And So, Lady Donli Brought the Lagos Panic to Abuja… 

Segun Ade-Martins

Last year, on Friday, December 16, Lady Donli organised a homecoming concert at the romantic Mambaah Cafe in Abuja. She was accompanied by the Lagos Panic band. The show’s opening acts were the angelic songstress Nunu Eluma and smooth-voiced Lobi, who each performed intimate sets, serenading the crowd with their bedroom R&B tunes.

Lady Donli and the Lagos Panic’s set started at around 10 p.m. instead of 8 p.m. not because they kept fans waiting, but rather because a significant number of fans came late. Refreshing professionalism from the performers.

Under the canopy of lights and tree branches, Lady shimmied and rocked the night in her electric blue bodysuit. She says her latest influence is James Brown, and you can see it in her movements on stage.

This Pan-African rock star earned her money with this performance. She revealed what her music is about by performing her hits “Corner”, “Suffer Suffer”, and “Cash”. Many Nigerian fans complain that most of their favourite musicians are poor performers. Their recorded music is a remarkably better experience than their live shows.

However, in Lady Donli’s case, the opposite is true. Her recorded music is brilliant, but her live performances are the core of her musical expression. Songs that are struggling to get airplay and traction on the charts come to life in a beautiful way. The band and she are locked in her pocket. Usually, even good singers get pitchy when performing, but Lady was in perfect pitch.

She says a sign of success for her is playing in sold-out stadiums like Beyonce’s. One can see that she can reach such heights as she interacts with the crowd. She invites a guy on the stage to chant “Hello Lady” to her. Her mastery of performance is undeniable.

After a successful debut album, a tough time during the COVID-19 pandemic, an excellent Extended Play (EP) record, “Wild,” and a few singles, one expects her sophomore album to be stunning. Although she was tight-lipped about what exactly to expect, she did reveal that there would be an evolution of sound and style, and it would be the most personal that we have heard from her. Her collaboration wishlist includes contemporary Fuji-inspired artists such as Bella Smurda. An unusual collaboration, one would say, but for Lady Donli, unusual is her domain. 

She is a pure artist, and the world is not in sync with her. The wording is important: the world should synchronise with her, not because of her ego, but because of her talent. However, the very thing that makes her a brilliant artist and a breath of fresh air in a wave of similarity seems to be hindering her. She is open about her struggles as an independent artist. Everything a musical artist with backing can do, she has to self-fund. For example, for three years, promoters have refused to organise an Abuja show, and Lady Donli stepped in and organised it herself.

One can only speculate on why a talent so bright doesn’t have major labels and management in line to sign her and promote her. My theory is that her unfettered creativity is seen as an untenable business risk for a label. If there is truth to this, it’s utter nonsense.

However, maybe Lady Donli needs to reign in her talent. Like so many genius-level talents before her, she may need to “dumb down” her total package. That is, to focus her creativity on a genre. Right now, she can express herself in multiple genres. She may look up to Beyonce as a musical role model, but she may need to study Lady Gaga’s start. Akon, who brought her to the limelight, said that in the beginning, they had to reduce her musical ideas for the label to sell her music and build a fan base. Lady Donli needs this intervention, and hopefully she can endure the constraints to blossom into the megastar she is capable of.

Did Abuja give Lady Donli a befitting homecoming? In some regards, the answer would be yes. Yes, in terms of Lady’s emotional attachment to the city and its people. After all, she acknowledged her primary schoolmates were in attendance, as well as old friends and, more significantly, her mother. In a commercial sense, Abuja let Lady Donli down. The fans should have shown up on time, and many more should have attended an amazing performance, but they didn’t. Essentially, many Abujans missed out on the wonderful experience that this artist provided, which should not have happened. The hope is that by December this year, Nigeria and the world will recognise her performance abilities and flock to her shows. It would be a life-changing experience.

•Ade-Martins writes from Abuja.

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