Tiwatope Savage is arguably one of the hottest artistes making waves in Nigeria at the moment. In less than one year, the songwriter/singer has carved a niche for herself in the Nigerian music market and her hit song, Kele Kele Love has become an anthem in many homes. Her style of music and stage craft is unique and Tiwa has not disappointed her esteemed fans, both home and abroad.
Observers, however, have described her exploits within a short period as an overnight success – but the 27 year-old entertainer on Sony Music, proved otherwise when we met her on Wednesday, Sepember 14, 2011, at the upscale hangout, Koko Lounge, Sabo, Mainland of Lagos.
The 2011 Grammy Awards nominee didn’t only talk about how she began music in the UK and US, the
Isale Eko born artiste opened up on why she paused music for her education to fulfill her parents’ wishes, among others.
Your hit song, Kele Kele Love is at the moment making waves. Did you have any premonition that the song was going to be a hit?
Actually, no. That’s the honest truth. When I recorded Kele Kele Love, it was like a demo. And if you noticed the third verse, I actually didn’t leave a word there. It was like an instrumentation and that’s because I was supposed to go back to the studio and finish the song but it leaked and some couple of Dj’s in Nigeria got it and started playing it. Before I knew it, a lot of people started using it as a slang, ‘I no do kele kele love.’ I decided to quickly do the video and it has really taken me to where I am today.
What inspired Kele Kele Love?
The word, Kele Kele Love to me, is like day to day experience when guys tell you ‘Jen be soro kele kele’ (Let me speak with you secretly). Basically, it is an undercover, something you want to do secretly, you don’t want people to see you doing it. That’s basically the idea behind it and I said to the guys, “I no do kele kele love’.
Are you a new artiste or you’ve been in the industry for long?
I have been in the industry for many years but not in Nigeria. I started in the UK. Though, I was born in Nigeria, I later moved to America where I got signed on to as a songwriter for Sony. I have written songs for artistes like Monica, Babyface, Kat Deluna and Fantasia Barrino. Before that, I have been a back-up singer for artistes like Mary J. Blige, Chaka Khan, Emma Bunton and also studied jazz. So, I have been in the industry for a while. But in Nigeria, my career just started about 8-9 months ago. I am still a baby in Naija.
What were your experiences in the UK, America before moving to Nigeria?
The UK, US allowed me to take risk of doing music. I remember I used to tell people even when I was in Nigeria, that 1 wanted to sing. They told me that I need a real job and not music. They didn’t take that career seriously. When I was in London, I saw how serious artistes were, even in America. So, it gives me courage to believe that I can do it.
Would it be right to say you’re part of those artistes who moved back to Nigeria because they couldn’t make it abroad?
No! I am still working in America, Don’t forget I told you I am signed to Sony Music as a songwriter. So, I shuttle between Nigeria and America every two months. I justs did a song for Monica. Basically, I will say my career is growing, and my coming back to Nigeria is not that I couldn’t make it abrad. In fact, I am a Nigerian, I love Nigeria, I love our music and I will be doing myself great injustice if I don’t show I am a true Nigeria.
You have a contract with Sony Music and we equally learnt that you’re signed to Flytime Promotions. How do you cope with the two?
Yes. I signed to Sony Music as a songwriter. So, I write songs for their artistes. However, I am signed to Flyrime Promotions as an artiste here in Nigeria. They have been instrumental (0 the progress of my career so far. I also have my own label, which is 323 Entertainment and I co-own it with my partner TJ (Tunji Balogun). The label, 323 Entertainment is under Flytime Entertainment which is headed by Cecil Hammond. I want to use this opportunity to say a big thank you to Cecil, because he has really shaped my career.
You must be gifted, combining all these together. How does it feel?
You’re definitely right and it feels so funny when some say it was an overnight success. I have been doing music for years, even my parents can testify to that. So, I feel blessed. Even though my talent is a gift from God, I still need people around me. People like yourself (friends in the media). I am grateful to you guys! Thanks to Nigerian media.
I don’t know if you’re aware that people know your song more than your person?
I think initially that was the case but since I released my video, it has become another story. I have also been performing at shows. We just came back from Pepsi Cola tours. I am now getting more shows, more coverage and my video is also out.
Tell us about yourself because some people say you don’t look like a Nigerian?
Really? I am a Nigerian to the core. In fact, I am from Isale Eko, Lagos Island. I am a typical Yoruba girl and respect my culture a lot. So, I will say Tope Savage is a very simple but Tiwa Savage can be wild on stage.
How did you come about Tiwa when your name is Tope Savage?
It’s my full name, Tiwatope Savage. But when I was in London, a lot of people couldn’t pronounce Tope, so I decided to drop Tope and better called Tiwa.
Tiwa, you’re very lucky in the sense that you’ve not dropped an album and your single has made you.
What’s the secret?
There wasn’t a secret it’s God’s work. The same story went for Ice Prince. He has not released his album and Oleku is everywhere. I asked him the same question and he said he had no idea that Oleku will be a hit. So, sometimes, you never know but everything is from God.
I have attended some of your shows and I really love your Orobo and Lepa concept. Where did you get the idea from?
So, you love my Orobo dancer?
Not really but the way your girls danced together, especially at the Invasion Concert. Tiwa Savage was Lepa while her dancer was Orobo.
I have always wanted something different because I freestyle a lot on stage. I realized if I have three to four dancers, they’ll be hard to manage. So, I always wanted one dancer, I watched Wande Coal and how he interacts with his hype man, so, I wanted a female version of that. So, I called Kaffy, the amazing dancer, I told her that I needed a dancer that stands out and she told me that she has a good dance but she’s fat. I decided to meet her and she gave me confidence that she can dance. We went on a show and people loved the concept and just like 10u said, the Invasion concert was great. Her name is Joy, my Orobo dancer.
Apart from Kele Kele Love, do you have another song?
I have another song entitled Love Me, Love Me and the video was directed by Sesan. It’s going to be out next week (this week), and I have my third single coming out with a surprise. More and more singles, collaborations coming up and my album will be out next year.
We learnt that your songs were hacked. Can you tell us how it happened?
Yes. Songwriters suffer from hackers a lot in America and I think it’s this Europe young guys hacking into people’s email. Unfortunately, I was a victim of that, too. They hacked one of my emails, started leaking a lot of songs meant for myself and other artistes. A lot of people though I did it purposely but it was a very painful experience, I must tell you. But it’s also a blessing in disguise. I changed my email.
It was not long that that the incident happened?
No, it wasn’t but a lot of blogs picked it up and even Nigerian blogs. Some of the songs were from my forthcoming album while some of them were the ones I wrote for other artistes in America.
But why did you decide to send such sensitive documents via email when you’re aware that hackers are at work?
There was really no alternative means other than email. I live in Nigeria and my contact person lives in Los Angeles, USA. If I needed to send him a song, it will take weeks and I needed to hear it. So, the best way was through email and this will not be the first time we will be communicating via email. What I need to do now is to be more vigilant and security conscious.
Where do you get inspiration to write and sing?
Ultimately, it’s from God and also from life experiences such as heartbreak. At times, if I see what my friends have gone through, I use it to write songs. Or the state of our economy. Funny enough, the Love Me, Love Me song came to me when I was sleeping. The melody la la la yah came and I started miming. It first sounded like an Indian song but when I got to the studio, it was perfected after recording. So, everything is inspired by God.
Who are you looking up to in the industry?
I admire people like Michael Jackson, may his soul rest in peace, Beyonce and my all time favourite idol, Brandy. She’s actually the person I grew up listening to. She’s my favourite singer of all time. In Nigeria, I have a lot of artistes but the best are Banky W, 2Face and Wande Coal, while for the women, Omawumi and Waje. They came before me and they paved the way for me. I really love Don Jazzy. He’s very talented and he’s the first person I met when I came to Nigeria and he helped me alot.
Who among them will you love to have a collaboration with?
All of them. I have been calling them and begging them. I actually want Banky W, Eldee because we did Hennessey theme song together but I still want to do other stuffs with them.
You’re just 9 months in the industry, what is your experience so far compared to the UK and USA?
The industry is growing and I believe it will continue to grow. What I think I have noticed particularly is that people are giving female artistes chances to show their stuffs. We’re now booked for big shows, getting endorsements, etc. I think the industry is changing. .
What is your take on intellectual theft among artistes?
Obviously, if my song is stolen, I will be upset but it could be an innocent mistake. A situation where an artiste came to my house and I played him a song, telling him that this is my new single and I have not released it. So, the artiste might have the same song in his subconscious mind and go to studio and start singing something similar to the one he heard in my house. So, we’re influenced by different things, But basically, 1 don’t think any artiste would want to steal a fellow artiste’s song deliberately. But, we don’t do that in Flytime Promotions.
How do you relate with your male fans?
I don’t really know how to say it but I know I cope well. I actually don’t have time for men because I am very busy, attending shows, amongst other things. But I appreciate my male fans for their support.
Do you have any crazy thing that a male fan did to you?
I have one guy who got my number through someone and kept on telling me that God has told him that I am the one. He texts me every day at night – Bible messages, prayers and I went begging him not to call or text me again. It was very crazy to me.
Are you in any relationship now?
There is no man in my life. I am very busy right now. No time for romance.
But we learnt that you’re in a sizzling romance with Dr. SID?
I heard the news but I don’t do kele kele love. If I am romancing anybody, I would not do it secretly. The rumour started when I featured in his video, Over the Moon and a lot of people are saying that the chemistry was really good. I really admire Dr. SID. He’s a good musician but we’re just friends. Right now, I am in a relationship with music. I will say music is my boyfriend right now.
We also learnt that you are in a romance with Lynxx?
Not at all. Lynxx and I are not dating. He is an artiste and the relationship I have with him is strictly business.
Where are you taking your music to?
For now, I want to do more songs, win more awards, shoot more videos and grow as an artiste. I want my music to go international – Europe, America and Africa. I am here to stay because here in Nigeria, we have amazing people, like King Sunny Ade.
Let’s talk about Headies, especially the Next Rated that has yourself, Ice Prince, Wizkid and Olamide, How do you see the category?
I was scared when I saw Olamide and Ice Prince. I said oh my God and I saw Wizkid. I said you guys will not kill me. Truly, I am very happy that they really considered me worthy of that category as the only female standing. My fans should vote for me because I definitely need the car more than the three other artistes in the category. However, even if I don’t win anything, I can still do great things like Omawumi did. She came first runner-up in the Idol West Africa but today, she’s a very big artiste.
In what ways are your parents supporting your career?
They did but they are very strict on me finishing my education. They didn’t actually support me doing music, so I heeded their advice. When I finished my first degree at the University of Kent, United Kingdom, I went back home with the degree and they are happy. Now, they are supporting my music, especially my mum, dad, brothers and sisters are my biggest fans. If they hear that I am in any magazine, they will buy like 50 copies because they are proud of me.
Where are you taking your music to?
More music and awards. I am definitely eyeing Grammy Awards and with God, I know everything is possible. I equally want to start my missionary work and I believe that is my other calling, using music to help others. I want to start schools, hospitals, just to help young people.
Shout out to your fans?
My shout out goes to all my fans home and abroad. I appreciate their love and support. I have been nominated for a couple of awards and I need their votes. They should vote for me in Most Gifted Female Video for Channel 0 Awards, Next Rated for Headies and Kele Kele Love as the Best RnB Soul song of the year at this year’s Museke Awards. Get the codes online and vote for me. I love you all.
– RASHEED ABUBAKAR
*This story was first published in ENCOMIUM Weekly on Tuesday, September 20, 2011