On 'Celia,' Tiwa Savage Celebrates Powerful Women

Oct 10, 2020
Originally published on October 10, 2020 5:28 pm

Tiwa Savage was already turning heads with her music — a deft fusion of Afrobeat with pop, R&B and hip-hop sounds — for years when she was handpicked by Beyoncé to appear on The Gift, the soundtrack album for the 2019 remake of The Lion King. Now, the Nigerian artist has returned with her third studio album and American debut, Celia. She spoke about the record's themes and featured collaborations with All Things Considered; hear the radio version at the audio link, and read on for an edited transcript.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


NPR: The first song I want to ask you about is "Temptation," which actually features Sam Smith. Can you talk a little bit about the song? What's the story behind it?

Tiwa Savage: So every song on the album is kind of talking about different emotions that women go through. "Temptation" is that record where, you know, she's bold, she's sexy, she's sensual. She's not really saying, "I want to fall in love," or, "I want to get married. "She's saying, every time I look at you, I get, you know [laughs] ... I get tempted. So it's that kind of record. I wanted it to be very sensual, but soulful as well. And it was just amazing because the only artist I could think of was Sam Smith.

What was it about their voice that drew you in?

It's got so much soul. And it feels so, I don't know, so warm. And because the texture of my voice is, I feel like, very sweet, very pretty, I just wanted that contrast on this record.

Another song that I'm curious about is also another collaboration, which is "Bombay." Can you talk about the process of collaboration on this album? The sound here is so you and very, very Afrobeat. I wonder how you achieve that.

I love this record! It's such a vibe. "Bombay" I did with an amazing artist in Nigeria called Dice [Ailes]. It's another sexy vibe. I've always wanted to work with Stefflon Don. And so when I heard this record, I just knew that she was going to love it.

I love unexpected collaborations. I always hear the artist and everyone around will be like, "Yo, this is crazy. You guys don't even do the same type of music," but I think that's where magic happens. When you have two unexpected artists, when they come together and it actually works? It's so beautiful. I don't really think too hard when I'm creating. Or I don't go into the studio and think, I want to work with this person, I want to create this type of record. I usually just create the record and then, afterwards, I can hear whoever it is I would like to approach But for me music needs to be free: You can't think too hard when you're going into the studio. You have to allow your creative juices to flow and just trust in your instinct, trust in your guts and create magic.

"Koroba" has a very significant message to it — what's the story behind that song?

In Nigeria, we have some girls that typically date politicians or rich men, [and they get called] all sorts of names. I wanted to address this issue because it's been going on for so long. I'm not encouraging young girls to do this; I'm saying that if we are going to crucify young girls, we need to have the same energy toward the men who are doing this. Because it takes two to tango.

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Can you explain the significance of the word?

"Koroba" means bucket, or basket. In the context of this record, I'm basically being sarcastic and saying, "Girls get your basket, we're going to take our share of the national budget," because these politicians have been stealing from us for so many years and it's time to retake our share, get the power back, or the money back.

The name of the album is Celia. Tell us about what inspired that.

Celia's my mum's name. I'm from Nigeria, and 10 or 15 years ago it wasn't cool to want to be a musician. My mum really supported me even though family members were discouraging her — so I wanted to pay homage to her, and also celebrate beautiful women around the world who are just working hard, killing it in their industries, especially male-dominated industries. So it was a conscious effort on my part to create an album and name the album Celia to celebrate women all around the world.

This story was produced for broadcast by Jeffrey Pierre. LaTesha Harris adapted it for the Web.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

And finally today - because who couldn't use a little pick-me-up? - we want to bring you some new music from Nigerian singer Tiwa Savage. You might know her from her featured role on "The Gift," the soundtrack to last year's "Lion King" remake for which she was handpicked by Beyonce. Now she's out with her debut album in the U.S. It's called "Celia." We called her in Lagos, Nigeria, to hear about some of the songs on the album.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TEMPTATION")

TIWA SAVAGE: (Singing) Temptation, temptation, that's all I see when I...

So every song on the album is kind of, like, you know, talking about different emotions that women go through. So "Temptation" is that record where, you know, she's, like - she's bold. She's sexy. She's sensual. She's, you know, telling the - her partner, like, you know, every time I look at you - she's not really saying, every time I look at you, I fall in love. Oh, I want to get married. She's singing, like, every time I look at you, I get - you know? (Laughter) I get tempted.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TEMPTATION")

SAVAGE: (Singing) Temptation, temptation - that's all I see when I look at you. Temptation, temptation - that's all I see when I look at you.

It's got so much soul. Like, and it just feels so - I don't know - so warm. And because the texture of my voice is, I feel like, very sweet, very pretty, I just wanted that contrast on this record. And it was just amazing because the only artist I could think of was Sam Smith.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TEMPTATION")

SAM SMITH: (Singing) You got the better of me, baby. I guess I'm not that strong. My whole body leaning closer to you lately, even though I know it's wrong. I just give into...

SAVAGE: I love the unexpected collaborations. And I always just hear it - I always just hear the artist. And everyone around will be, like, oh, this is crazy - that you guys don't even do the same type of music. But I think that's where magic happens. Like, when you have two unexpected artists, when they come together, and it actually works, it's, like - it's so beautiful.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BOMBAY")

SAVAGE: (Singing) Girlie want party inna (ph) London. Silicon pon dem bum (ph). Instagram dem a sponsor. Girlie want party till dawn. All this body not for one person, when I bere (ph) you go want mercy.

I love this record. It's such a vibe (laughter). "Bombay" I did with an artist - an amazing artist in Nigeria called "Dice." And it's just - it's another sexy vibe. And I've always wanted to work with Stefflon Don. And so when I heard this record, I just knew that she was going to love it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BOMBAY")

SAVAGE: (Singing) Bigger than Bombay, oh. Bombay, oh. Bombay, oh. Bombay make her sorry, oh. Bombay, oh. Bombay, oh. Bombay, bigger than Bombay, oh. Bombay, oh.

I don't really think too hard when I'm creating. Or I don't go into the studio and think, oh, I want to work with this person, so I'm going to create this type of record. Music needs to be free. Like, you can't think too hard when you're going into the studio. You just have to allow your creative juices to flow and just trusting your instinct, trust your guts and make magic.

(SOUNDBITE OF TIWA SAVAGE'S "KOROBA")

SAVAGE: In Nigeria, we have some girls that typically date politicians or rich men. And, you know, they call them all sorts of names and whatever. And so for me, I wanted to address this issue because it's been going on for so long.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "KOROBA")

SAVAGE: (Singing) I no come this life to suffer. If I follow politician, you go hear am (ph) for paper, they go call am prostitution. Who no like enjoyment?

I'm not encouraging young girls to do this, but I'm saying that if we are going to crucify young girls, we need to have the same energy towards the men who are doing this because it takes two to tango.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "KOROBA")

SAVAGE: (Singing) Koroba, koro, kuru, koroba, koroba, koro oya carry am. Koroba, koroba, koroba, koroba, koro oya carry am. Koro, kuru, koroba, koroba, koroba...

SAVAGE: Koroba means bucket or basket. And in the context of this record, I'm basically being sarcastic and saying, you know, girls, get your basket. We're going to take our share of the national budget - because, you know, these politicians who've been stealing from us for so many years, and it's time that, you know, we take our share, or we get the power back or the money back.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CELIA'S SONG")

SAVAGE: (Singing, unintelligible).

"Celia's Song," the last song, is like a prayer. And I think especially with the lockdown and everything that happened around the world, a lot of people were dealing with a lot. So this - "Celia's Song" is basically just addressing anyone going through hard time, depression, you know, losing someone and just feeling like they can't - you know, they can't go on.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CELIA'S SONG")

SAVAGE: (Singing) Hallelujah. I'm singing hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah...

Celia's my mom's name, and I wanted to pay homage to a woman who has supported me right at the beginning of my career when - you know, I'm from Nigeria, and many years ago - like, 10 years, 15 years ago - it wasn't cool to want to be a musician. And so my mom really supported me even though, you know, family members were, you know, discouraging her.

So I wanted to pay homage to her. And I also wanted to celebrate beautiful women around the world who are just, you know, working hard, killing in their industries - especially male-dominated industries. So it was a conscious effort on my part to create an album and name the album "Celia" to celebrate women all around the world.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CELIA'S SONG")

SAVAGE: (Singing) Mo lanu mi soke, every day mo sa fiyin baba (ph)...

MARTIN: That was singer Tiwa Savage talking about her new album, "Celia," which is out now.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CELIA'S SONG")

SAVAGE: (Singing) Hallelujah, singing hallelujah, hallelujah. I'm singing hallelujah. That's...

MARTIN: For Saturday, that's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. We thank you for listening. We hope you'll stay safe and have a great night.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CELIA'S SONG")

SAVAGE: (Singing) Be my help in life, so this lonely, I'm gon' (ph) need someone to walk with me... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.