Caturday with Lady Donli

Jessica Gianelli

Lady Donli is the ‘Pan African Rockstar’ who’s vibrational sounds echo energies of both past and present. Seamlessly melding nostalgia with her fresh perspective, the 23 year old – who calls Abuja, Nigeria home, and layers on influence from the various other places she’s lived – prides her unique sound on an ability to embrace change and foster relatability. Inspired by her home in Africa, as well as legendary artists such as Fela Kuti and Erykah Badu, she too strives to be her own greatest source of empowerment and influence. With the energies she emits from the music, such as her newest single, ‘Wonda Wonda,’ she hopes that her listener’s too can “feel untouchable, like they can do anything, and be anything they want to be.” Here, we chat with her about home – the many and the one – as well as the importance of enjoying life, and inspiring others to reach for their dreams.

JG: One thing that struck me when reading about you, and listening to your music, was that you really seem to be a unicorn, of sorts – and by that I only mean that you completely stand out. It’s a breath of fresh air in this often overly-saturated artistic space. I couldn’t think of someone to compare you with! It got me wondering, how do you think that what you put out into the world offers an alternative perspective that contemporary music seems to be lacking, or not showing?
LD: Honestly, I think for me I’m just blessed to have been able to have a lot of different experiences. I’ve moved around a lot, I’m from numerous places. I’ve listened to so much music from those different places and they’ve helped to shape my identity in a way that feels completely unique to me. So when I create and release music it’s just a reflection of the pockets of experiences and so by default it sounds “new”. It’s funny because I think the music I create sounds new and old at the same time, it’s why people find it hard to put me in any specific place or time. So, when I put out music and it sounds different or fresh, it’s because of how vast the music is. It’s relatable to a large sect of people for some reason that they can’t understand.
JG: Corner is a track that feels nostalgic, yet particularly modern at the same time. How do the past and present respectively influence what you create?
LD: Haha I just said this ! I’m a 23 year old whose music library looks like a blast from the 80s, 90s and early 2000s. I love oldies, they make me happy and remind me of simple times. They also give me an idea of where I should be heading to because I understand what came before me. I take in a lot of the new stuff as well because I exist in it, I live in the new and that in its way has its own influence. I’ve just been present in the change, allowing me to embrace it and break it down. It’s why no matter how nostalgic a record of mine may seem, it also gives you that new kick.
JG: Your musical style seems to contain a lovely array of variety. What has navigating between the varying cultural spaces of Abuja, London, and Lagos done for your personal evolution?
LD: It’s done a lot for me ! Abuja is my home city and it matches my personality – Easy & Laid Back. Lagos has given me the energy that I needed to conquer the world, because it is so fast paced. You have to learn to navigate and adapt quickly or you’ll get swallowed. It reminds me of the music industry in general. London made me understand the importance of the brand, it made me understand how the artist is also a product. I started going to concerts for the first time when I came to London, mostly because I was really sheltered in Abuja.  So being in London showed me the validity of my dreams.
JG: Is there a specific place that you resonate with the most?
LD: I love Abuja. I mean it’s home; the hills, the rain. It’s where I can find the most peace and where I can unapologetically just be myself and not care about anything else and not care about the gimmicks.
JG: When collaborating with other artists, what do you feel it gives to the music compared to when you’re working less collaboratively?
LD: I think it adds a new perspective. I choose the artistes I work with very carefully because I always look at what I think they can bring. Like beyond the vocals and the lyrics, can they create a whole new listening experience for the song ?
JG: Who/what inspires you?
LD: My home, Nigeria, Africa. Erykah Badu, Fela Kuti, Angélique Kidjo, Brenda Fassie, Asa. I could go on and on, but at the moment this is what I think of first.
JG: Why have you chosen music, or perhaps has music chosen you?
LD: It’s always been music for me. There was never a point when I said “I want to be a musician” it’s just always been one of those things like eating and sleeping. I’d always write songs, I’d always perform them to imaginary audiences. I’d always try to entertain people in school. I’ve never seen another life for myself but the one I’m living and for that I’m very grateful.
JG: It’s lovely to see young women asserting spaces for themselves within an often marginalising world, and industry more specifically. Marching to the beat of your own drum, what affords you confidence; what empowers you?
LD: I empower myself for the most part. I know that’s a funny thing to say, I get empowered when my niece tells me she wants to sing like her Aunty. Haha, that makes me happy. I get empowered when younger girls message me for advice because they want to start making music. Just seeing that my presence in the scene makes other women want to grow and reach for their own dreams that makes me so happy. It inspires me to keep going for me; for them, for the daughters I one day hope to have. I get empowered by my mother who I’ve always seen just be a woman of her own making. Growing up around that, I go for what I want. I may not always get it but I’ll try.
JG: How do you want people to feel when experiencing your music?
LD: I want them to feel untouchable like they can do anything and be anyone they choose to be.
JG: Your last album was titled ‘Enjoy Your Life.’ When you’re enjoying yours, what does that look like?
LD: Spending time with my family and the people I love the most, that’s when I’m at my happiest. Also performing my album to a crowd of people that genuinely love the music, that’s peak enjoyment for me. Eating some bomb Nigerian food and drinking a cup of wine as well. Add all these things together and that is peak enjoyment!

Click to see Lady Donli’s playlist