The following is a transcript of Season 1, Episode 3, of the Hot Girls Podcast Series. Celebrating icons in the music industry. Listen here.
In today’s episode I’m going to be taking a look at the woman often called the Queen of Afrobeats. An artist who signed her first record deal in 2009, was the first woman to win Best African Act at the MTV EMAs, an artist who, despite all her success recently said, “I see myself as a new artist again who is hustling. That’s my mentality, I don’t walk into a room expecting anyone to know who I am. I’m just here to get a seat at the table”. The most celebrated female artist from Africa, this episode we’re talking Tiwa Savage.
As always, this isn’t just a biography, but we’re looking at the decisions she made in her career and challenges, to get to where she has. So we’ll take a look at her journey, from back up singer, to x-factor contestant, to her decision to make music from Nigeria rather than the US or the UK where she grew up. Tiwa has had such an interesting career and one thing I’ve found to be a particularly poignant take-away from her journey, is to never write anyone off as having greatness within them. Especially yourself.
OK, Afrobeats. Let’s get into it.
Tiwa Savage was born and raised in Lagos, Nigeria. She moved to London in the UK aged 11 for secondary school. She played the trombone and had some signs of early success as a backing vocalist but her parents were keen for her to do something sensible and get the best possible qualifications, a conversation I’m sure many of you may have had at some point. So for Tiwa she decided to get a degree in accountancy and went to the University of Kent. After graduating from there she got a job in a bank, but music and the dream of being an artist stayed with her.
A couple of years after doing that work, she went to study at Berklee and got a Diploma in professional music. Before she graduated in 2007, she auditioned for none other than the X-Factor. Yep. in 2016 – the vids are still on Youtube. She was in Sharon Osborne’s group and made it to judges houses stage but not through to the live shows. Yo, so the year Tiwa didn’t get through the X-Factor, it was won by Leona Lewis. Arguably one of the few memorable winners.
“I really wanted to go into music from the beginning but my African parents were like “Nope, that’s a hobby” even though I wanted to make a career of it and they made me study something more traditional, specifically business and accounts. And I’m very thankful to them because I see how much it helps me understand the business side of music.” – Tiwa Savage
Also, what a great example of how a crushing defeat can lead to a greater victory later on.
FIRST LABEL – SONY
Two years after graduating, Tiwa signed her first contract with a record label. The label was Sony, but she wasn’t signed as an artist, she was signed as a writer and wrote for a lot of artists that may make you flashback. Kat DeLuna, Mya and Fantasia. She was grammy nominated as a writer and from listening to interviews with her, she didn’t hate this experience. She was enjoying writing, but it was not the dream. She always wanted to be an artist in her own right. The name on the album cover, not in the credits.
INFLUENCES AND EARLY MUSIC
Knowing that she felt this way, she made a decision along with her manager, in 2011, to move back to Nigeria and develop her sound alongside the cultural influences over there. So she decided to work towards being a Nigerian artist rather than an American writer. I think it’s important to say this decision wasn’t just about being in the spotlight, but also about the music that was coming out of Africa that excited Tiwa.
Once in Nigeria, her career moved fairly quickly, but with her putting the petrol in the engine so to speak. She co-hosted a series of Nigerian Idol, which helped raise her profile, but she also released her first proper hit. Which was Kele Kele. It’s a really fun like, afro-pop song. You could enjoy it in a club but more so in your car or prancing around your bedroom vibe. Tim Westwood said it’s his favourite Tiwa song and it’s nearly 10years old now but it’s catchy and fun.
The most important thing about that song, listening to it verses what I can see from her earlier stuff, is how African music had allowed her to find her authentic voice. And that voice was so much more interesting than what she’d been playing with before. On the X-factor they obviously always made people do naf songs but she did Mariah Carey “Hero”, like, super naf. And listening to the songs she wrote, obviously the writing is only a part of a process that involves lots of people but, I wouldn’t say they’re distinguishable like she became when she moved back to Nigeria. She became special when she evolved from being an RnB artist to an afrobeats artist.
She credits Fela Kuti as being one of the biggest influencers on her and for setting the tone for all African artists to follow. In their lyrics and sound.
CAREER DEVELOPMENT IN NIGERIA
The next four or five years really were focused on her success and profile as a popstar in Africa. You’ll see how she from this point had a perhaps more typical popstar journey of, conquer home country fully and then start to look at entering the Global stage.
This is a decision that artists make – some go global straight away, like I guess say One Direction were bigger in America than the UK from pretty much launch but your ability to do this relies on a) which countries are ready to embrace your sound and also who’s backing you from a network perspective. If Simon Cowell or another Global exec has a financial incentive to launch you Globally you’ll probably do a lot better.
Tiwa’s Global fame started to show promise, really in 2016 when it was announced she was the first Nigerian artist to sign a deal with Roc Nation, the label founded by this guy called Jay-Z. Don’t know if you’ve heard of him but he’s kind of a big player in the music industry.
Her debut EP, which stands for Extended Play record, basically a few songs but not considered an album, was released in 2017 and it featured Maleek Berry and Wizkid, both probably bigger names than Tiwa at this point. So she released this 10years after graduating with her music degree, she was 37. Like, she was not Selena Gomez, child star, she is the biggest she’s ever been right now and she’s 39 I think. I am a big believer that age can do one in terms of your success and access to opportunities but i’m raising in with the hope of inspiring 🙂 It’s a Global sounding record anyway that told the world Tiwa Savage was ready to be global and chart topping.
I mentioned earlier that Tiwa … had signed a deal with Roc Nation a few years ago. Well she stayed on the radar of the power couple that is Beyonce and Jay-Z and was one of the artists Beyonce chose to work with on the Lion King album, “The Gift”. She sings keys to the Kingdom which also features Mr Eazi.
This album is really important for Afrobeats and African music because, even though, I would say afrobeats is mainstream and popular now, you know even if you hadn’t heard of Tiwa Savage, you’ve probably heard of Wizkid and Burna Boy, that album and it’s authenticity to African music will be listened to by the world because it’s Beyonce’s new album.
So after making that decision to be an afrobeats artist, and making that music for 7, 8 years. The growth of that music is now carrying Tiwa into the wonderful spotlight that she’s in.
Lessons from Tiwa Savage – you can peak at any age. She’s nearly 40 and is getting shinier and shinier. Carve your own path. Create your own sound. Focus on that. Tiwa left working with big names like Whitney Housten and Kat DeLuna (who was big then), behind to do things the way she wanted to and it paid dividends.