Pan African Rockstar takes the baton from Enjoy Your Life, but this time around, we find a more mature Lady Donli, who arrives at the microphone with more zest and credence.
By Emmanuel Daraloye
I was first introduced to Lady Donli in September 2019, via a random tweet on X (then Twitter), and straightaway listened to her debut seminal album, Enjoy Your Life, which came out the same year. Unbeknownst to me, Lady Donli had long been in the music industry, churning out records for about a decade before the release of her debut project, fusing alternative R&B with Hip-Hop and Afrobeats in the course of her sonic journey.
Born in Canada, Lady Donli split her childhood between Kaduna State and Abuja, Nigeria, with the Evangelical Church of West Africa (ECWA) serving as a platform that drew her earliest interest and affection for music. She was also inspired by Nigerian pop pioneers such as Styl-Plus, The Tribesmen, The Remedies, and so on, and drew influences from international stars such as Erykah Badu and Asa. Gradually, she began crafting her sound and honing her writing skills, releasing tracks like “Mr. Creeper”, put out in 2014, and “Ice Cream” three years later, amongst others. With her sophomore album, Pan African Rockstar, she traverses different soundscapes to craft a lovely project that, with the support of the featured artistes, welcomes the listeners to her inner world. Lady Donli draws inspiration from Jazz, Soul, and R&B, while sampling influences from Calypso and Afrobeats, exploring themes of self-awareness, self-love, and social justice.
Opening the album is “Number 1 Motherf*cker”, a track that speaks of self-awareness, with influences from Hausa music, with its characteristic line repetitions and heavy cadence composition in the chorus, and guitar strings instrumentation that can only be likened to the legendary Afrobeat artiste, Fela Kuti’s. On this track, Lady Donli praises herself, “Na me go run the scene, I am not like them motherfu*cker,” she sings. But it is the second track, the jaunty piano-filled “Hello Lady”, that properly introduces listeners to the album. It is a livelier production compared to the first, with Lady Donli still arching to the self-aware narrative, basking in the awe of her admirers. This song sets the tempo for the other tracks that follow.
“E no Easy, E no easy to be a Pan-African rockstar”, Lady Donli confesses on the eponymous self-affirmative track. On this song, she opens up to listeners, letting the audience into her state of mind. She discusses the ups and downs she has encountered within the last twelve years of her artistic journey. As the artiste reveals, every stage of man’s life presents newer challenges.
“Fantasy” is Lady Donli’s reimagined exchange with cynics. She sings from an alternate universe, or perhaps a not-to-distant future, where she finally gets the acclaim that she deserves, and gives a retort to dissenters in the music industry. Nigerian singer/songwriter, Kah-lo, the featured artiste here, opens the number, painting a canvas for Lady Donli’s envisaged expectations as a famous superstar.
“Fantasy” seamlessly transitions to “Nothing2Something”, the socially-conscious song with input from UK-based Nigerian artiste, Obongjayar. The song is a delectable mix of Highlife music and Soul music, with lyrics that comically address police harassment in Nigeria. When Lady Donli uses a line like “My President is a naughty boy”, it is as witty as it is provocative, calling attention to profiling and brutality that is pervading in Nigeria, and further assuaged by bad governance.
The singer attempts to empower listeners, particularly women, on “Ability”. The track is a tune that bolsters confidence for young people around the world, a mighty anthem that is sure to resonate with general feelings, especially for groups that have been underestimated or disregarded. With high-tempo beats, pristine lyrics, and captivating vocals, the artiste urges the listeners to embrace their unique abilities, doing away with self-doubt to break barriers.
Fela Kuti meets Lagbaja on the mellow “Comme Ci Comme Ca”, featuring The Lagos Panic, Lady Donli’s band. The beautiful percussion on this song gets uplifted by her infectious tempo. The sound also invokes a sense of nostalgia for the Millennials and other demographics who listened to Kuti and Lagbaja in their prime.
“Plenty Plenty Things” is a conscious track that addresses existential problems which the artiste has experienced. When she sings “My eyes have seen plenty plenty”, there is no doubt about the truth that her words reveal. She allows herself to be vulnerable, as the pain-filled track finds the artiste letting out some pent-up emotions.
“The Bad Ones” embodies rock music, with electric and bass guitars taking up the strings. There are, however, elements of Afrobeats, with the pronounced drum pattern used in the production. On this track, Lady Donli admits to her romantic preference for bad boys and mischiefs, unashamed to let the world know.
Congolese-Canadian singer, Pierre Kwenders, comes through on another rock-sounding track “Said”, a yet again self-affirmative rendering. Both artistes feed off each other’s strengths, as they both explore topics of love, personal awareness, and life. The production is tethered on heavy drums and bright strings, further amplifying the message of self-consciousness both artistes preach.
“Jazz Up” is an anthemic and up-tempo tune, filled with powerful percussion that is sure to lead listeners to the dancefloor. It is properly crafted for a shindig, as it finds Lady Donli constantly switching up the tempo. “Industreet”, the last track on Pan African Rockstar, explores an assemblage of topics. She opens the floodgates, letting out her emotions as she sings about industry politics, the state of the nation, and various other sensitive subjects.
In about an hour-long runtime, Lady Donli welcomes listeners to her new state of mind on Pan African Rockstar. Staying true to the title, she features artistes from within the continent, as well as the African diaspora. This project is arguably one of the best-crafted albums released in the second half of 2023. A sophomore project four years in waiting, that is alive, aware, and evocative.
Pan African Rockstar takes the baton from Enjoy Your Life, but this time around, we find a more mature Lady Donli, who arrives at the microphone with more zest and credence. The result of this growth is evident in the music, with her lyricism, choice of features, and the general arrangement of the album. All we can say is welcome back, Lady Donli.
Lyricism – 2
Tracklisting – 1
Sound Engineering –1
Vocalisation – 1
Listening Experience – 2
Rating – 7/10
Listed by Black Pride Magazine as one of the top 5 music journalists in Nigeria, Emmanuel Daraloye has over 600 album reviews in his archive.