Interview

Interview: Tiwa Savage Shows Everyone Why She's the Queen of Afrobeats With 'Sugarcane'

We talk to Nigerian superstar Tiwa Savage about her new EP 'Sugarcane,' having Chris Martin as a fan, motherhood and much more.

Tiwa Savage is the reigning queen of afrobeats.

Last week, the Nigerian star singer surprise released her latest EP, Sugarcanea collection of six expertly-crafted excursions into love and afrobeats.

The EP has since climbed to the #1 spot on the iTunes and Apple Music world chart, and it's been blowing up on social media with fans and fellow artists tirelessly posting videos of themselves dancing to the new tracks. Even Chris Martin loved it.

Sugarcane deserves all the buzz. Its six tracks—which Tiwa wrote alongside producers Babyfresh, Spellz, P2J and Maleek Berry, as well as Wizkid, the EP's only featured artist—are an infectious and impressive continuation of the afropop sound she's been perfecting over the past years.

We caught up with Tiwa over the phone to chat about her new EP, balancing her work and motherhood, and much more.

Why did you call the new EP Sugarcane?

Every single song on the EP sounds very sweet and melodic to me, even those that have a lot of rhythm. It's sweet and very magical, plus the first song is called "Sugarcane," so I went with that name.

What made you want to release it as a surprise?

I wasn't planning on dropping anything actually. I was planning for these songs to be on my album coming out next year. But I was in a really good space in the studio and I don't like sitting on songs for too long—you don't know what the wave will be next year and I don't know what kind of story I'll want to tell next year. So, I kind of didn't want to waste these 6 songs. I also had all these people I'd played the songs to constantly asking me when I was putting them out. [laughs]

How do you feel about being called the Queen of Afrobeats?

I think of Queen of Afrobeats as a compliment, I don't let it get to my head. It's not a title that I bestowed on my head and I don't take it lightly. A lot of people expect a lot from me and I thank God that, so far, my career has been growing. I'm just thankful and it just means that I should continue.

Wizkid is the only featured artists on the EP (on "Ma Lo"). Tell us about that track and working with him.

"Ma Lo" means "don't go" in Yoruba, it was a record that we did while Wizkid was in Nigeria. We were just vibing in the studio. It was a record that he and I instilled a kind of vibe into. When I decided to put out the EP, I figured "All Over" was already out, so I reached out to Wizkid and his camp to see if they wanted to release "Ma Lo." They thought it was special. You know, Wiz and I have history, last year we did "Bad" together.

I saw a video of Coldplay's Chris Martin dancing to it and then shouting out your EP, how did that happen?

I was just in the studio and I believe the EP had just dropped or was about to drop, so we were having a conversation. I was like, "I'm about to drop the EP," and he was kind of enough to ask to hear it. As soon as he heard the "Sugarcane" record he got on his feet and started dancing. He's really into world music, he's so open. He really loved "Ma Lo," the one with Wikzid, he really felt that one.

What made you pick out the producers for the EP—Spellz, Maleek Berry, P2J, and Babyfresh?

I hand't worked with Maleek Berry before and I love his sound, I'm a huge fan of his. Spellz is like family to me, he's a brother to me, he's done records on my past albums. P2J produced "Bad" and "Love Me Hard" before. Babyfresh, everyone knows I work really well with him so that's why I picked him. Even though I pick producers out, I didn't specifically set out to pick them for this EP. We were just vibing, it seemed like magic.

Tiwa Savage. Image: Roc Nation.

 

You've been really busy this year, how do you balance your work and being a single mother?

I think as females, we're built a lot stronger than we give ourselves credit for. I have a great support system, I'm not gonna take credit for all of it. My family, they help a lot specially when I have to travel. I can't travel with my son cause he's at school. I'm blessed to have so many people that help me out and my label is really understanding.

Do you think African female musicians need to work harder than their male counterparts for the same recognition?

Me being a mother, a male artist who's a father doesn't have to travel with their kids. As a female it's a lot more tasking for me, as a mother but again like I said, that just life. I don't like to complain about it, I just get it done. If it means me working ten times harder than other artists, if it takes that, I'll get it done.

The cover art is really striking for the EP is really striking. Who did you work with on it?

Kelechi Amadi Obi. He's incredible and works in the industry across Nigeria. He's awesome and did my first album cover also. I'm kind of a creature of habit, I like to go back to the same people and work with people I vibe with, the feeling I get from them. Kelechi is one of those people I love, he's super talented, we vibe, and he doesn't over do it. I sat down with him and told him I wanted purple-pink colors and the sugarcane aspect of it and he did the rest.

You've done a lot of international collaborations this year—with Diamond Platnumz, Emtee, Awilo Longomba, and many others. Are you trying to connect with artists outside of Nigeria?

If it happens again, it happens. It's not something we're actively pursuing, but sometimes you have a song and you might have an artist that just fits. I'm not gonna not work with an artist if he's not well known. Doing collaborations is always exciting to me and it gives me the opportunity to come out of my comfort zone and maybe spit a verse like with Emtee, or Young Paris and Awilo, it's so exciting for me to do these albums.

Any thoughts on Nigeria's "Pon Pon" sound trend?

I think, with music, we go through a lot of phases. It's just not peculiar to Nigerian afrobeats. Now in America we have trap music. You go through stages when one sound is dominant. In Nigeria before afrobeats before galala, we had highlife.

I love it I love the Pon Pon sound and that people are incorporating it. I don't know how long it's gonna last, but as an artist I like to adapt and maybe add new sounds in.

Any plans for music videos from the EP?

Definitely planning videos, the EPs doing really well it's #1 right now on the Apple Music and iTunes world charts. "We're gonna see which video we're going to put out first, depending on which song's doing best. Maybe "Ma Lo."

Tiwa Savage's 'Sugarcane' is available now.

Photos
"The Astral." Photo by Mikael Owunna.

This Photo Series Is a Much-Needed Counter to Violent Images of the Black Body

"Infinite Essence" is Nigerian-American photographer Mikael Owunna's response to the one-dimensional narrative we tend to see of the black body.

This beautiful, thought-provoking photo series affirms what we already know—that the black body is magical, no matter what odds are against us.

Nigerian-American photographer, Mikael Owunna, touched base with OkayAfrica to share his new photo series, Infinite Essence. The series is Owunna's response to America's issue of police brutality, like the murders of Mike Brown, Eric Garner, Philando Castile and Walter Scott, and the viral and violent images of the dead black body we've seen as a result.

"It has become frighteningly routine to turn on the television or log onto Facebook and see a video or image of a black person either dead or dying, like images of Africans dying in the Mediterranean," Owunna says.

"With this series, I work to counter these one-dimensional narratives of the black body as a site of death and destruction with imagery capturing what I see in my friends, family and community—love, joy, and ultimately, magic."

Owunna worked on Infinite Essence for the past year, and says his creative process began with a feeling. As he notes further, it's was a process of trial and error.

"I was beginning to explore my own spirituality and journey and learning about how black, queer and trans people in particular were respected for their magical abilities in many pre-colonial African societies. I was meditating on this idea of magic and how I can capture that in my work, harkening back to the 'Final Fantasy' video games and anime series I grew up on. How could I capture all of this? I did two pretty disastrous test shoots using long exposures and lights, that did nothing for me artistically.

It had none of the feeling I was looking for. So I went back to the drawing board. I pulled up Google image search results of magic in Final Fantasy and kept scrolling and scrolling and staring at images that had that emotional tug, that spiritual capture of magic and transcendence that I so wanted to bring into the work. As I was staring at the works, a voice in my head told me glow in the dark paints, and then from looking at that I found the world of UV photography. As soon as I saw some sample works in that space, I knew that was the direction the project would go and it was all steam ahead."

Shooting this series was the first time Owunna collaborated with makeup artists Karla Grifith-Burns and Davone Goins to bring his vision to life. "It was powerful and inspirational and brought so much structure to my feeling and thought," he says.

Owunna settled on the name of his series after reading about Odinani, the Igbo traditional belief system.

"Seeking to understand the basics of that, I came across brilliant writing by Chinua Achebe wherein he used the phrase 'infinite essence' and that clicked everything around it," he says. "When I can name something, it brings it to life in my head in stunning color."

Click through the slideshow below view Owunna's series, Infinite Essence. Read his artist statement for the project, where he speaks more in depth of Achebe's work on infinite essence here. The series is also on display at Owunna's solo exhibition at Montréal's Never Apart Gallery from today until April 7, 2018.

"The Astral." Photo by Mikael Owunna.

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