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

This Is What Rotimi's 'Walk With Me' EP Listening Party Looked Like

The Nigerian singer held an intimate listening party on the eve of the release of his new EP, 'Walk With Me,' at Brooklyn's Okay Space.

Walk With Me, Rotimi's new and highly anticipated EP, dropped Friday—giving us a seven-track peek into who the singer and actor truly is sonically.

The night before, the Nigerian-American crooner gathered over 100 tastemakers and day-one supporters to Brooklyn's Okay Space—the shared gallery space between Okayplayer and OkayAfrica—for an intimate listening party celebrating the release, as well as his music video for "Love Riddim" which also dropped this week.

The night was simply a vibe—folks enjoyed libations and bites from The Suya Guy, with sounds by DJ Tunez. Rotimi opened the gathering up with a thoughtful prayer, with the music video reveal to follow. The singer then walked the audience through each track from Walk With Me, opening up about the creative process of how each track came to life.

Following, Rotimi engaged in an even more in-depth Q+A session with OkayAfrica's arts and culture editor, Antoinette Isama, where he touched on his experience touring with Wizkid back in 2011, his thoughts on the continued rise in popularity afrobeats is having in mainstream music, his hopes for the future and more. Tunez then ran the EP back when the party ensued, as the project is full of tracks that are worthy of being on repeat.

Listen to Walk With Me below, and be sure to take a look at photos from the listening party by Nerdscarf Photography.

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Film
CANNES, FRANCE - MAY 16: Director Ladj Ly and Almamy Kanoute attend the photocall for "Les Miserables" during the 72nd annual Cannes Film Festival on May 16, 2019 in Cannes, France. (Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)

How To Survive Cannes Film Festival As a Black Filmmaker

A film festival is intense by nature, but Cannes is a whirlwind.

Cannes Film Festival is one of the world's most prestigious gatherings bringing celebrities, filmmakers and actors claiming to celebrate the world's best film. Although the festival is way behind Sundance or the London Film Festival regarding diversity efforts, it remains the place to be if you're a filmmaker—especially a Black one.

I, myself, am a Black French filmmaker who was invited to Cannes as part of their scheme for young film lovers—3 Days in Cannes—open to anyone between the ages of 18 and 28. The scheme, which launched in 2018, requires young hopefuls to write a cover letter showing their passion for film. It ultimately gives young people the opportunity to discover the international selection of films showed at Cannes.

READ: Black Women Are the Future of French Cinema—When Will Cannes Catch Up?

Being in Cannes for the first time was a wonderful experience, but it can be tough to navigate as a Black filmmaker if you're not prepared for it. So, here are top tips.

1) Don't be a person of color—especially if you're Black (Just kidding. But still.)

Cannes is a beautiful, posh city in the south of France. It is part of the Provence Alpes Côte d'Azur, an administrative region where the far right party Rassemblement National (formally known as the National Front) hits record-breaking highs. Despite the fact that the festival is incredibly international, at times it can feel pretty racist, like a sunny, idyllic version of 1960s Alabama, where a party of more than one Black person gets routinely rejected from some clubs/bars/restaurants. On top of that, the staff and some of the security working at the festival can be incredibly aggressive and rude to you and in French. If you don't understand it, it's even more confusing.

To avoid it, try to stick to the official Cannes parties, or hang out in international hotels like the Miramar or the Radisson Blu Hotel—which are used to an international crowd. You can also stick to parties at the various country pavilions near the Film Market.

2) Stick to the African Pavilion

At the festival, most countries have their own pavilion. But because the festival believes Africa is a country, all 54 countries are gathered in one pavilion. This pavilion also includes the Caribbean, since Jamaica, as life would have it, is also an African country. In the African Pavilion, there was even talk on how to submit films if you're a filmmaker of Indian descent (despite the fact that India had its own pavilion).

You're not African? That's okay, no one cares. Pan-Africanism is still alive, I guess? Thankfully, out of the many pavilions, I did find the African Pavilion was the best one the most welcoming and whose schedule was the most open and clear. Because Cannes is such an exclusive festival, most of the parties and talks won't be communicated outside of those who are supposed to attend.

The African Pavilion, however, requires you to sign up to their newsletter. You then access their app where you can see the schedule, the talks to attend and the party they planned. The only downside is that they were understaffed, so some talks and events were cancelled last minute and with limited communication.

If you're a Black French filmmaker, speaking English is a must to get the most out of the pavilion. If you're an English-speaking filmmaker, try to make friends or meet people who speak French, as some of the talks/discussions might not have professional interpreters.

Also, go to the events organized by diversity in Cannes. Now, if you're a Black filmmaker who would rather not stay in the community for fear of being pigeonholed? Unless you're part of a talent scheme run by the festival...good luck getting others to support you.

3) Be ready to WAIT to see films and to party

On average, I waited 1 hour 40 minutes for each film I wanted to see in the official selection program. And I purposely chose not to see the famous ones like the Pedro Almodóvar or Quintin Tarantino's films. I also waited almost two hours to see a film from the Un certain regard selection and didn't get in—despite my pass. Now, Un certain regard has the most highly sought after films, even more so than the Competition, because they tend to select the best among indie international films. To get in for sure, you need a "Un certain regard" pass, so they need to invite you themselves. Even if you have a ticket at the counter, you might not get in unless you wait two hours (standing) or choose to attend the early screening or the late ones (and still, you should be ready to wait 1 hour for these).

You need a pass AND a ticket to see the films from the official selection and walk the red carpet up to the Grand Théatre Debussy. For the ACID, Director's fortnight, Semaine de la critique, and the Official selection's films not shown on the red carpet, you just need a pass—and to be ready to queue for at least 45 minutes.

I wouldn't recommend getting the Cannes cinephile pass as it has a low priority. I saw people waiting 2 hours to see a film and not getting in, while people with professional Black passes arriving 10 minutes before the screening walking past them. Because the Cannes festival is for professionals, they have, unfortunately, priority over members of the public.

Now, with the parties at Cannes, word on the street is that they are not as legendary as they used to be. Even if you get invited to one, you still need to wait an hour. It's not because they are over capacity, but rather they feel the need to pretend that they are. Unless you're a VVIP. And if you're one, why are you reading my article?

Anyway, despite not being as glamorous as they used to be, they remain so exclusive that if your name is not on the list, you might need to sell your first born to attend.

Thankfully, you can avoid it by being smart. When I arrived in Cannes, I was dead set on going to parties to network. Since almost all of them are invite only, I went to the parties at the pavilions, like the UK one, the American one (which costs 20 euros because Americans are always about their money) and the African Pavilion—that were kind enough to facilitate networking by introducing me to fellow filmmakers. God knows how talking to strangers and building new relationships can be difficult, and they made it easier.

4) Make friends with distributors or people working for the Mayor's office

The whole point of the festival is to sell films. Tickets are sparse for most people, so some badge holders wear their Sunday Best and stand outside the grand theater, holding signs asking for tickets. It makes sense that distributors are incredibly powerful, since they have the power to buy and sell films internationally. They are given way too many tickets that should be given to people waiting for hours outside.

So, if you make friends with distributors, they will always have a handful of spare tickets, even for the big ones that everyone wants to see. They also have tickets for the big parties as well. Press badge holders also have priority since they are responsible for a film good or bad media coverage. So they have a handful of tickets too.

People working for the Mayor's office also have tickets because they work closely together since the festival brings so much revenue to the city. Make friends with them, as well as film students and you'll get tickets. Don't know where to find them? Social media is your friend.

There is also another way to get tickets to films: the staff. For example, I couldn't get tickets to see Mati Diop's Atlantiques. I walked to the ticket counter and saw a Black woman with a great hairstyle. My instinct KNEW I had to tag along. I asked her if she needed help. She was looking for the same tickets. We asked someone at the ticket office if they could help. They said they had nothing. But one of the staff members saw us and said she could try to help us. She came back with two tickets and that's how I got to see the film. I got lucky and was cunning. So be nice with the staff, they can help.

5) Be ready for anything

A film festival is intense by nature, but Cannes is a whirlwind. Since you're spending so much time waiting and walking from venues to venues, you won't have time to eat unless you bring food you've made before hand. You're not allowed to eat inside the theaters and if you walk the red carpet, you food is thrown out beforehand. You can try buying food and drinks in the morning and finish it by the time you walk the red carpet. I'd advise buying it at a supermarket like the pricey Monoprix. Or the nearby McDonald's. It's cheap, warm, almost always open and a great way to socialize! Young filmmakers, as well as those from Britain and the States will come to McDonald's to eat since it's one of the places they know best. Why not strike up a convo there?

Also, don't forget your power bank. Your phone will get out of battery for sure, especially if you post content on social media.

Finally, despite its reputation, the festival is incredibly badly organized. You will be told that your badge is not allowed to watch films at other selections, or you would be given the wrong directions and will be lost in the croisette on your way to see an obscure film.

Chill, be ready to walk and use Google Maps. And enjoy!

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Julie Adenuga: "There Are Young Artists In Nigeria Who Are Changing the World"

In an exclusive interview, the Beats 1 radio presenter opens up about her Nigerian heritage, documenting Homecoming in Lagos, and London being an important hub for afro-fusion sounds.

Julie Adenuga sits at the intersection of two continents.

As an affable tastemaker who transforms banal interviews into engaging conversations with some of the most famous artists in the world, Julie is leading the global dialogue on new music from her daily radio show, which broadcasts to over 100 countries.

The North London native of Nigerian descent hails from a musical family, her brothers are artists Skepta and JME, and has risen from the underground as a self-taught presenter on former pirate radio station Rinse FM to being one of three lead DJ's with her Beats 1 show on Apple Music.

A champion of homegrown talent in the UK and across the African diaspora, Julie is a purveyor of the afro-fusion genre, as is evident in her recent Homecoming documentary, which captured the fresh innovators from the Lagos music scene, and her DON't @ ME club nights, which has featured Ghetts, Lady Leshurr and The Compozers as residents.

Chosen as one of OkayAfrica's 100 Women celebrating extraordinary women from Africa and the diaspora, we speak with the presenter and broadcaster on owning her Nigerian identity, the responsibility of spreading afrobeats and why London is a key location for the genre.

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