East African Pop Star Lady Jaydee Shone Brightly at Humanities Now Kickoff


Lady Jaydee at The Underground,  Photo: Lotta Studio

Acclaimed Nigerian author Chigozie Obioma joined in conversation with Lady Jaydee about inspiration and artmaking

“Nice boots!” shouted someone from the crowd as Lady Jaydee, the Queen of Bongo Flava, took The Underground stage on the afternoon of September 26, 2023, in knee-length glittering boots.

Yale Schwarzman Center, the Whitney Humanities Center, and Yale’s Council on African Studies presented Lady Jaydee and Nigerian author Chigozie Obioma in conversation at the inaugural Humanities Now event, a new Whitney Humanities Center series. Humanities Now sparks deep thinking, inclusive deliberation, and smart action on current intellectual and social concerns. The discussion was followed by a reading by Obioma from his novel, The Fishermen and a performance from Lady Jaydee.

Some artists plan their careers while others just stumble into it. Lady Jaydee, started off the afternoon’s conversation by sharing that she hadn’t planned to become an artist.

“It just happened that I became a musician. I started singing at the church choir when I was very young. As time went along, when I was in secondary school, I was performing at school concerts. That’s when I started getting attention from a lot of people, my fellow students and other people from outside,” Lady Jaydee shared.

It just happened that I became a musician.
Lady Jaydee

Lady Jaydee at The Underground, Photo: Lotta Studio

After winning radio contests, she began her career as a recording artist. Since then, she has created nine studio albums—the latest,  Love Sentence, just released this year—and she’s won more than thirty Tanzanian and international awards.

As his parents read to him each night, Obioma’s passion for literature was ignited. Becoming an author was his “only logical path” to a satisfying life by indulging his lifelong love of books, he explained.

My dad, especially, would navigate between voices, and something opened up in my mind...
Chigozie Obioma

Chigozie Obioma, Photo: Lotta Studio

“My dad, especially, would navigate between voices, and something opened up in my mind. Storytelling became, for me, the most powerful thing,” Obioma shared. “Years later, I found out one of the stories they told me that I thought was my dad’s creation, had been gotten from a book. After that, there was no turning back. Then, I read voraciously. I always said to myself, ‘How can I write like this?’”

Lady Jaydee and Chigozie Obioma at The Underground, Photo: Lotta Studio

Sadness is something that it's a difficult emotion to put down in a work of art in a song...
Chigozie Obioma

When it comes to their creative processes both Lady Jaydee and Obioma shared surprising similarities, finding inspiration from unexpected places like a conversation with friends or everyday mundane  sounds. 

“Melodies come from everything that we've been hearing all our lives,” Lady Jaydee explained. “Since birth, growing up, and all the sound, the sound of the chair, the shoes, music, people talking, is what makes us compose the melody.”

The two creatives also noticed they share similar motifs in their writing that sadness can lend itself to strength. Lady Jaydee said almost all her songs are about something sad, but they don’t all sound sad, they sound strong and powerful. Obioma agreed that sadness does not have be uncomfortable.

“I find myself arguing with people that I don't write tragedy in the classic form, but everybody calls my work tragic. Sadness is something that it's a difficult emotion to put down in a work of art in a song, but at the same time, when you do there's something about it...because you need to make somebody laugh or cry,” Obioma shared.

After their conversation wrapped up, Obioma captivated the audience with a reading from his highly acclaimed novel, The Fishermen, which details the lives of  four brothers in a Nigerian town, who were given a violent prophecy which shakes their family to the core.   

Lady Jaydee got the audience to stand up and groove, which was so lovely to see.
Rachel Fine, Executive Director, Yale Schwarzman Center

The Underground crowd enjoying Lady Jaydee, Photo: Lotta Studio

Following a brief intermission, Lady Jaydee dazzled the crowd with her powerful, sultry voice. She brought the audience to their feet, swaying, clapping, and singing along to her music as she demonstrated her mastery of R&B, Zouk, and Afro Pop, sometimes in the same song. 

With concluding remarks to the audience, Yale Schwarzman Center Executive Director Rachel Fine shared her gratitude. “Lady Jaydee got the audience to stand up and groove, which was so lovely to see. I am deeply grateful to the Whitney Humanities Center for approaching us with this fantastic series and program. We couldn't be more delighted than to have inaugurated it with two lovely people.”

Director of Marketing Yale Schwarzman Center Maurice Harris , Director of Yale Whitney Humanities Center Cajetan Iheka , musician and TV star Lady Jaydee, novelist Chigozie Obioma, Executive Director Yale Schwarzman Center Rachel Fine,  Associate Director Yale Whitney Humanities Center Diane Brown. 

Photo: Lotta Studio