for herself until sometime last year when she was looking for an extra stream of income. She reminds me that “there was recession” at that time. She took her beat to a friend’s studio to hear how it sounds on studio speakers. Another artiste heard the beat and asked to pay for it – he paid #10,000 but she was glad that she earned it. “I was glad I got paid but I definitely knew I would charge a lot higher in no time”
She does not know what happened to the beat afterwards. The next time she produced for an artist other than herself, was when she made a beat for a friend who asked for her service. Her first production work which made it to the public was released as one of the constituent songs on Ephraem’s Black Truth EP.
Since “Pempe”, she took time off to work on her debut project titled “#sevenTheEP”, on which she featured Fiokee & Ric Hassani. She makes it clear to me that she is first an artiste then a producer. “I love love. I love to write love songs but I feel most love songs out there do not depict how I think love should be”, she writes. She speaks about “Smile” – a song about love, on the EP; inspired by her sister. She mentions “Tell Me” – another song on the EP but this one is about mutual submission between a man and a woman.
EXPERIENCE AS A FEMALE PRODUCER
Being a female producer attracts interest to Dunnie. She is a rare breed – if there are others like her, they are few. She admits that “people are drawn to seeing a girl make beats”, but she believes that first impression is not enough. She says, “personally, I try my best to not be carried away by the attraction because I know at the end of the day it is music and when you listen to a song the first thing that comes to mind is not: ‘Na babe make this beat or Na guy make this beat?’ The first thing is: ‘is the music good?’ ‘Cos if the music is good then it would speak for itself; so I really try to make sure the music good. Let the music speak for itself.”
There are still people who do not believe a lady can produce music. She says sometimes she has to prove to people that she is indeed a producer. “When I tell them I am a producer they don’t take me seriously until I get them to listen to what I do.” However, often times, being a producer, as a female, opens doors for her. “I would say I have an edge as a producer than as a singer. I have had more encouraging moments than disappointing ones”, she writes.
On Twitter, renowned music journalist, Joey Akan had just published an article on why women in the music cannot be feminists, at the time of the interview. The publication is titled: Nigerian Women in Music Cannot Be Feminists, Their Lives Are At Stake. So I brought it up. “Are you a feminist, Dunnie?” For this question, she had to record a voice note. “I have to do this so my response is not taken out of context”, she says.
Topics like this are sensitive but important – these days social media has become a regular field for gender wars; Dunnie was trying not to be part of another one. She starts by sharing her understanding of the word “feminism.” “The basic meaning of feminism is equal rights and equal social economic opportunities for both men and women.”
“I agree with this. I personally think it makes practical sense”, she says, then adds, “In fact, I think we should all be feminists. Even the guys should be feminists. We should all get equal opportunities i.e. if you are playing 20 male songs, you should be playing 20 female songs on the radio.”
Then the but – what she calls “radical feminism.” She believes it is the aspect that makes feminism an ideology one must explain before associating with it. This is how she put it: “but of course, feminism has evolved over the years and now we have the radical feminists that are basically the man-hating feminists, who try to empower women at the expense of men. In the course of empowering women, they downgrade men. I don’t subscribe to that kind of feminism.”
About Joey’s article, she shows understanding but disagrees. “I understand where the article is coming from by saying you can’t be a feminist in this industry but if you go by the normal definition of feminism then you can be a feminist in the music industry”, she says.
She believes Seyi Shay, Yemi Alade, Tiwa Savage, Simi and herself are more talented than a lot of male artistes because as females they work harder in the areas of wardrobe selection, choreography and vocals than their male counterparts; some of whom she says have “basic singing ability.” She also thinks the rules are stricter for women because the society “excuses the excess of men.”
The African society has been severely fingered for favouring men over women. Dunnie agrees that the African society is not fair to women, calling it the “patriarchal system in Africa.” She uses herself as an example, saying she would have had more option if she wasn’t a female. “I know for a fact that if I were a guy I would have gotten more record deals than I already got because there is this notion with record labels and investors that women have tough character and are more difficult to control. They want to know if I plan to get married in 4 years or they think female artistes could fall in love, get pregnant and dump music. There are a lot of misconceptions about female artistes so it makes it harder for us to navigate this terrain, especially on the business level. So because of that we are not treated equally. We have to work twice as hard as the men.”
A talent, intelligent and driven artiste like Dunnie must have a goal – a dream that is at the core of her heart, an ambition that she would give years of her life to. I asked what this goal is and she says, “My greatest aspiration is to look back and know that my music has inspired people, blazed the trail and charted new frontiers in the industry.”
This piece was written by Ibironke Oluwatobi. He tweets via: @ibironketweets
Culled from Issue 21