Lady Donli, musician in residence in Paris

I want to be able to have an impact on the world as a musician and as an individual.

A key figure on the Nigerian music scene, Lady Donli won over critics and audiences alike in 2019 with her debut album, Enjoy Your Life. Blending R'n'B, Afrobeat and jazz, she has established herself as a free radical, a musical revelation, delivering astonishing live performances on social networks. After several years in the shadows, she returns in 2023 with a new album, Pan-African Rockstar. She is currently in residence in Paris, as part of the Institut français residency programme at the Cité internationale des arts

Published on 06/09/2023

5 min

Born in 1996 in Cleveland in the United States, Zainab Elizabeth Donli, nicknamed Lady Donli, grew up in a family of six children. During her childhood, she lived in Abuja and Kaduna in Northern Nigeria, the region from which her father originates. It was her brothers who first launched a career in music, while she gradually began to write her own rap songs. She went on to study law in England, but decided to abandon her studies to devote herself to music. There, she diversified her musical style, moving from hip-hop lyricism to more soulful melodies while making her first recordings. In 2016, Lady Donli chose to return to Nigeria and settled in Lagos, where she entered the music scene. 

From 2018, she was invited to collaborate with several artists such as the Nigerian rapper Boogey and MC Terry Tha Rapman. The following year, she released her debut album, Enjoy Your Life. Her single, Cash, was a big hit on YouTube, where it gained significant views and a nomination in the Best Alternative Song category at the 2019 Headies Awards. After a four-year absence, she announced her new album in 2023, Pan-African Rockstar, with a first single entitled My Ability

Over the years, Lady Donli has established herself as one of the key figures on the Nigerian alté scene, an alternative movement that combines Western and African elements, blending Afrobeat, R'n'B and indie/guitar forms. As part of a rebellious subculture, she seeks to challenge the conservative Nigerian mainstream. Influenced by Chaka Khan and Fela Kuti, the young artist quickly won the favour of critics and audiences alike, before going on to work with collaborators such as alternative R'n'B musician Benji Flow, Amaraae and Nigerian singer-songwriter Tems. 

Over a soul, disco and jazz background, Lady Donli recounts moments in her life in song, such as the time she told her father she was going into music with Suffer Suffer. Her first album, Enjoy Your Life, sounds like the rhythms of passage from adolescence to adulthood in a desire for affirmation and emancipation. 

Lady Donli quickly won praise from Dazed, Fader, The Guardian and The Financial Times. In 2012, she received her first nomination for Choice Mixtape at the Nigerian Teens Award, and was nominated for the same prize again in 2018. Shortly after the release of Ice Cream that same year, she decided to organise concerts online on Instagram. 

This brought her to the attention of a wider global audience, from Madrid to London, via Toronto. Faced with the demand for live performances, she finally embarked on a tour of the United States and Canada. In 2023, after four years without new material, she announced her return with her album, Pan-African Rockstar

  • 2016


    Lady Donli returns from England and settles in Lagos, where she joins the music scene.

  • 2018


    She collaborates with Nigerian rapper Boogey on Motion and with MC Terry Tha Rapman on Open Letter.

  • 2019


    She releases her first album, Enjoy Your Life.

  • 2023


    Lady Donli announces her return with a new album, Pan-African Rockstar.

L'institut français, LAB