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THE PLAYLIST: Tiwa Savage on Why the Business of Music is Important

Published 3 months ago
By Chanel Retief
Photo by Daniel Obasi

But the business side, you have to learn about it. Because that’s not natural, we’re not born with that knowledge, you need to learn it.

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In 2018, Tiwatope Savage won Best African Act at the MTV Europe Music Awards, becoming the first woman to win the category. It marked a milestone but also the responsibility to do more for both young Africans and African women trying to enter the industry.

Currently on her European Tour and speaking to FORBES AFRICA from Norway, Savage says: “I feel like I carry a lot of that burden, as a female, as a leader and female Afrobeats artist. Coming into the game, there really wasn’t that many females doing it, and there still isn’t. But there’s more now than when I started.”

Savage was born on Lagos Island in Nigeria and describes her upbringing as quite strict as the only girl growing up with three brothers, which is why she started in the music industry quite late.

“But it felt good to be protected. And my parents were very strict about us getting good grades in school. My dad and my mom did listen to music, but I didn’t grow up in like a musical home where my parents were into music or singers. It was more like ‘you’re going to grow up to either be a doctor or a lawyer, not a musician,” she explains.

This is quite the common theme for many young women on the African continent where it was expected that you either enter a traditional career or a ‘traditional’ home where you would become a housewife.

This is also why Savage chose to go into music much later, in fact, she obtained her business degree first.

“I got my first degree in business and accounts. I also went to Berklee College of Music. I studied jazz. So I got a second degree in music.”

The business degree has come in handy too for her as an artist.

“It’s called the music business,” laughs Savage. A lot of artists, in her opinion, would find it difficult to succeed in this industry not because of their lack of talent but due to a lack of knowledge when it comes to the business aspect of things.

Savage jokingly calls herself “shrewd”, diligently going through all her contracts, business details, and the receipts “for even just a Starbucks coffee”.

“It’s as important, sometimes even more important for you to be able to handle the business element because the music thing, and the entertainment part comes naturally; that’s a gift that God has given
to you naturally,” Savage explains. “Sometimes you don’t even have to think about that, you just have to harness that gift. But the business side, you have to learn about it. Because that’s not natural, we’re not
born with that knowledge, you need to learn it.

“At the end of the day, you can’t leave your business or your finances to complete strangers unless maybe your mom or your brother is managing you.”

Savage moved to London when she was 11 but says her heart has always been with the continent even when in America collaborating with artists such as Snoop Dogg and Fantasia. It was when in Los Angeles in 2012 that Savage was inspired by the growth of the Nigerian music industry, around which time Afrobeats was gaining in popularity.

Savage chose to move back to Nigeria.

What made her return? She puts it simply: “It was the sound.”

“There was something so raw about it. There was a soul that I wasn’t getting from the music that I was surrounded by, living in America… I would find myself listening to it in the car, in my house. And, obviously, but when I go out to clubs, or when I go out to wherever; I probably wasn’t intrigued then. And I found that I was bored. I just wanted to go home and listen to the latest Wande Coal song.”

And so she did.

“It’s so good to be African now. We are so proud of it and we’re shouting about it from the rooftop.”

But there’s still much work to be done in the industry, especially for women and young people.

“When I started, I didn’t come into it trying to be sexy, but I was labeled that. It was hard for a lot of people to accept because women shouldn’t have tattoos, women shouldn’t really wear revealing clothes, especially women who are married or a woman who is a mother,” Savage explains.

“So obviously there was so much backlash. And now, a lot of female artists too, who are coming in, who are sexier, or have tattoos, or are more controversial than me don’t even get 10% of [the backlash I got]. And that’s fine. But it was the journey that was hard to get the culture to understand and embrace that.
And sometimes, you know, that’s just your calling and you’re the scapegoat.”

In a story as old as time, the music industry still has work to do when it comes to equal opportunities for female artists.

Although Savage believes that transformation is only 10% better, the work that needs to happen is for female artists to be given the same sort of preferences as their male counterparts.

“We just want the same equal platform…,” says Savage. However, that said, Savage thinks the future of the African music industry at this point looks promising. This is a fitting sentiment even as the second part of Savage’s Water & Garri album is set to release in August.

“The future looks beautiful right now, it looks like you know when you just have a newborn baby, and it’s just like it could do no wrong,” she laughs. “I really don’t know what the future would hold. I can’t tell but I would only hope that African music will and should become a stable genre.”

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