BY OPEOLUWANI OGUNJIMI
Among the many words that can describe Tiwa Savage’s sojourn in the Nigerian music industry, the most apt is ‘meteoric’. The reason is not far-fetched. Just a few years back, Tiwa, amidst fear of the unknown, left the U.K where she already had everything going for her as a backup singer and songwritter for most UK’s high-flying artistes to build her music career in Nigeria.
Despite facing series of discouragements, she did not give up on her resolve to break new ground in the nation’s music industry. Today, she is one of the best things that ever happened to the industry. Come on board as she takes us on a journey into her life, her career and the man in her life.
Your debut album will drop any moment from now. What are your fans expecting from you?
This album is straight from my heart and it’s something that I’ve worked so tirelessly for. A lot of people wondered why it took me so long a time to drop my own album. That’s because we had to go through a lot of legal processes to clear some of the samples that we used, and that took us some months.
Also, we wanted to work with notable producers outside the shores of the country like Oak who produces Rhinna. So, we had to work around his schedule and waited for them to have our time. But this album is something that I really took my time with because I didn’t want it to be the usual Nigerian album that contains just party tracks from the beginning till the end.
Why did you title your album ‘Once Upon A Time?’
Once you hear ‘Once Upon A Time’, you know it’s story time. My life has been an amazing story and I wanted to reflect that on my album. Also, I wanted to motivate other upcoming artistes that, once upon a time, I was a little girl living at Isale Eko and I dreamt of doing this, and here I am doing it. So, I want their ‘once upon a time’ to turn into reality. It’s a 19 -track album.
There are tracks like Wanted, Ileke, Middle Passage, Olorun Mi, Why Don’t You Love Me, Fela Interlude, Love Me Love Me Love me, Eminado ft Don Jazzy, Folarin, Oh Yeah ft Don Jazzy, Shout Out ft Ice Berg Slim & Sarkodie, Written All Over Your Face, Get Low, Ife Wa Gbona ft Leo Wonder, Eji ma fia, Baby Mo ft Flavour, Stand As One ft General Pype, and Thank You. It also has two bonus tracks like Without My Heart ft Don Jazzy and Kele Kele.
Looking back to when you stormed the nation’s music industry a few years ago, how do you feel today?
Like you said, a lot of people tried to discourage me from coming home. They told me that people who came before me were not really welcomed home, and that it is even worse for a female singer. They even said there was no way I could be on the same stage with the likes of Tuface, Wizkid and many others. I got discouraged somehow. As a matter of fact, after I dropped Kele-Kele, I moved back to Los Angeles. Then, I dropped Love Me Love Me and it grew even bigger. So, I decided to move back to Nigeria because people around me encouraged me that I could make it if I’m consistent in what I’m doing. That was how I was encouraged to do more. I thank God for where I am today.
A lot of female artistes complain of being marginalised in the industry.Do you have the same experience?
I think every female artiste needs to work ten times harder than the opposite sex and that’s why I put much effort into what I do. Usually, what most artistes do is wait until when they drop their album to do an album launch. But I think it’s important to do an exclusive listening because the press are the ones who are going to project my image to the outside world. And that’s why I had to organise a press listening party so that you guys can assess me, and also, to let you know how much you mean to me.
Now that you’ve become a big brand, aren’t you scared of competition from other female artistes?
Why would I be scared? Back in America, we have the likes of Beyonce, Nicky Minaj, Mariah Carey and other female acts standing tall. So why would there be just one person shining here? After all, here in Nigeria, we have male acts like Davido, Wizkid, M.I, Tuface and other big names at the same time. It’s not fair to have just one female act in the industry. So, I’m glad that more female acts are springing up. Having more female acts in the industry will open more doors.
In the song, Ife Wa Gbona, you featured an artiste and there’s this scene where both of you were in the forest singing to each other. He spoke Yoruba to you but you replied in English. Is it that you don’t speak Yoruba?
Of course, I speak Yoruba fluently, omo Yoruba ni mi(I’m a Yoruba ). We did it for a purpose because I have a mixed audience. If he speaks Yoruba and I reply him in Yoruba language, how will my fans in South Africa, Uganda and all over the world be carried along?
The track Eminado has this special kind of tone. How did you come about it?
That sound and name is the handiwork of Don Jazzy. We got the idea when we were in the studio rehearsing. We were just playing around with words and sounds. So when it came up, we thought it was a good one and we decided to turn it into a song.
What was growing up like for you?
Growing up was very interesting. There were no barriers, I was just free. I had a very healthy upbringing. My parents ensured that I was grounded and I had lovely brothers.
You appear like someone who will easily be affected by negative stories. Have you had any scandal?
I don’t think I’ll feel bad whenever I read a negative story about myself. I believe everybody has an opinion and that’s life for you. No matter how beautiful you look, , there’s someone somewhere who would still say you are ugly. So, for me, I’ve only done something from my heart and haven’t compromised my integrity. In my album, I have party songs and tracks for everyone no matter your preference. So, I’ve satisfied my fans and I think I’m going to leave the rest to God.
A lot of people see you as a sex symbol. Are you one?
No, I’m not. If you ask my family whenever I’m home, I’m not like this. I’m far from the Tiwa Savage you see on stage. I’m a quiet person.
What has fame done to you?
Naturally, I’m the outgoing type but fame has made me more reserved unlike some artistes who would claim they haven’t changed once they start making more money. It’s a lie. There’s nobody that can tell you they haven’t changed. I think I’ve changed because I’m more wary of those I move with, where I go and those that come around me. I trust people less now because I want to keep my sanity. I also think people around me have also changed because they expect more from me. I might make a mistake and that’s normal for everyone but because it’s Tiwa Savage, my mistakes get blown up and exaggerated. So I’m more conscious of what I do and say in public than before.
Why did you suddenly go into partnership with Tunji by co-owning 232 Entertainment. Are you not scared of the unexpected?
Tunji is an exceptional man. We’ve worked together and we trust each other. So, I’m not scared that anything negative will come up between us. I don’t work with fear because fear is not of God.
Why was the Marvin crew absent at your album listening session?
You well know that I’m also part of the crew and the day I held my album listening session was an important day in my life and career. So, their absence wasnt deliberate. They were away in South Africa for the opening show of Big Brother Africa- The Chase. They had to perform live. But they surprised me on that day when they sent in a live recorded message to me. It was played for all to see . I was so happy because I didn’t expect it, honestly.
Is there any track dedicated to Tunji in your album?
Yes, there’s this track Written All Over Your Face. I dedicated the song to him for the role he played in my life. I met him at a time when no one was ready to help because I’m a female artiste. And whenever I wanted to give up and cry sometimes, he always encouraged me to be strong and move on. He’s my back bone. I love him because he’s been there for me. He wiped my shame away when he put a ring on my finger.
Why did you say he took your shame away. Were you ashamed of being single?
(Laughs). You know in Nigeria when a lady isn’t married and is just focused on her career, people think there’s something wrong with her. But he understood my journey. He was able to push me career-wise and encourage me. So, I just had to do a song for him.
There’s a mix up somewhere. Are you signed to Marvin or 323 Entertainment?
I’m actually signed unto 323 Entertainment. It’s owned by Tunji Balogun, T.J and he’s also my partner, we own it together. 323 is under Marvin but Tunji handles my day to day business.
You’re signed to Marvin and 323. Where is the place of Sony Records?
I’m still signed to Sony in America as a songwriter. And even as I’m doing my album there, I’m still writing for other artistes. I just had to make that commitment. I just did a song for Monica called Catch With Me Him on her last album. And they just called me few weeks ago that I have another song with Fantasia again, and other songs I’m writing for other artistes. So I’m still signed to the label. .
Have you started your project?
Yes I have. I’ve met with a lot of organisations and already put up something to fight breast cancer. Very soon, screenings will start especially for young girls. I also visit the motherless homes quite often but I don’t put it in the press because I don’t want to expose those kids. And the video I did, Olorun Mi is to give back to people who lost their loved ones in those tragic situations.
What inspires you?
I get inspired by a lot of things; life heartbreaks, happiness and Nigeria as a country. If you listen to the Olorun Mi track, I wrote it because I missed those close to my heart who have died. But I’m disturbed because as a country when we lose our loved ones, there should be statues and memorials to remember them. But here, we just move on as if nothing happened. So I got inspired by those lives we lost during the Dana plane crash to do that song.
What would like to be remembered for?
The late Whitney Houston is remembered for what she accomplished while she lived. She inspired many people. I want kids to say when I’m gone that if Tiwa Savage could do it, they can equally do it.
Is there anything you would like to change in the Nigerian music industry?
I’d like us to be more international and be the pioneer of African music and I think it’s happening slowly. I’d like a situation where I go to the UK and hear more of Nigerian music on radio and have our artistes nominated for the Grammy’s . In addition, I’d like to put necessary structures in place and ensure that piracy law is enacted in the country.
What’s your greatest fear about life?
No, I don’t have any fear.