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Where Tiwa Savage, the Queen of Afrobeat, studied and performed

Tiwa Savage
Born and raised in Lagos, Nigeria, Tiwa Savage became an established background vocalist towards the end of the 90s. Source: Dominik Bindl/AFP

Tiwatope Savage is her name but you might know her more as Tiwa Savage. Born and raised in Lagos, Nigeria, she became an established background vocalist towards the end of the 90s. So much so, that she was sought after by the queen of hip-hop soul Mary J. Blige. 

Now, she’s recognised as the Queen of Afrobeat with hit after hit of female-empowering music. Even though she moved to the UK when she was 11, her crown is unapologetically African and she moved back home to start her solo career. 

Below we take a look at her journey, her impressive singing career timeline and some of our favourite Tiwa Savage songs:

An education from business to music

Savage attended primary school in Nigeria and when her family wanted the chance to experience a multicultural setting, she moved to the UK. There, she attended secondary school.

She later pursued a degree in business administration at the University of Kent, before going on to work at the Royal Bank of Scotland in accounting —  until the fated call to sing backup for Mary J. Blige came.

At 27, supported by a scholarship, she decided to study at Berklee College of Music, the alma mater of icons such as Quincy Jones and Lalah Hathaway. Although she was older than her peers, she enjoyed her time there as a student.

She continued to use what she learned from her business degree too, especially when negotiating contracts for her band, paying people and how to deal with practical realities of the music industry.

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Most outstanding career events

Savage was a late starter in singing at 17, although it was with a bang (singing backup for none other than pop icon George Michael) . She then worked for Blu Cantrell and Kelly Clarkson and only took a break from her backup career when she went to study at Berklee. 

Armed with connections and experience from her time at Berklee, she returned to Nigeria and released her own singles in 2010. She gained status as an afrobeat artist and was invited to perform at international festivals such as Jay-Z’s Made in America in the US, Afropunk in Paris, and Oh My! Festival in Amsterdam. 

After headlining a sold-out show at Indigo Venue in London, she was named Best African Act at the 2018 MTV Europe Music Awards. In 2019, she signed a contract with Universal Music Group and her duet “Keys to the Kingdom” was on Beyoncé’s soundtrack to Disney’s “The Lion King: The Gift”.

The Tiwa Savage songs we love and why

Just like her brand, Tiwa Savage songs are full of female empowerment and social justice. We take a look at two of the most outstanding ones and the meaning behind them:

Celia’s Song 

A good song will transport you somewhere and this one takes us to gospel church. Here, Savage sings about celebrating her faith and dedicates it to her mother, the song’s namesake. In fact, this whole album is dedicated to her mother — a solid memoir of a strong African woman. 

49-99

The title was taken from Fela Kuti’s phrase, “49 sitting, 99 standing” which basically means the rich getting richer and poor getting poorer. The song has a global message and is a social banger that you can also dance to.