The year is 2019, and Tems’ Try me is commandeering the charts. Her sound is fresh, breezy, and firm.
In the music video for the hit song, Tems is portrayed as a gang leader leading a revolution. Alongside her team of rebels, she is abducted, and put in chains but eventually breaks away. The 3 minutes and 43 seconds video creates the perfect picture of the typical new school woman –daring, bold, and unorthodox.
The media played and still plays a vital role in portraying women in music. Their fashion and style are heavily scrutinized, judged, and even determined- to a large extent, how far they’d go in the industry.
When Niyola dropped her hit single Toh bad, she captivated a lot of hearts with her music. Young, talented, and ready to take on the industry. Several years after leaving her first label, she reveals that her reason was that her label was marketing her body, instead of her music.
For women, a great voice went better with a “great” body, and even better when there’s sex appeal. Fashion was an integral compass for measuring femininity as well. This meant women who had lower appeal were “one of the boys” or outcasts.
Weird MC, born Adesola Adesimbo Idowu, is one of the finest acts in the Nigerian music industry. She honed her craft, her persona, yet the tabloids were always out for her style. She was often spotted in blazers, khaki pants, and a hat that gave her an edgy, tomboy look.
But undeterred by the loud and jarring comments by her fans and naysayers, Weird MC stayed true to herself. In an interview with Hiptv’s catch-up show- Trending, she discussed how people stereotyped her. People labeled her as LGBTQ+ even when she didn’t claim the identity.
Weird MC was daring. In a country neck-deep in exerting conformity with gender norms and expression, she stood unwavering in her femininity.
FEMININITY ACCORDING TO NEW SCHOOL AFRICAN FEMALE ARTISTS
The 2010s ushered in a new wave of talented, fierce, and relentless African female artists. Women who are passionate about putting out progressive African music, making a colossal impact; women who are taking space in the global music scene and are doing so unapologetically.
Here are some of the women redefining femininity.
Temilade Openiyi released her first EP, “Time swap”, in 2013. Eight years later, Tems ranked number one on Billboard Hot 100 for her collaboration with Drake on Fountains. She has made her mark on the global music scene and ensured nobody can ever try her.
Tems’ style and music have one thing in common; they’re solely hers. When it comes to her outfits, whether clad in sheer tops, cargo pants and braids, or monotone outfits and statement eyewear, one thing is for sure – you will see her, and you will hear her.
In a recent monologue for a campaign with Reebok, Tems says, “Living is being free and existing without conditions or laws or rules, and just living according to your divine nature.”
The self-acclaimed leader of the Rebel gang is living authentically and controlling the entire narrative outside of traditional expectations.
The first time you’ll hear Amaarae is the only time you’ll ever need to convince yourself she’s a genius. Born Ama Serwah Genfi, Amaarae hails from Ghana and is making bold statements with her sound, music, style, and identity.
Her vocal strength and her unique falsetto mark her from other female artists. The first time I listened to her, I remember thinking, “I’d never heard anyone sound like her.”
Her style is mapped by bold, loud outfits that introduce her persona to you even before speaking. From coloured wigs to bright eye makeup and unconventional costumes. Amaarae will do it all, and she’ll look stunning!
Amaarae’s music revolves around sending messages about issues like wealth, gender, love, etc., without letting loose her original sensual tone. In her interview with Pulse.ng, she says, “I’ve always had a masculine and feminine side and always expressed them. It’s just a matter of how I feel and who I want to be. But I get more in touch with my feminine side as I grow older.”
For Amaarae, expression and authenticity come first. Recently, Vogue named her one of the women challenging gender roles for her music’s impact on addressing these issues.
Falana’s signature hairstyle is tawny-brown braids that fall into big round balls, like pom-poms, just slightly below her jawline. The unconventional hairstyle inspired by her love for experimenting with new things.
Born Victoria Falana, the Nigerian-Canadian singer says her sound is a perfect sync of Afrobeats and R&B.
Her interests in fashion, art, and expression led to a feature in Vogue. She was also named by the New Yorker as one of the people “changing the sound of global pop.”
In her interview with Complex.com, Falana says her EP Rising’s theme is self-empowerment. “It’s bigger than me. You know, I can be a voice for young women sitting down and saying, “I’m no one’s trophy/I’m an Electric Lady/I shine like royalty.” Those lyrics, I think, are really powerful.”
Watching the paradigm shift from women being major props in music videos to embracing their individualism is iconic.
With music at the core of their universe, these women are committed to making an impact that transcends them in all of their uniqueness. Influencing and redefining femininity in African music creates a space around self-expression, choice, and freedom.
Although it is false to say that the industry has peaked in this topic. However, these African female artists and many more are doing back-breaking work to ensure authenticity and individualism are essential aspects of self-expression. Like Weird MC, their non-conformity will serve as footprints for the women after them.