Lady Donli is a Lagos based artist who is quickly becoming a global household name. Gaining much acclaim after releasing her debut album ‘Enjoy Your Life’ in 2019, which expertly blended R&B, afrobeat, high-life and jazz, she’s back again with another banger, ‘Rockstar Parole’. This track pays homage to the culture of story-telling which is rife in Nigerian music, the singer says: “Rockstar can be compared to Tony Tetuila’s hit single ‘My Car’ in the way the lyrics paint a clear picture of the story”. Catching up with House of Solo, in an interview which ranks among my favourites ever, we chat about Nigerian Alté culture, how the pandemic has worked against her travelling nature and what ethos she’s bringing with her as she moves forward into 2021. Even over email, it’s clear to see that this Lady is undoubtedly a queen.
First of all, how are you? Where are you right now and how have you spent your day so far?
I’m doing pretty good actually, thanks for asking! I’m at home in Abuja, Nigeria and so far I’ve meditated, gone to driving class (I’m sort of re-learning how to drive), I’ve worked out, read a book, had lunch and taken a nap. Not much going on really but it’s been an okay day.
For someone whose normal routine is characterised by movement, travelling from London to Lagos to Toronto, how has the last year’s restricted movement laws affected you?
I can’t lie, at first it really sucked. I was stuck in Toronto for like eight months when I was really only meant to be there for about two weeks. That was really challenging but it really helped me settle down for a bit and just breathe, that wasn’t something I had gotten the chance to do in a while. It gave me more time to myself and my thoughts and I really got a chance to properly introspect. At the moment though I’ve been back home in Abuja since October and I am getting a bit agitated. I’ve done a lot of self-improvement – reading, practising, working out, meditating and I feel like I just want to move now. I want to see what else is out there and see if there’s something new I can experience. I’m a bit bummed but I guess it’s okay. I’m just trying to stay positive and guard my mind.
Your most recent release ‘Rockstar Parole’ pays homage to the storytelling which was prevalent in Nigerian music in the early 2000s. What kinds of stories do you feel are missing in current music?
I feel like a lot of songs I hear on the radio, especially at home in Nigeria, are like romantic love songs or club bangers. I’d like to hear more music about introspection or just self-love. There are different sorts of love, so there could be music about loving each other and kindness. Right now I think everyone’s going through it, we could all use a little bit of kindness and understanding. We all could definitely do with a bit more self-love that’s for sure.
Nigeria has a rich and varied music culture – but apart from Afrobeat/Afropop the UK get’s limited exposure. What genres/artists would you recommend to someone who wanted to know a bit more?
There’s highlife music, which is one of my favourite genres of music. There’s also Fuji music which is pretty rad! Then there’s the usual stuff you’d find everywhere else – R&B, Hip hop, trap music, blues. Just with a bit of African flavour, I’m not too sure what to call them, a lot of people just put Afro before the genre, but I’m not sure how I feel about that.
You’re a proud member of Nigeria’s Alté community. Can you describe what Alté means to you?
I don’t know if I’d call myself a proud member per say. I mean it’s not as though I’m not proud, it’s just like it wasn’t one of those deliberate things. It was just where I found myself with my friends you know, kids just trying to express themselves and be heard. Alté is just a subculture, alternative from the norm. That’s it.
It seems like you had an incredibly musical upbringing with a producer for a brother and your own parents nurturing your storytelling talent. What music did you grow up within your house?
Haha, you’ve done great research! Yeah, my parents were cool with support and having a musician at home really influenced me. I mostly grew up around a lot of hip hop, a lot of Jay Z, a lot of 50cent. Stuff like that, then I got introduced to Destiny’s Child and Beyoncé, Mariah. But also there was a lot of Nigerian music as well. Lagbaja, StylPlus, Six Foot Plus. I know a lot of Nigeria music because of my brother, like sometimes when I mention some songs I know a lot of older people are pretty confused. It’s always “how old are you again?”
You studied Law at the University of Surrey before going back to Lagos to pursue a career in music. How did this time in the UK impact your music?
When I was in university I was already making a lot of music, I had a little set up in my room where other musicians would come and record as well. Being in the U.K. gave me the freedom to explore what I didn’t have in Nigeria. I grew up pretty secluded and pretty protected, I never got the chance to go to shows or attend concerts. So when I went to the U.K., I started going to a lot of concerts and just learning more, I started understanding the importance of the fan experience.
Lagos is famous for its party scenes. How does the vibe playing there compare to London?
Lagos and London are pretty similar. I think the biggest difference for me is that Lagos is home, there’s just the energy you get at home that you can’t get anywhere else.
Following on, what’s your fondest live gig memory?
My Lagos concert in 2019. When I was performing my song ‘cash’ and everyone basically jumped on stage, I lost track of the song and we were basically just having one big stage party.
You’ve undertaken some incredible collaborations including Tems, BenjiFlow and The Cavemen. Who would be your ideal collaborator, living or dead?
My ideal collaborator hmm. There’s a long list but off the top of my head, I’d really love to work with Little Simz. She’s one of the artists who I learnt a lot from by watching her on stage. I’d go to all her concerts when I was at uni. I think it would just be a wonderful full-circle moment for me.
What song characterizes 2020 for you?
‘Suffer Suffer’ by myself because honestly, the year was a massive struggle.
Looking forward, what are your New Year’s resolutions this year?
Just to learn as much as I possibly can and to drop my second album. This year for me is about self-love and self-development, so that’s what I’m working hard at right now.