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Tiwa Savage – Queen of African Music


Tiwatope Savage (born 5 February 1980), professionally known as Tiwa Savage, is a Nigerian singer, songwriter, and actress. She currently has a songwriting deal with Sony/ATV Music Publishing. Savage signed a recording contract with Mavin Records in 2012. She also signed a management and publishing deal with Roc Nation in June 2016. She co-wrote the track “Collard Greens & Cornbread” off Fantasia Barrino’s Grammy-nominated album, Back to Me. Savage was featured on Solar Plexus, a compilation album released by Mavin Records. Her debut studio album Once Upon a Time was released on 3 July 2013. It was supported by seven singles: “Kele Kele Love”, “Love Me (3x)”, “Without My Heart”, “Ife Wa Gbona”, “Folarin”, “Olorun Mi” and “Eminado”. Savage’s second studio album R.E.D was released on 19 December 2015. It was supported by two singles: “My Darlin” and “Standing Ovation”. In September 2017, Savage released her debut extended play Sugarcane. It was also supported by two singles: “All Over” and “Ma Lo”. Savage sings in English and Yoruba. Her contribution to the Nigerian Music Industry has earned her several achievements, including the MTV Europe Music Award for Best African Act. In May 2019, Savage announced her record deal with Universal Music Group and exit from Mavin Records. 

Music career

1980–2009: Early life, career beginnings, and songwriting

Tiwa Savage was born in Ikeja, the capital of Lagos State. Her family relocated to London when she was 11 years old. While attending high school, she was a trombone player for her school’s orchestra band. Savage graduated with a degree in business administration from the University of Kent, and started working at The Royal Bank of Scotland. She did backup vocals for George Michael at the age of 16, and lent vocals to other musicians such as Mary J. Blige, Chaka Khan, Blu Cantrell, Emma Bunton, Kelly Clarkson, Andrea Bocelli, and Ms. Dynamite, amongst others. Furthermore, she performed on stage with Sting, 50 Cent, The Black Eyed Peas, Eminem, Robbie Williams and Destiny’s Child, to name a few. 

Savage enrolled at Berklee College of Music and graduated with a degree in professional music at the age of 27. While reminiscing about her experiences there, she said she was motivated by the drive and passion of the younger students. She also said she needed the school’s atmosphere. Savage spoke briefly about the challenges musicians face during their transition from backup to lead, and said that artists face more scrutiny when their performances are mediocre. Her business background has helped her fully understand the scope of the Nigerian music industry. Savage spoke about her business background and said that her level of professionalism does not make her susceptible to deception.

When Savage stepped onto Nigeria’s musical landscape, she didn’t know what to expect. Moreover, she received numerous ridicule and hostility from people who believed she wouldn’t make it. She said numerous people tried to discourage her from settling in Nigeria. Moreover, people told her she wouldn’t be welcomed as a female singer. Furthermore, they said she wouldn’t be able to share the same stage with the likes of Tuface and Wizkid. Savage didn’t allow people’s negative connotations of her discourage her from doing music. Her debut single “Kele Kele Love” topped several Nigerian music charts. 

In 2006, Savage participated in the UK edition of The X Factor and advanced to the final 24. While participating in the popular music competition franchise, she had difficulty dealing with the limelight. She said, “You have to always realize that people are watching. When I got the bad news that I wasn’t getting through [to the final 12] it was a really painful time. But you still have to learn how to hold that until you get home. Because you don’t want to just let everything out. People admire you and want to see that you’re strong; they don’t want to see you breaking down.” 

In 2009, Sony/ATV Music Publishing signed Savage to a music deal. The deal solidified her to write for Babyface, Kat Deluna, Fantasia Barrino, Monica and Mýa. She has received songwriting credits for her contribution to Monica’s soul-tinged ballad “Catch Me”. Moreover, her collaboration with Fantasia on the song “Collard Greens & Cornbread” earned the American recording artist a Grammy nomination in 2010. Savage wrote Jaicko’s “Oh Yeah” featuring Snoop Dogg, and Kat Deluna’s “Push Push” featuring Akon and David Guetta. In as much as she likes writing for other artists, she finds writing for herself more rewarding. Savage performed background vocals on Whitney Houston’s album I Look to You (2009). 

2010–2013: Once Upon a Time, record deal and endorsements 

In December 2011, Savage co-hosted the second season of Nigerian Idol alongside IllRymz. Moreover, she made her film debut with Joke Silva and Ireti Doyle in the stage adaptation of For Coloured Girls. Savage became the first African female artist to be associated with the Pepsi brand after signing an endorsement deal with them. Savage established the 323 Entertainment record label with her former manager and husband Tunji “Tee Billz” Balogun, whom she got engaged to on 5 February 2013. She joined Don Jazzy’s Mavin Records in 2012 after the label she co-owns teamed up with the executive producer. She was one of the lead acts on the label’s compilation album Solar Plexus (2012). Savage started recording her debut studio album in 2010. While attending Berklee College of Music, she networked with several of its alumni, including Keith Harris, Derek Pate, Scott Coleman, Radar Ellis, and Darien Dorsey. In an interview with Brenda Pike, she said she collaborated with producers Chuck Harmony, Warren “Oak” Felder, and Sossick, among others. Moreover, she said her debut studio album will include records in her native tongue.[11] Savage was featured on Flavour N’abania’s “Oyi” (Remix) in 2012. Prior to collaborating with Flavour, she recorded her own version of the song. 

In celebration of Nigeria’s 52nd independence, Savage performed her rendition of “Arise, O Compatriots” for Ndani Sessions.[15]In November 2012, she collaborated with Waje, Praiz, Timi Dakolo and Pamela Egoh on the Ovation Red Carol theme song “Higer”. In May 2013, Savage held an album listening party at the Wheatbaker Hotel in Ikoyi. She revealed the entire track list of the album and announced Iceberg Slim, Sarkodie and General Pype as featured acts. On 3 July 2013, she released her long-awaited debut studio album Once Upon a Time to the Nigerian public. The album was released on iTunes a day before its official release. Savage named the album Once Upon a Time in order to portray the positive stories about her life. She said she wanted to motivate other upcoming artists by telling them that, once upon a time, she was a little girl in Isale Eko who dreamt of being a star. The album was supported by seven singles—”Kele Kele Love”, “Love Me (3x)”, “Without My Heart”, “Ife Wa Gbona”, “Folarin”, “Olorun Mi” and “Eminado”. It also includes political songs like “Middle Passage”, which is about the struggles of African men in a foreign country.[12] Once Upon a Time was nominated for Best Album of the Year at the 2014 Nigeria Entertainment Awards. It was also nominated for Best R&B/Pop Album at The Headies 2014. 

Savage has been involved in many youth empowerment and breast cancer screening projects across Nigeria. She helped raise money for an organisation that build schools in her hometown. Savage signed an endorsement deal with MTN Nigeria in July 2013, reportedly worth ₦30 million. She also signed endorsement deals with Pepsi, Forte Oil, and Maggi. 

2014–2016: R.E.D and Roc Nation deal 

Tiwa Savage performing at GTBank’s Annual Year End Concert in December 2014

On 31 January 2014, Savage released the Spellz-produced “Love in Yellow” in celebration of Valentine’s Day 2014. The song has elements of retro R&B and funk. Savage was featured on Reekado Banks’s 2014 single “Turn It Up”, which was produced by Don Jazzy. On 1 May 2014, Mavin Records released the Don Jazzy-produced “Dorobucci”, featuring vocals from Savage, Don Jazzy, Dr SID, D’Prince, Reekado Banks, Korede Bello and Di’Ja. The song is the record label’s first collaborative release since the release of the 2012 compilation album Solar Plexus. 

On 19 May 2014, Foston Musik premiered the Savage-assisted remix of Patoranking’s “Girlie O”. The song was produced by WizzyPro. The music video for the song was shot and directed in London by Moe Musa. It was uploaded onto Patroranking’s Vevo account on 20 May 2014, at a total length of 4 minutes and 7 seconds. On 7 June 2014, Savage performed at the 2014 MTV Africa Music Awards alongside Miguel, Flavour N’abania, Davido, Mafikizolo, Uhuru, Oskido and Professor. The Moe Musa-directed music video for “Wanted” was released on 27 May 2014.[31] The release of the video prompted a huge public backlash across various social networking sites, including Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

In June 2014, Savage collaborated with Mi Casa, Lola Rae, Sarkodie, Diamond Platnumz, and Davido on “Africa Rising”, a song for DSTV’s campaign of the same name. The campaign was created to inspire Africans to partake in community-based social investment projects. The accompanying music video for “Africa Rising” was shot and directed by South African production house Callback Dream. The aforementioned artists performed the song at the Africa Rising launch ceremony in Mauritius.

On 19 December 2015, Savage released her second studio album R.E.D, which is an acronym for Romance, Expression and Dance. The album features guest appearances from Don Jazzy, Olamide, Dr SID, Iceberg Slim, 2face Idibia, D’Prince, Busy Signal and Reekado Banks. It was primarily produced by Don Jazzy, with additional production from Baby Fresh, Altims, Spellz and P2J. The album was supported by two singles: “My Darlin” and “Standing Ovation”. Its deluxe edition was released in February 2016 and features guest vocals from Wizkid and P-Square. R.E.D was nominated for Best Album at the 2016 Nigeria Entertainment Awards. Savage recorded the album during her pregnancy with her son. The album was made available for free digital streaming on MTN Music. It was reportedly intended for release on 21 December 2015. Within 24 hours of its release, it became the most-streamed album of all time on the aforementioned music platform. Mavin Records promoted the album by launching a meme generator through the website i-am-red.com. 

In June 2016, there were reports in the media that Savage had signed a management and distribution deal with Roc Nation. On 29 July 2016, she made it official by announcing the deal through her Instagram account, thereby making her the first Nigerian artist to be signed to the label.

2017–present: Sugarcane, MTV EMA and record deal with UMG 

On September 3, 2017, Savage performed on the Liberty Stage of Jay Z’s Made in America Festival. During her performance, she brought out Young Paris for a performance of “Best of Me” (Remix). Savage released her debut EP Sugarcane on 22 September 2017. It features collaborations with producers and guest artists such as Wizkid, Spellz, Baby Fresh, Maleek Berry and P2J. It explores themes of love and was recorded in English and Yoruba. Sugarcane was supported by two singles: “All Over” and “Ma Lo”. It was nominated for Best Album of the Year at the 2018 Nigeria Entertainment Awards. Savage revealed to The Fader magazine that she did not have any plans to release the EP, but decided to put out the project after recording so much music for her upcoming album. Sugarcane is a mixture of Afropop funk, house, pop, R&B and trap.

On 24 August 2018, Savage headlined a concert at The O2’s Indigo venue. General admission tickets sold out hours before the event. The concert featured additional performances from Don Jazzy, Reekado Banks, Di’Ja, Dr SID, WSTRN, Awilo Longomba, Mystro, and the Alternate Sound Band. Prior to the concert, Savage held a pop-up shop on Berwick Street. In November 2018, Savage won Best African Act at the 2018 MTV Europe Music Awards, becoming the first woman to win the category. Savage released the melodic track “One” on 15 November 2018. Produced by Killer Tunez, it touches upon themes of gratitude. Akinpelu Oluwafunmilayo for Legit.ng described the song as an “Afrobeat song with a soft tempo and smooth rhythmical flow”. On 2 December 2018, Savage performed at the 2018 Global Citizen Festival: Mandela 100, which took place at the FNB Stadium in Johannesburg, South Africa. News about her performance at the festival was first reported in July 2018. The visuals for “One” was released on 7 December 2018. Directed by Clarence Peters, it was shot at a local beach in Osoroko.

In January 2019, YouTube took down the video for “One” following accusations of copyright theft. Due to not being able to ascertain the copyright theft leveled against Savage, YouTube restored the video on 2 March 2019. On 13 March, Savage was added to lineup of artists who will be performing at the upcoming Wireless Festival.

On 2 May 2019, Universal Music Group announced the signing of Savage. It was also revealed that she left Mavin Records. Efe Ogbeni of Regime Music Societe and Vannessa Amadi-Ogbonna will be responsible for executive producing all of her projects under the label. Savage’s future music will be released through the label’s operations in more than 60 countries.

Personal life

Tiwa Savage is married to Tunji “Tee Billz” Balogun. On 23 November, 2013, the couple held their traditional marriage at the Ark in Lekki.[62][63] The couple’s white wedding was held on 26 April 2014, at the Armani Hotel in Dubai. On 1 January 2015, Savage and her husband announced that they were expecting their first child together. Six months later, Savage gave birth to their son Jamil Balogun. On 28 April 2016, Balogun accused his wife of infidelity and his mother-in-law of witchcraft. In a 45-minute interview conducted by Thisday newspaper and Pulse Nigeria, Savage extensively addressed her husband’s lengthy social media posts regarding their marriage. She debunked her husband’s infidelity claims and accused him of financial recklessness, drug addiction and abandonment. Moreover, she said that her marriage to him is over.

Awards and nominations


Studio albums
  • Once Upon a Time (2013)
  • R.E.D (2015)
Compilation albums and EPs
  • Solar Plexus (2012)
  • Sugarcane (2017)


Year Title Role Notes Ref
2013-2014 Shuga (season 3) Sade Banjo Supporting cast
Year Title Role Notes Ref
2011 For Colored Girls [A] N/A Supporting cast

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