- Words Malvika Padin
- Photography Dela Akpatsa
- Hair/MUA/Styling Lady Donli
Marrying melodies, storytelling and cultural richness into one with her music, Lady Donli inspires a thirst for knowledge and a love for dreams.
Nigerian artist Lady Donli weaves stories into genre-defying soundscapes to deliver poignant music that feels instinctual and simultaneously like something that’s been mulled over. Whether on her debut album ‘Enjoy Your Life’ – which cemented her as an important figure in the Nigerian alt-music scene – or her recently released dual singles “Rockstar” and “Parole”, Donli allows herself to be led by melodies while painting a picture that visualises her experiences.
Using the reprieve that 2020 provide the world to further hone her musicianship, Lady Donli discovered a new perspective that refined her music through muted self-reflection as well as heightened bonding with loved ones. Always pushing to highlight the diversity of her culture through her music and armed with a motto of self-improvement, Lady Donli reminds her listeners to embrace not only their identities but also their dreams, no matter how out of reach they may seem.
Speaking to Notion, Lady Donli delves into the inspiration behind her dual releases and reveals why she chose to put them out together, explains her songwriting process and inspirations, encourages people to push out of their comfort zones and shares what she hopes more people understand about Nigerian music and culture through her music.
First off, what inspired your dual singles “Rockstar” and “Parole”, and why did you choose to put them out together?
I am a melody writer; sometimes I just hear a melody in my head for a while and it becomes a song. So “Parole” was quite instantaneous. “Rockstar” comes from something I say to myself all the time, “ I’m a rockstar”. I put these two songs together because “Rockstar” is a short song and it’s talking about failed relationships while “Parole” is about moving on.
You described yourself as a melody writer – how does that work as a process? Does an idea sort of marinate in your head for a while or do you go into it as soon as you have an idea?
Ideas pop into my head all the time. I could just be walking, think of something, record a voice note and not return to it again for months unless it’s something that keeps playing in my head. It also depends on my mood, because sometimes I’m in a music creation mood and anything that comes into my mind at that time, I work on it immediately. Sometimes I dream of a song, I recorded a voice note and worked on the instrumental when I woke up.
What’s the oddest or most fleeting thing you’ve been inspired by to create music?
I’ve written a song about spicy food. Recently I’ve been suffering from heartburn, and I said something about it and put a melody on it. That happens a lot with me, I say something to a friend and it becomes a song.
In spite of being a melody-driven musician, your lyrics have substance and a narrative. When you write your lyrics do you aim to tell a story through it or does that happen organically?
With a lot of songs I’ve been working recently, I am trying to paint a picture and because it’s usually drawn from something personal it just naturally flows into a narrative. I think I’ve become more interested in writing lyrics to tell stories. I’m quite a visual person as well, so it’s become something natural to me to illustrate things through songwriting.
In terms of sound, you take influence from R&B, Afrobeats, Jazz to come up with a genre-defying kind of soundscape, are there any specific genres that you’ve yet to experiment with that you love to do in the future?
Pop-leaning rock is something I’d love to try. I like drum progressions and loudness of the guitars of softer rock music is something you can get lost in.
Given how stagnant 2020 was, how did you manage to keep yourself motivated to work on your music?
Honestly speaking, I feel like I had so much time in my thoughts and that inspired me because this was the first time in a long time where I had time to just sit down and be in a stable environment. I hadn’t experienced that in a while so it helped me put things into perspective, examine my feelings – all of which I was able to channel into making music. So I think this period is quarantine period is actually the most productive I’ve ever been as a musician because I was writing more so than I ever have.
Your artistry is rooted in your heritage and Nigerian culture. What’s something you hope people understand about Nigerian music, as well as the culture and heritage of the country?
I think the most important thing I always say is just like the diversity of Nigerian culture. There are 36 states, so many cultures and languages in Nigeria and I hope that by listening to my music people are intrigued to do some research and just be like “what is going on in Nigeria?” That’s the most important thing for me.
What would you say is your motto in life and in music?
My motto in life is to enjoy your life. My motto in music is to just keep getting better. Every day is an opportunity to get better. So be a better vocalist and don’t be afraid to learn to keep getting better and don’t get stuck in one place.
Along the same lines, what is the best piece of advice that you’ve ever received as an artist?
People have told me to try to always maintain like good relationships. I have no bad blood and no bad intentions towards anybody. I’m just having conversations around that helped me not to undervalue myself because I feel like a lot of times in the past. These conversations have helped me understand the importance of my value.
Finally, if listeners could take away one overarching message from your music. What would you want back to be?
I want people to DARE; people just need to get out of their comfort zones. In my music, I just do whatever like I do whatever I feel so I hope by listening to it people are motivated to just go for their dreams, whatever it takes.