Similar to the other major sectors embedded in the roots of society, the narrow margin of opportunities for women is unambiguously present in the music industry. For centuries, music has proven to be intrinsic to general human identity. It has been transposed into a commodifiable object under capitalism, producing worthy economic benefits and driving sustainable profits. It has the ability to empower, comfort, and gladen; the capacity to establish long-lasting emotional and social bonds sprouted by the relatability of the subject it explores.


Hence, it is utterly inequitable that women are excluded from its core and relegated to its fringes. Patriarchal conditioning has constituted sexist restrictions on women’s involvement in music to certain levels where the only spot reserved for women is the role of the “sexualized commercial object for sale”. According to the conclusions made by the USC Annenberg Inclusions Initiative, “women are missing in the music industry.” Their research studied 900 popular songs on Billboard’s annual Hot 100 charts from 2012 to 2020, together with Grammy nominees within the same timeframe (mainly focusing on Record of The Year, Album of the Year, Song of the Year, Producer of the Year and Best New Artist.)


Historically, in the African music scene, there are sprinkles of female artists who have scarcely smashed the confines of gender bias and remained relevant in the archives of great African musicians — from Salawa Abeni, the crowned “Queen of Waka music” by the Alafin of Oyo Kingdom, who was the first ever female Yoruba artist to sell over one million copies of an album to the likes of Miriam Makeba, Onyeka Onwenu, Brenda Fassie, Evi-Edna Ogholi, and the legendary, five-time Grammy Award winning singer and songwriter, Angelique Kidjo. However, following the assertion of Vincent Desmond for Dazed Digital: “While there have always been female musicians paving the way in Africa, the ratio of male superstars performing on a global level to female artists on that same level has always been poor.”


The early 2000s to late 2015 witnessed the emergence of female rappers and singers such as Sasha P, Weird MC, Kel, Mo’Cheddah who buzzed in a period where it was unusual to garner mainstream publicity in Nigeria due to the miasma of a very male-dominated hip-hop scene. But in contrast to their male counterparts who sailed alongside them on the wheels of fame, their prominence didn’t last long.


The recent times, however, have beheld a rise in female stars from Africa who are breaking the limits of female achievement, reaching new heights and climbing uncharted statistics. These women include Grammy-nominated singer, Tems, who won the “Best International Act” at the 2022 BET Awards and ranked #1 on the Billboard Next Big Sound chart and #1 on the Billboard Emerging Artists chart; Tiwa Savage, the first woman to win “Best African Act” at the 2018 MTV Europe Music Award; Ayra Starr, whose song, “Bloody Samaritan”, became the first solo song by a female artist to reach the number-one position on the TurnTable Top 50 chart.


Regardless, women are still actively missing in the behind-the-scenes landscape of music. From music executives, sound engineers, A&R managers, women are hardly present. It is recorded that the number ratio of female producers is fewer than “3% of producers that have been on the charts, between the years of 2012 and 2020.” It is not enough that female artists are being represented almost as visibly as male stars, women need to own consistent spaces in the fundamentals of the music system. Sexual assault, harassments, emotional, socio-economic and financial abuse are running issues faced by women in music. The unrelenting work culture where tight schedules and late nights are commonplace has nudged some women to discard deep familial fantasies.


Therefore, improving the working conditions to foster great atmospheres where women can thrive should be essential. Proper, adequate, and safer spaces where the exploitation of women and retrograde stereotypes are scratched off for total respect on the individual basis of their skills should be created to enable women explore their creative flair to its full potential. The Grammy’s Producer and Engineer Inclusion Initiative and other resources that support those with hiring power find women, as well as offering them training and networking opportunities should be leading examples of organisations bucking against the lack of diversity. The general style of how women are spoken about and critiqued by bloggers, music critics, and so on should be checked to avoid the undertones of double standards and sexism. Also, ardently representing the few women in the music industry, from the producers and engineers to artistes, in positive lights will help encourage more girls to steer towards the industry.


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