Nigerian Singer Tiwa Savage on Landing a Roc Nation Deal and Conquering Music Outside Africa

Photo by Kelechi Amadi-Obi
The afropop star just wrapped rocking stages across North America.

Nigerian afropop star Tiwa Savage just wrapped rocking stages across North America in a seven-city tour to promote R.E.D, her chart-topping second album. But with her recent signing to Roc Nation and new release of her latest song "Bad" alongside Wizkid, we sat down with the Nigerian stunner to discuss conquering America, and ensuring African music goes beyond just 15 minutes of fame.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Congrats on an excellent 2016 so far. From the outside looking in, it feels that since the release of R.E.D late last year, that your attention has been turned towards conquering the West --which ultimately led to you signing to Roc Nation this summer. Was that a strategy?

To be completely honest, that wasn’t the case. It is just a natural progression of having a lot of successes and growing beyond Nigeria and beyond Africa. So there isn’t a specific strategy where we said we would do a global takeover. It has just always been let’s just work hard and see what happens. It’s such an exciting time because [the deal] happened, and it is even more exciting because we didn’t specifically plan for it.

You spent many years in the U.S., first as a student at Berklee School of Music in Boston and then knocking on doors breaking into the industry in New York. How does it feel for everything come full circle now that you have signed to Roc Nation?

I have such a strong faith in God, and it’s just solidified my faith. Because at that time, you only see what’s in front of you, but God has a plan. A few years back, I was going from one studio to another. And now I am revisiting some of these same people who I was knocking on their doors, and now they want to meet Tiwa Savage. It’s kind of weird because some of them don’t remember it’s the same person.

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That must be quite humbling actually.

It is! Before I was knocking on doors with “here’s my new record”, now they are hitting up [the label] talking about “we want to work with your new artist”. It’s a very humbling experience because it shows, like I said, with hard work everything will eventually fall into place.

With all this in mind, what would you tell a younger, struggling you at that time?

To just be prepared because opportunity favors the prepared. When opportunity comes and you are not prepared, rarely does lightning strike twice in the same place. So always be prepared, always work hard and just build as many relationships as possible. When I start to connect the dots, it’s always, this person introduced me to that person. And so relationships and networking are key, as well as working hard.

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Is there something to be said that success was achieved when you returned to Nigeria?

At the time, it didn’t make sense to a lot of people why I would move back to Nigeria because I already had a songwriting deal and it seemed to be going well. But you really have to be a king in your own home first before the whole world can receive you as a king. I also used to notice people in the studio would be so intrigued by Nigeria and African culture and music. And I thought, “these people are so interested in where I am from, so why am I not as interested?” And so when I start looking back into the music scene in Nigeria, I noticed there was a revolution that is now revealing itself to the world. 

So how are things different now when you arrive at the negotiating table here?

I already have a strong fanbase, so that makes a difference. Also, the larger public may not be aware of the afropop movement, but most people in the music industry are already seeing it. So it’s a lot easier to negotiate deals today. But I think the irony is even though it’s easier to strike deals, I feel like now the challenge for us, as artists, is to really showcase what this music is so we don’t have just 15 minutes of fame. And that afropop doesn’t come as a wave and go, but stays as a true genre like you have with reggae and other types of genres and now that’s the challenge for us afropop artists.

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