Speaking at the Youth Enterprise Conference 2016, which recently held at Eko Hotel & Suites, Victoria Island, Lagos, singer Tiwa Savage, opened up on her career and how she built the Tiwa Savage brand, revealing some of her best kept secrets including how to remain relevant in the entertainment industry.
“I left the country when I was young. I was supposed to go to an Air Force school so my parents shaved my hair but my mummy later took me to the UK and some people started bullying me and saying I looked like a small boy,” Tiwa Savage began, going down memory lane, “while I was in the UK I went to the United States. Whenever I said I was a singer they asked for my name and I said ‘Tiwa Savage.’ Next they asked ‘where are you from’ and I told them I am from Nigeria. I realised that they were so interested in Fela’s music, Tuface and Mo Hits.
“It dawned on me that they seemed to be more interested in the music from my country but here I was in the US trying to learn how to sing R n B, hip hop, pop, jazz and gospel music.”
Filling the gap
Starting from age 16, Tiwa Savage has worked with international acts like Mary J Blige, George Michael, Chaka Khan, Babyface and Whitney Houston.
When Nigerian hip pop began to gain relevance on the global scene, Tiwa Savage said was worried that only few female artistes could be counted among the stars making waves back then. Consequently, her resolve to come home and turn the tide around became very intense and this culminated in her relocating to Nigeria in 2010.
“I told myself ‘why should I wait for someone like Beyonce to do Afro beat songs while I am from Nigeria.’ I was like ‘let me go back and do this myself.’ That was when I met my husband who was my friend back then. He was actually playing a lot of Nigerian videos and I fell in love with Yori Yori. That was the best song at that time. I watched videos from Mo Hits and P Square but I noticed there weren’t many female artistes.
“That was when I decided to pack everything and move to Nigeria. I had a good job as a songwriter with Babyface at that time but I sold my car, my belongings and came to Nigeria.
“But when I got to Nigeria I was humbled. I was speaking fone. I was like ‘hello, I am singer,’ and the response in Yoruba was like ‘E jo a ko yen je.’ (Please we don’t fancy that). My first performance at Kennis Easter Fiesta was a disaster! I was stoned with pure water bags because I was singing English songs and blowing too much phonetics.
“I ran back to my husband who was my boyfriend at that time and cried ‘my people are not accepting me, I don’t know what to do.’ He told me to start singing songs that they could relate with. And that was how I came up with Kele Kele Love.”
Building the brand
Today, five years after she relocated to Nigeria, Tiwa Savage is one of Nigeria’s most successful singers. She has two albums and a string of hit songs to her credit and is also ambassador to a couple of brands.
Making reference to the advice giving to her by her boss and Mavin Records founder, Don Jazzy, she said: “Sometimes, success is not really when you make it but how you sustain it. A lot of musicians were huge when I moved to Nigeria about five years ago but now we don’t really hear much about them.
“What Don Jazzy told me was that getting a hit record is great but building a brand is more important. Music is also a business but we tend to forget the business side of it. You need to create a lifestyle that young people want to emulate. Sometimes, you may not have the biggest song out there but you are still doing shows, getting endorsements and calls to speak to people and that is because you are a brand.”
Leveraging on social media
On how to maximise the benefits of social media she had this to say:
”Social media is extremely fantastic for us artistes.
It makes you closer to your audience. It has become a great source of revenue for artistes. Some companies want you to endorse their products and they call you.
I have over a million followers on Twitter and the same goes for Instagram. With YouTube, you get paid for views but it all boils down to building your brand.
“I am not the only talented singer that gets on stage to dance and do all the routines but when you build your brand, it makes you stand out. It is not every day that you will have a hit song but the day you don’t have one, your brand will sustain you.”
The Nigerian music industry is awash with tales of men asking for sex from female artistes before giving them any form of assistance. It was not different for Tiwa Savage in the early days of her career. This much the singer revealed to Entertainer.
Recounting her experience, Tiwa Savage continued:
“A lot of times they said that they wanted to help me but actually they wanted me to do ‘something’ with them. Luckily I had a crazy boyfriend who ended up being my husband. He just shot them down.
“If you are really talented and good at what you do and you have God behind you, don’t give in to that kind of temptation. I guarantee you that your talent will make a way for you. The same people will be the ones calling and you will even get more than you ever imagined if you don’t give in.”
Commenting on her relationship with her fans, Tiwa Savage said she has never had a situation where a fan publicly embarrassed her: “Nobody has physically done anything harmful to me. Even when people say bad things about me, my songs, my husband or my marriage, I don’t think I have to take it personal. Of course, I am human,” the singer concluded.