Gone are the days when you searched for Tiwa Savage on the Internet and stories of her numerous exploits in the music industry popped up. In fact, her music videos and that of her star-studded traditional marriage in Nigeria and classy white wedding in Dubai got massive hits online.
Just spare few seconds today and search Tiwa Savage on Google; you will be bombarded with different versions of her ‘love gone sour’ story with her hubby, Tunde Balogun, popularly called Teebliz. Particularly, her recently ‘no holds barred’ video interview with Azuka Ogujiuba has since gone viral, with 1,35,808 views as at the time of writing this story.
However, it’s funny that some over sabi viewers decided to launch attacks on the interviewer for ‘being insensitive’ with their lovable artiste during the chat, even as she broke down in tears. Yet, no one cared to appreciate the reporter for letting fans into the untold stories of a marriage once regarded as ‘made in heaven.’
While most fans have taken sides, others, who were obviously shocked by the sad revelations by the couple, are seriously praying for a miracle, even when Tiwa already said, “it’s over.”
Well, their adorable son, Jamal, who has become popular with that Pamper TV commercial, would have to live with the fact that his parents are separated; that’s the reality for now.
But beyond the hullabaloo about the couple’s marriage crisis, the reality is that Tiwa’s music career is being put to test. Her many years of struggle to achieve fame and fortune is currently being threatened by her domestic life, with some already peddling rumours of Tiwa losing her endorsement deals. One begins to wonder if the deals came because Tiwa is a wife or for her success story in the showbiz industry?
All through the Tiwa-Teebliz drama, one recalled Tiwa’s first interview with The Guardian after her resolve to move back home from the US and pursue her solo career. The late Ogbonna Amadi of the Vanguard newspapers facilitated the meeting, which held at D’Banj’s Koko Lounge in Yaba, Lagos. Her mission that day was to promote her latest single, Kelekele Love and possibly sell her brand at home.
Throughout the session, the Isale Eko-born singer was calm and somehow very shy, as she fielded questions from showbiz reporters, who had gathered to drill the returnee singer. You needed to see how she struggled with her tiny voice to impress the journalists, who were bent on ascertaining the reasons for her decision to leave the United States for Nigeria.
When Tiwa Savage resigned her lucrative job with the Royal Bank of Scotland, only to head for the United States in pursuit of a career in music, many tagged it a crazy move; even her parents could not come to terms with her decision to quit banking. But for the business administration graduate of the University of Kent, music is a passion, too precious to let go.
“I’ve always done music, but my parents encouraged me to do a degree in business administration, which I did. As soon as I graduated, I got a job with a bank in London as a junior accountant, which I did for a year and half. Along the line, I got a call to join Mary J. Blige as a backup singer during her European tour; I quickly resigned my appointment. Everyone thought I was crazy, but my mind was made,” she revealed.
Though the experience was an eye opener for young Tiwa, it was a bittersweet one too.“Sweet in the sense that I was together with the artistes on tour buses; I got to see how artistes prepare for concerts, the rehearsals and all that. I learnt that it’s not always rosy for artistes; it’s all about hardwork. But basically, I was just me; I had to be patient to study my craft, so that when my time comes, I would be better prepared to handle it,” she said.
Tiwa’s fondest memory with music was in a high school band as a trombone player; an instrument she had to give up playing since she could not afford to buy one. This incident brought about the novel idea of picking up an instrument that she did not need to buy — her voice.
She first started out by listening and imitating the riffs and runs of singer friends at school. She would listen to commercial jingles and songs on the radio, using the vocalists as her instructors. Realising her undiscovered talent, Tiwa began to try-out at several music auditions. It was in that process that she met a group of local talented musicians, who exposed her to gospel, jazz, soul and R&B music.
Since her first breakthrough, Tiwa has done backup for artistes such as George Michael, Blue Cantrell, Kelly Clarkson and Spice Girls among others. She participated in the X-Factor – the British competition that spawned American Idol and made it to the top 24. She has worked with A–list artistes such as Fantasia, Akon, Snoop Dogg and Babyface and also shared the stage with the likes of Beyonce, Black Eyed Peas and 50 Cents.
Along the line of playing and touring with big artistes, Tiwa got a scholarship to study Music at Berklee College of Music, where she finally honed her music skills.
“When I came to Berklee and saw a lot of younger students, their drive and passion recharged my batteries. They are not thinking, ‘I’m going to save about $10,000 before I move,’ no, ‘I’m just going to get my backpack and move.’ I needed that fresh air, that atmosphere,” she recalled.
At a time when most youths were soaking up in the hip-hop tradition, Tiwa opted to major in jazz.“I wouldn’t say I’m a jazz singer, but jazz is one of the hardest genres of music; I wanted to start with jazz because it’s very technical. I know with the knowledge of jazz, doing R&B would be very easy for me. I studied people like Billy Holiday and other great jazz artistes; I have that background, but I’m still a soul/R&B singer.”
It didn’t take long before her creativity attracted the attention of Sony Music in the US, which signed her on as a songwriter, writing for top rated artistes. With strong vocals, she was also invited to sing background on the last Whitney Houston’s album I Look to You.
“I’ve been handling songs for other artistes, but I got to a point that I saw other artistes singing my story. So, I went to London to meet with my mum and she said to me, ‘Tiwa, God didn’t give you this talent to give to other people, it’s time for you to take the step.’ It was scary for me to make the move, but I’ve decided to do that now.”
This was part of the reasons Tiwa returned home in 2010, though not without the usual discouragements.“A lot of people discouraged me from coming back. They said, ‘people coming back now are not really accepted because they can’t connect with Nigeria, especially as a female.’ They said, ‘there’s no way a brand would endorse you; you can’t be on the same stage with the likes of Tuface, Wizkid, D’Banj and others.’ I got discouraged a little bit,” she recalled.
Somehow, the discouragements forced Tiwa to move back to the United States temporarily, hoping for the right time for a ‘second missionary journey’ to fatherland.
“After I dropped Kelekele, I moved back to Los Angeles. But after I released Love Me Love Me and it started growing even bigger, I came back for the second time; some people around me encouraged me to move on. They told me, ‘you can do this if you are just insistent and consistent in what you are doing.”
As it turned out, few gave Tiwa a change to make it in Nigeria. While some faulted her style of music, others were of the opinion that ours is a male dominated music industry. But through hardwork and determination, Tiwa has joined the league of A-List stars in Nigeria. Aside from playing both local and international gigs, the sexy artiste remains a popular figure in the corporate world, with lucrative endorsement deals.
BEYOND being just an album tag, Once Upon A Time, Tiwa’s debut effort, comes with a whole lots of meaning.“You know when you hear once upon a time, you say ‘time, time;’ it’s a story. My life has been an amazing journey and I wanted the album to reflect that. I also wanted to motivate upcoming artistes; once upon a time, I was a little girl in Isale Eko that wanted to achieve her dream and here am I today living it; I also want their once upon a time to turn to reality,” she said.
With tracks such as Olorun Mi, Once Upon A Time, His Voice, Without My Heart, Folarin, Efe Wa Gbona ft. Leo Wonder and others, Tiwa’s debut album is truly inspired by her experiences in life.
“This album speaks from my heart; it’s something that I worked so long for,” she hinted. “A lot of people wondered why it took so long, but like I said, we had to go through a lot of legal processes to clear some of the sample that we used and that takes time. I didn’t want it to be the usual Nigerian album of party, party tracks; I wanted to have meaning and that’s why I took time to get the job done.”
In one of the tracks in the album released under MAVIN Records, Tiwa paid tribute to Teebillz, whom she described as her major source of strength and encouragement.
“He wiped my tears,” she noted. “But you know in the culture we are living in Nigeria, if you are not married and you are just focusing on your carrier, people start to ask if something is wrong with you. But he understood my journey; he was the man that was able to push me career wise. He’s someone that really encouraged me, so I had to do a song for him,” she enthused.
Unlike most artistes, who would not take negative criticisms, Tiwa Savage is open to such comments on her works. For her, it’s an opportunity to re-strategise and do more.
“Everybody has an opinion; that’s life. Michael Jackson’s Thriller, even as beautiful as it seems, there are people out there, who didn’t like it. If Jesus Christ can have enemies, who is Tiwa Savage. For me, I’ve done something from my heart; I didn’t compromise my integrity, I haven’t compromised musically. I’ve satisfied my heart and I’m going to leave the rest to God,” she declared at the album listening session.
From her tone and body language, Tiwa seemed not threatened by the emergence of strong female artistes in the country’s music industry. For her, the trend is of great advantage to the industry.
“Why should I be scared? In the United States, you have Nikki Minaj, Rihanna, Beyonce and others and they are all big artistes, doing very well. Why should there be only one female artiste? In Nigeria you talk about D’Banj, Tuface, P-Square, Davido and others, so, why do we only allow room for one female? I’m actually glad that more females are coming up because it opened more doors. My mum once told me that when you point a finger, you can only push so much, but when you roll up the fist, you can actually knock down the door. I’m happy more females are coming up these days,” she said.
Looking back to her journey, she said, “my friends didn’t take me serious because then, people don’t value singers; even my parents didn’t like the idea of me becoming an artiste. But today, she are my number one fans.”
Though the limelight is difficult to deal with, Tiwa appeared ready for the realities of taking up a singing career.“You have to always realise that people are watching, so you still have to learn to hold that until you get home. People admire you and want to see that you are strong; they don’t want to see you breakdown.”
Indeed, Tiwa, this is not the time to breakdown; MAVIN Record knows this. Good enough, the singer is said to be back at work, with multiple sources confirming she was in a video set over the last holidays. There are indications that she’s trying her best to stay strong and positive; she’s not taking her mind off her work and her son- even for a minute.
It would be recalled that Tiwa’s maternity leave, alongside Omawumi, to a large extent, paved way for the emergence of Yemi Alade as a strong female voice in the music industry, with a MAMA award to show for it. So, for the First Lady of MAVIN Records, this is time to put aside Kelekele Love and try to cover lost grounds; fans are waiting for that collabo with Busy Signal.
While close friends are currently working to help her hubby Teebliz recuperate and get rehabilitation, the show must go on for Tiwa; there are bills to be paid. And most importantly, this star must not dim.