Kafayat Quadri is one of the fast-rising acoustic soul singers and percussionist from Nigeria who is famous for her hijab as part of her identity. Only a handful of Muslim women are producing secular music and the space has shrunk over the years. Inside her Victoria Island, Lagos flat is an assemblage of music production equipment. A lawyer by training, Kafayat has a variety of taste in music, perfumes and flavours.
The touch of cinnamon in the coffee left a lingering taste as the conversation transitioned from the living room to the coffee table where she figuratively unveiled herself.
Her first performance on the stage can be traced back to her days at the Federal Government Girls College, Shagamu in 1997. Naturally, she experienced stage fright because she was very self-conscious. “I was from a modest family compared to other children whose parents were politicians, bank owners, kings and all,” she recalled. “If you are not in that league, you’d really feel like an outcast. I always felt like I needed to do better rather than try to impose myself on them.”
Gradually, that self-consciousness gave way to self-confidence. Nonetheless, she’d never forgotten that moment in her budding years because that performance left her with a dry throat with some students making a jest of her.
“There were a lot of mean girls who were emotional bullies. They just kept laughing. They make you feel like you’re not good enough or rich enough or pretty enough.”
Meanwhile, as a law student at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, she was going through a phase in her spirituality. The Islamic community on campus is known to be very strict and anyone who pursues secular interest such as music is perceived to be a “casual Muslim”.’ She kept a low profile but her outgoing persona shone beneath the veil.
Kafayat has a collection of eight guitars, “of museum value,” which she had been collecting as a child. She has also invested in drums and devoted time to honing her skills. Her parents showed support but when she secured admission to the university, her father advised her not to go with her guitar to avoid being distracted.
“At Ife, I performed once at our final year dinner at the Pit Theatre in 2007,” she recalled. In her experience, parents are usually wary that their children who venture into music may become promiscuous or become easy targets of oppressive governments. But Kafayat navigated the secular music space with caution, conscious of her Islamic identity while letting her music heal the souls they touch.
“I started singing in 1999. We used to have that annual concert and then we had a 21st-anniversary celebration at the school. I think the person who gave me the most confidence was my father. He was following the process of my learning and was asking lots of questions. My father was more of an artist than a land surveyor that he was. My father was very humorous and homely. He was like a brother. My mother was the serious one but then we needed that balance. My father worked a lot to make sure that we didn’t forget him. He always mattered in our lives.”
Although her father died in 2005 before her career in music took a different turn, with her performing in different cities of the world, she would always give him credit for the early music influences she got from his music collection.
“My father loves music. He would listen to Fela, Sola Allison, Lagbaja, Yusuf Olatunji, Rex Lawson, Marvin Gaye and Michael Jackson. I grew up in Abeokuta and that is where my drums are kept,” she said.
Being in the spotlight with her hijab comes with a measure of prejudice. Although she had developed a thick skin, she is aware of how such an attitude had killed other’s dreams and courage to live the life that they desire.
“I always like to ignore it. I’m very emotional so I don’t let things like that upset me. Once, I met a sound engineer, who was shocked to see me during a soundcheck. He told me that in all his career, he had never met a Muslim woman who was performing at a secular music festival organised by Christians.”
After her post-graduate studies at a University in Malaysia, she started to teach at the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies which is domiciled in the University of Lagos. As a research fellow with some free time, she makes beats, writes songs and records them in her apartment. With her five-piece band, she had performed at Industry Night at Hard Rock Cafe, Lagos International Jazz Festival, French Art and Film Festival, Malaysia, George Town Literary Festival amongst others.
“I create different genres of music. I do instrumentals with my keyboard, my phone and I record some of them here,” she explained.
One of her latest songs is “Wasi Ile Eko”. Others include “Save Your Love”, “Dance of Joy”, “Solace” and “Come As You Are.”