Sexism exists in all spheres of our lives but in Africa, its more pronounced in music than any other sector.Recent researcher show a predictable picture of Africa women’s continued marginalisation in all roles, whether as performers, songwriters, record company owners or on boards.Only one in ten CEOs of publicly listed company in Kenya, South Africa and Nigeria are women, for instance. And in music, 75% of the artists played on Radio are male-only bands or male solo performers. When it comes to artist management is another industry area with something approaching almost no female representation. The research has prompted a vigorous debate on social media reigniting discussions about the underrepresentation of women in Africa’s pop music, and what can be done about it.There are many subtle and complex reasons why women find staking a claim in music harder than men. One of these is to do with how the value of music is talked about, and who talks about it. The dominance of men in music criticism is well illustrated by the number of performing artists. Male critics in Africa are particularly prevalent in the urban music. And these men writing about music have tended to write about money, sex and women while making their music.Some male critics explicitly think African women can’t make good music and exclude them for that reason. For the most part, though, critics do what everyone does, they are drawn more towards music that they relate to because it reflects something about themselves and their life experiences, mirroring their understanding of the world.
When Nigerian musicians like P Square, Davido, Wiz Kid, South Africa’s Mafikizolo and Kenya’s Sauti Sol are consecrated as musicians of value by critics, they create a blueprint for what would be thought of as valuable in the future. They also influences the practices of aspiring musicians.For women, questions of representation become important here, if you don’t see anyone like yourself being presented in the mainstream music with exception of Yemi Alade and her fellow Nigerian Tiwa Savage, it is harder to imagine you can make good music. Thus a male-dominated industry works to exclude potential future women musicians.Those women who are successful like Yemi Alade and Tiwa Savage are more often in the pop genre. Pop success often entails having a highly sexualised image, and is generally not taken seriously by critics.In Kenya, young women trying to break into music also have to deal with the way social spaces connected with music are often marked as masculine and policed by men in various ways.Many women musicians have reported belittling and dismissive attitudes by men in live music venues, music stores and when learning music. It seems in Uganda, few female musicians have not been asked at one time or another whether they’re with so and so, or if they’re just there to watch their male friend, or had their technical or musical abilities called into question.The experiences shared by Winnie Nwangi, Uganda’s hottest female artist of 2016 give some insight into the way being around music is made hard for women.In my fact finding mission, a new spotlight emerged on the way ugly, and sometimes criminal sexism is embedded in the music industry.
The renewed discussion of feminism and the existence of social media have given women new ways to call attention to the unacceptable behaviour of some men.Many women quickly emerge to tell of their experiences which paint a picture of men who had been chauvinistic, serial abusers for many years, but who are protected by the culture of the industry. It should be noted that this is by no means unique to Africa music industry and very similar behaviours by men in developed countries.In Africa, what has helped short-circuit the protection of abusers in these situations is social media. Social media has allowed for expressions of belief and support to be publicly performed in new ways. That the circulation of these stories is having actual consequences for men, who for many years have been protected by the homosocial nature of the industry, and the expectation that girls were one of the perks you got for being a music star or hanging on their coat tails, is important. There is the potential for a cultural change to take place in Africa.This change is driven by feminist activism in the industry as well as by individual women brave enough to speak up about what has happened to them. There exists a long history of African women musicians speaking out against sexism like legendary South African singers Yvonne Chaka Chaka and the late Miriam Makeba, Benin’s Angelique Kidjo,Zambian songstress Anne Mwale among others and although lasting, widespread change has proved elusive.In Nairobi, Johannesburg, Dar Es Salaam, Kampala, Lagos, Accra among other cities, there’s emerging trend challenging sexism in the music industry. In Kenya and Nigeria, such trends have seen organisations help women release music by funding them. The end goal is to normalise the idea that women have a right to exist in music-related spaces, neither as accessories to men, or as a sexual prize to be scored whether willingly or not.