The queens of alté—women shaping the sound of alternative music

The queens of àlte—women shaping the sound of alternative music

“Alté”, which is derived from the Nigerian term ‘alternative,’ symbolizes the essence of freedom of expression across various artistic forms.” —TeeZee

Nigeria’s art scene pulsates with a vibrant mix of influences – Afrobeats, pop, rap – you name it. But beneath the mainstream thrum, a new wave is rising: alternative music. This phenomenon has given birth to what is known as the “Alté” movement, which has been making waves in the Nigerian music scene. The Alté movement embodies a non-conformist approach to art and music, embracing individuality and creative expression. It has become a cultural force, influencing music, fashion, lifestyle, and artistic expression in Nigeria and beyond.

The emergence of the “Alté” movement can be attributed to artists such as DRB LasGidi, TeeZee, and BOJ, who were known for their unconventional and distinct style in contrast to mainstream music. Alongside other alternative artists like Santi, Odunsi (The Engine), and Fresh L, they helped to shape and promote this subculture through their music, distinctive visual style, and individual fashion choices.

“The Alté movement was initially more about the lifestyle than just the music, but it eventually evolved into a musical movement as their creative peers were influenced by their way of life.” —TeeZee

All the artists who make alternative music are known for fusing various sounds, from R&B, soul, rock, and rap to afrobeat and indie guitar music, which encourages and champions individuality, eccentricity, and creativity—a type of revolution in Africa. The beauty of Alté is that anything goes; you can blend folk and indie rock if you desire; it’s an evolution of expression.

The influence of alternative women

“Although Alté was birthed mostly by men, the women were instrumental to the expansion of the genre,” Makua Adimora, a culture journalist, explains.  “Women like Lady Donli created an entirely different type of alternative sound that laid the foundation for a wide range of experimentation with alternative sounds.”

Lady Donli

Lady Donli via Rebecca_iiv on Instagram

Lady Donli has paved her path within the genre. Known as the “First Lady of Alté” and “The Pan African Rockstar,” Lady Donli is a fusion of diverse cultural influences. The singer seamlessly blends Afrobeat, R&B, and soul music. Her music range is diverse, spanning from R&B to experimental jazz, hip hop, Afrobeat, and highlife; it encompasses various genres. However, one thing remains constant: the unmistakable African essence of her music.

Despite holding a law degree, she chose a different path, driven by her passion for music. This passion is evident in her rebellious approach, as she frequently challenges societal norms and celebrates individuality.

In 2014, she dropped her debut project, “Love or War.” Almost ten years later, she returned with her second project, “Pan African Rockstar,” infusing Afro-fusion vibes with empowering lyrics on the title track. On other album tracks, Lady Donli addresses social issues impacting African youth, particularly Nigerian youth and women. She is, undoubtedly, a leading figure in the innovative Alté movement.


Amaarae via Chinxzam on Instagram

Amaarae is another alternative artist who has contributed to expanding the alté genre. Ama Serwah Genfi, also known as “Amaarae” (The Warrior Princess), is a Ghanaian artist who challenges conventions by promoting freedom of expression, love, and non-conformity through her music. Amaarae, a singer, songwriter, and producer, is known for blending Afro beats, pop, and electronic music into her distinctive style. She expresses many experiences through her music, fashion, and evocative lyrics, pushing back against societal norms and expectations placed on African women.

She has gained recognition for her captivating music and distinctive style, which have made her a rising star in the African music scene. Her artistry and creativity have received praise from fans and critics alike, solidifying her position as a prominent figure in contemporary African music.

A new generation of alternative women

The genre has also seen the birth of phenomenal female artists making headway in the music industry.


Somadina via The Native Mag

The 22-year-old Nigerian singer-songwriter characterizes her music as genre-fluid. The young artist draws inspiration from various sources such as John Legend, Fela Kuti, Avril Lavigne, and the English pop music duo Shampoo, which is evident in her daring mix of R&B, pop, alt-rock, and Afropop. Her songs delve into a fresh fusion of genres inspired by her life encounters and musical preferences.

Somadina has explored various music genres, including soulful R&B, rock, pop, alté, and Afro-rock. In 2019, Lady Donli collaborated with Somadina to create the “FLAVA” song featuring Alté sensation Amaarae. Her latest release in 2021, “SuperSoma,” blends punk rock vibes with Afropunk elements, delivering a powerful sense of confidence and dynamism.

Somadina continued to showcase her promising rise by releasing an EP in 2022 titled “Heart of the Heavenly Undeniable” under her independent label Somadina Sounds and went on to perform at Lollapalooza Chicago as one of the Nigerian artists featured on the bill alongside Tems and Rema.  Somadina has indeed claimed her space among the next generation of alté stars.

Wavy the Creator

Wavy the Creator via Jhey Too Cool

Jennifer Ejoke, professionally known as “Wavy The Creator,” is a recording artist, photographer, fashion designer, and filmmaker born in Lagos. The self-proclaimed “genre-bender” started in the music industry as the personal photographer of Nigerian hip-hop artist Olamide. When she decided to try music in 2017, the result was her debut hit song, “H.I.G.H (Her In Greater Heights).” Wavy’s sound blends elements of hip-hop, Afro-pop, and electronic dance music.

Wavy released her first body of work, a seven-track EP titled P.S. Thanks You For Waiting, which references the hiatus she took from the spotlight and an acknowledgement of the fans who have been patiently waiting for her return.

The new release, on which she sings of life, love, and sexuality delivered in melodies sung against delicate piano chords and vibrant percussion,  features collaborations with other Nigerian talents, including Tay Iwar and WurLD.  She has also collaborated with Artists like Skepta, J Hus, Wizkid, and Davido.

The Evolution of Alte

The Alté genre has evolved over the years, evident in the shift from being described as “odd” to “interesting” and from “different” to “cool.” Mainstream artists have also frequently collaborated with alté artists, preserving the uniqueness of the genre and contributing to its wider acceptance by music lovers.

The Recording Academy also announced that three new categories will be added to the awards show: Best Pop Dance Recording, Best African Music Performance, and Best Alternative Jazz Album. The Best African Music Performance category will include the Alté genre, which shows a promising future for the genre globally.

The Resilience of the Alté Women

Despite the accomplishments of these women, it’s essential to acknowledge that female artists in the “Alté” genre encounter challenges similar to those of mainstream female artists. Makua finds it “interesting that “the genre, originally created as a haven for artists who felt excluded by the mainstream, still grapples with the issue of male artists being streamed more frequently than female artists.”

This, however, does not diminish the influence and power of women. Though they are each unique with their alternative sounds, these women are all known to be exceptionally expressive with their music. They express passion for their craft and are determined to continue to make great music, inspiring more women to embrace their individuality.


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