1980–2009: Early Life, Career Beginnings And Songwriting
Tiwatope Savage was born on 5 February 1980, in Isale Eko, Lagos State, Nigeria. Her family relocated to London when she was 11 years old. While attending secondary school, she was a trombone player for her school’s orchestra band. Savage graduated with a degree in accounting from the University of Kent, and started working at The Royal Bank of Scotland.
She did backup vocals for English singer 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. Savage enrolled at Berklee College of Music and graduated with a degree in professional music in 2007. While reminiscing about her experiences there, she said she was motivated by the drive and passion of the younger students. She also said she needed the school’s atmosphere.
In 2006, Savage participated in the UK edition of The X Factor and advanced to the final 24, but ended up being the 12th person to be evicted. While participating, she had difficulty dealing with the limelight. She said, “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.”
In 2009, Savage signed a publishing deal with Sony/ATV Music Publishing. The deal allowed her to write for Babyface, Kat Deluna, Fantasia, Monica and Mýa. She has received songwriting credits for her contribution to Monica’s soul-tinged ballad “Catch Me”. 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, and Deluna’s “Push Push”, featuring Akon.
She performed background vocals on Whitney Houston’s album I Look to You (2009). Inspired by the growth of the Nigerian music industry, Savage moved back to Nigeria and signed with Mavin Records in 2012.
2010–2013: Once Upon A Time, Record Deal And Endorsements
In December 2011, Savage co-hosted the second season of Nigerian Idol alongside IllRymz. She made her film debut with Joke Silva and Ireti Doyle in the stage adaptation of For Coloured Girls. Savage established the 323 Entertainment record label with her former manager and husband Tunji “Tee Billz” Balogun, to whom she got engaged on 5 February 2013.
She joined Mavin Records in 2012 and was one of the lead acts on the label’s compilation album Solar Plexus (2012). While attending Berklee College of Music, she networked with musicians Keith Harris, Derek Pate, Scott Coleman, Radar Ellis, and Darien Dorsey. In an interview with journalist Brenda Pike, she said she collaborated with producers Chuck Harmony, Warren “Oak” Felder, and Sossick, among others.
She said her debut studio album would include songs in her native tongue. Savage was featured on the remix of “Oyi” in 2012. Prior to collaborating with Flavour, she recorded her own version of the song.
In celebration of the 52nd anniversary of Nigeria’s independence, Savage performed her rendition of “Arise, O Compatriots” for Ndani Sessions. In November 2012, she collaborated with Waje, Praiz, Timi Dakolo and Pamela Egoh on the Ovation Red Carol theme song “Higher”. Savage started recording her debut studio album Once Upon a Time in 2010.
She held an album listening party at the Wheatbaker Hotel in Ikoyi in May 2013. During the listening party, she revealed the entire track list of the album and announced Iceberg Slim, Sarkodie and General Pype as featured acts. The album was released to the Nigerian public on 3 July 2013. It was released on iTunes a day before its official release. Savage named the album Once Upon a Time in order to portray the positive stories about her life.
She said she wanted to motivate other upcoming artists by telling them that, once upon a time, she was a little girl in Isale Eko who dreamt of being a star. The album was supported by seven singles—”Kele Kele Love”, “Love Me (3x)”, “Without My Heart”, “Ife Wa Gbona”, “Folarin”, “Olorun Mi” and “Eminado”. It also includes political songs like “Middle Passage”, which is about the struggles of African men in a foreign country. Once Upon a Time was nominated for Best Album of the Year at the 2014 Nigeria Entertainment Awards. It was also nominated for Best R&B/Pop Album at The Headies 2014.
Savage has been involved in many youth empowerment and breast cancer screening projects across Nigeria. She helped raise money for an organisation that builds schools in her hometown. Savage signed an endorsement deal with MTN Nigeria in July 2013, reportedly worth ₦30 million. She also signed endorsement deals with Pepsi, Forte Oil and Maggi.
2014–2016: R.E.D And Roc Nation Deal
On 31 January 2014, Savage released the Spellz-produced “Love in Yellow” in celebration of Valentine’s Day. The song has elements of retro R&B and funk. Savage was featured on Reekado Banks 2014 single “Turn It Up”, which was produced by Don Jazzy. On 1 May 2014, Mavin Records released the Don Jazzy-produced “Dorobucci”, featuring vocals from Savage, Don Jazzy, Dr SID, D’Prince, Reekado Banks, Korede Bello and Di’Ja.
On 19 May 2014, Foston Musik premiered the Savage-assisted remix of Patoranking’s “Girlie O”. The song was produced by WizzyPro. The music video for the song was shot and directed in London by Moe Musa.
On 7 June 2014, Savage performed at the 2014 MTV Africa Music Awards alongside Miguel, Flavour N’abania, Davido, Mafikizolo, Uhuru, Oskido and Professor. The Moe Musa-directed visuals for “Wanted” was released on 28 May 2014. It features Savage wearing a nude body suit and touching herself suggestively.
The video’s release prompted a huge public backlash across various social networking sites, including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
In June 2014, Savage collaborated with Mi Casa, Lola Rae, Sarkodie, Diamond Platnumz and Davido on “Africa Rising”, a song for DStv’s campaign of the same name. The campaign was created to inspire Africans to partake in community-based social investment projects. The accompanying music video for “Africa Rising” was shot and directed by South African production house Callback Dreams. The artists performed the song at the Africa Rising launch ceremony in Mauritius.
On 19 December 2015, Savage released her second studio album R.E.D, which is an acronym for Romance, Expression and Dance. The album features guest appearances from Don Jazzy, Olamide, Dr SID, Iceberg Slim, 2face Idibia, D’Prince, Busy Signal and Reekado Banks. It was primarily produced by Don Jazzy, with additional production from Baby Fresh, Altims, Spellz and P2J.
The album was supported by two singles: “My Darlin” and “Standing Ovation”. Its deluxe edition was released in February 2016 and features guest vocals from Wizkid and P-Square. R.E.D was nominated for Best Album at the 2016 Nigeria Entertainment Awards. Savage recorded the album while pregnant with her son.
The album was made available for free digital streaming on MTN Music on 21 December 2015. Within 24 hours of its release, it became the music platform’s most-streamed album. The album was promoted through the website i-am-red.com.
In June 2016, there were reports in the media that Savage had signed a management and publishing deal with Roc Nation.On 29 July 2016, she made it official by announcing the deal through her Instagram account, making her the first Nigerian artist to be signed to the label.
2017–Present: Sugarcane, MTV EMA And Record Deal With UMG
Savage performed on the Liberty Stage of Jay Z’s Made in America Festival. During her performance, she brought out Young Paris for a performance of “Best of Me” (Remix). Savage released her debut EP Sugarcane on 22 September 2017.
It features collaborations with producers and guest artists such as Wizkid, Spellz, Baby Fresh, Maleek Berry and P2J. It explores themes of love and was recorded in English and Yoruba. Sugarcane was nominated for Best Album of the Year at the 2018 Nigeria Entertainment Awards.
Savage revealed to The Fader magazine that she did not have any plans to release the EP, but decided to put out the project after recording so much music for her upcoming album. Sugarcane is a mixture of Afropop, funk, house, pop music, R&B and trap.
On 24 August 2018, Savage headlined a concert at The O2’s Indigo venue. General admission tickets sold out hours before the event. The concert featured additional performances from Don Jazzy, Reekado Banks, Di’Ja, Dr SID, WSTRN, Awilo Longomba, Mystro and the Alternate Sound Band.
Prior to the concert, Savage held a pop-up shop on Berwick Street. In November 2018, Savage won Best African Act at the 2018 MTV Europe Music Awards, becoming the first woman to win the category. Savage released the melodic track “One” on 15 November 2018. Produced by Killer Tunez, it touches upon themes of gratitude. Akinpelu Oluwafunmilayo for Legit.ng described the song as an “Afrobeat song with a soft tempo and smooth rhythmical flow”.
On 2 December 2018, Savage performed at the 2018 Global Citizen Festival: Mandela 100, which took place at the FNB Stadium in Johannesburg, South Africa. News about her performance at the festival was first reported in July 2018.
The video for “One” was released on 7 December 2018. Directed by Clarence Peters, it was shot at a local beach in Osoroko, Lagos. In January 2019, YouTube took down the video for “One” following accusations of copyright violations. Due to not being able to verify a copyright violation, YouTube restored the video on 2 March 2019.
On 13 March, Savage was added to the lineup of artists who performed at the 2019 Wireless Festival. On 2 May 2019, Universal Music Group announced the signing of Savage to a seven-year publishing and distribution deal. It was also revealed that she left Mavin Records. Efe Ogbeni of Regime Music Societe and Vannessa Amadi-Ogbonna will be responsible for executive producing all of her projects under the label. Savage’s future music will be released through the label’s operations in more than 60 countries.
In July 2019, Savage was featured on “Keys to the Kingdom”, a track she co-wrote for Beyoncé’s soundtrack album The Lion King: The Gift. She appeared on the track alongside Mr Eazi.
On 5 September 2019, Savage released “49-99”, her first single with Motown Records. The song references the line “49 sitting, 99 standing” from Fela Kuti’s 1978 hit “Shuffering and Shmiling”. Described as a blend of Afrobeat, R&B and pop music, “49-99” features syncopated percussion, humming background harmonies and crisp snares.
The Meji Alabi-directed video for “49-99” features colorful imagery and symbolism. One of the video’s scenes references the iconic portraits of Congolese schoolgirls taken in 1972 by photographer Eliot Elisofon. Another scene, in which Savage is laid out with lengthy braids, is reminiscent of Diana Ross’ flower-accented look from the late 1960s.
On 19 November 2019, Savage released the Black Jerzee-produced track “Attention” and the Pheelz-produced track “Owo Mi Da” as standalone singles. In “Attention”, she admonishes her love interest for the lack of attention he is putting into their relationship while in “Owo Mi Da”, she makes cut throat remarks at an unnamed borrower. Savage performed background vocals on “Èkó”, a slow-burning ballad from Coldplay’s eighth studio album Everyday Life (2019).
Savage is married to Tunji “Tee Billz” Balogun. On 23 November 2013, the couple held their traditional marriage at the Ark in Lekki. The couple’s white wedding was held on 26 April 2014 at the Armani Hotel in Dubai. On 1 January 2015, Savage and Balogun announced that they were expecting their first child together. Six months later, Savage gave birth to their son.
On 28 April 2016, Balogun accused his wife of infidelity and his mother-in-law of witchcraft. In a 45-minute interview conducted by This Day newspaper and Pulse Nigeria, Savage extensively addressed her husband’s lengthy social media posts regarding their marriage. She debunked her husband’s infidelity claims and accused him of financial recklessness, drug addiction and abandonment. She said her marriage to him was over.
Studio albums and EPs
- Once Upon a Time (2013)
- R.E.D (2015)
- Sugarcane (2017)
The Best Music Video of the Year accolade was awarded to both Savage and Clarence Peters.