Tiwatope Savage Balogun known by her stage name Tiwa Savage, is a Nigerian singer-songwriter, recording artist, performer, and actress. She is currently signed to Sony/ATV Music Publishing and Mavin Records. Savage sings in English and Yoruba.
Tiwa Savage was born on born February 5, 1980, in Lagos, Nigeria. Her family relocated to London from Nigeria when she was 11 years old. Whilst attending high school, she was a trombone player for her school’s orchestra band. When asked about her childhood, Savage’s response was: “Growing up was very interesting. There were no barriers, I was just free. I had a very healthy upbringing. My parents ensured that I was grounded and I had lovely brothers.” After graduating with a degree in Business administration from the University of Kent, Savage started working at The Royal Bank of Scotland. Savage 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 among others. Furthermore, she has performed on stage with Sting, 50 Cent, The Black Eyed Peas, Eminem, Robbie Williams, and Destiny’s Child, to name a few.
Not wanting to be a backup singer, 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: “When I came to Berklee and saw a lot of the younger students, their drive and their passion, it recharged my batteries…[They’re] 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. I kind of felt like a 19-year-old.” Speaking on the challenges musicians face during their transition from backup to lead, Savage said: “It’s a whole different ballgame. Doing backgrounds, you just turn up at the gig and if it gets a bad review, it had nothing to do with you. If you’re the artist, you take a lot of stuff personally.” Her business background has helped her fully understand the scope of the Nigerian music industry. Speaking about her business background, she said: “It’s helping me now with my band, when we get contracts, when we have to pay people, when we have to be professional in dealing with people…Sometimes when people see that you’re educated and you know what you’re talking about, they don’t really want to mess with you, swindle you or something.”
In 2006, Savage participated in UK’s X-Factor and made it to the final 24 while attending the aforementioned music school. While participating in UK’s X factor, she had difficulty dealing with the limelight. “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” said Tiwa.
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, among others. 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, Kat Deluna’s “Push Push” featuring Akon and David Guetta, and performed background vocals on Whitney Houston’s album I Look to You. She was featured on Flavour N’abania’s “Oyi Remix”. In December 2011, she co-hosted Season 2 of the 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 has been involved in many youth empowerment and breast cancer screening projects across Nigeria. She said: “I’ve met with a lot of organizations and already put up something to fight breast cancer. Very soon, screenings will start especially for young girls. I also visit the motherless homes quite often but I don’t put it in the press because I don’t want to expose those kids.”
Savage established her own label imprint, 323 Entertainment with her manager Tunji “TJ Billz” Balogun whom she got engaged to on February 5, 2013. In as much as she likes writing for other artists, she finds writing for herself more rewarding. She said: “I have political songs like ‘Middle Passage,’ which is about the struggles of African men in a foreign country”. When asked about her experiences with relocating to three different places, Savage said “Living in all three places—in Africa, in Europe, and now the United States—has really opened my eyes. I’m really accepting a lot of cultures. I feel a lot older than I am, because I’ve seen a lot. A lot of poverty in Nigeria, but people still smiling when they don’t even have water…I kept saying to myself that when I made it I was going to invest millions and I just realized I have to do stuff now. People always say, when I make it…If you don’t discipline yourself now, you’re never going to do it, even if you do get millions.” Tiwa helped raise money for an organization that build schools in her hometown. Savage 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 artists on the record label’s first compilation album entitled Solar Plexus.
When Savage stepped onto Nigeria’s musical landscape, she didn’t know what to expect. Moreover, she received a lot of ridicule and hostility from people who believed she wouldn’t make it. She said: “a lot of people tried to discourage me from coming home. They told me that people who came before me were not really welcomed home, and that it is even worse for a female singer. They even said there was no way I could be on the same stage with the likes of Tuface, Wizkid and many others. I got discouraged somehow.” Savage didn’t allow people’s negative connotation of her discourage her from doing music. She released her debut single “Kele Kele Love”. The song made its way to the top of several Nigerian music charts. Savage’s sultry tones, pulsating dance moves, and electric stage presence immensely propelled her to the top of the Nigerian music industry.
In July 2013, Savage signed an endorsement deal with MTN Nigeria, allegedly worth N30 million. She also signed endorsement deals with Pepsi, Forte Oil, and Maggi.
Savage networked with Berklee alumni Keith Harris, Derek Pate, Scott Coleman, Radar Ellis, and Darien Dorsey while attending the school. During her interview with Brenda Pike, she said that she collaborated with Chuck Harmony, Warren “Oak” Felder, and producer So Sick (Da Grin), among others. Moreover, she said that her debut album will include records in her native tongue. On July 3, 2013, she released her long awaited debut album Once Upon a Time to the Nigerian public. The album was released on iTunes a day before the Nigerian release. In an interview with Vanguard Media Limited, Savage said:
“This album [Once Upon a Time] is straight from my heart and it’s something that I’ve worked so tirelessly for. A lot of people wondered why it took me so long a time to drop my own album. That’s because we had to go through a lot of legal processes to clear some of the samples that we used, and that took us some months. Also, we wanted to work with notable producers outside the shores of the country like Oak who produces Rihanna. So, we had to work around his schedule and waited for them to have our time. But this album is something that I really took my time with because I didn’t want it to be the usual Nigerian album that contains just party tracks from the beginning till the end.”
When asked why she named her album Once Upon a Time, Savage said: “Once you hear ‘Once Upon a Time’, you know it’s story time. My life has been an amazing story and I wanted to reflect that on my album. Also, I wanted to motivate other upcoming artistes that, once upon a time, I was a little girl living at Isale Eko and I dreamt of doing this, and here I am doing it. So, I want their ‘once upon a time’ to turn into reality. It’s a 19-track album.”
On November 23, 2013, Savage and Tunji “Tee Billz” Balogun held their traditional marriage at the Ark in Lekki. Nigerian businessmen and celebrities who attended the wedding include Femi Otedola, Aliko Dangote, Don Jazzy, Banky W., Rita Dominic, Davido, Lola Okoye (wife of Peter Okoye), Toolz, Eniola Badmus, Omawumi, Iyanya, King Sunny Ade, Agbani Darego, Dr SID, Toke Makinwa, and Karen Igho, among others. On 26 April 2014, the couple had their white wedding at the Armani Hotel in Dubai.