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Tiwa Savage, Queen of Afrobeats, Makes a New Start


At one point, Savage retreated to Los Angeles and considered going back to simply being a songwriter. “But then I would open my DMs, and I’d see all these young girls being like, ‘I love your sleeve tattoo. I love your piercing,’” she said. “And it was like, I have to go back for these girls. Now I say that I want to inspire girls, but they inspired me to come back.”

At times, Savage also seeks to provide consolation. “I feel like as a musician, I owe it to my listeners just to have that one song where they just want to cry or they want to just be in a room and know that everything will be all right,” she said.

Her first album, “Once Upon a Time,” was released in 2013, drawing nearly as much on American R&B as it did on Afrobeats. Her second, “R.E.D,” in 2015, was exuberantly pan-African, taking in rhythms from all around the continent and dipping into Jamaican reggae. She performed extensively, even when she was visibly pregnant.

But as her popularity rose, her marriage deteriorated. By spring 2016, she and her husband were separated and publicly at odds; eventually, they divorced. Near the midpoint of “Celia,” Savage sings “Us (Interlude),” which directly addresses the breakup: “I wasn’t enough/You weren’t enough/Love wasn’t enough,” she laments.

“It’s definitely the first time I’m being vulnerable,” she said, adding that it had taken years to come to terms with the breakup. “When we first started, it was just like, ‘Me and you, we’re going to conquer the world.’ And then it got to a point where the brand was getting big, and when I had to make a decision, it wasn’t just me and you,” she said.

Savage wrote and recorded “Celia” the way many Western pop stars make albums: She convened a songwriting camp. She booked eight rooms for 15 days at the Oriental Hotel in Lagos, where producers and musicians could come and go, bouncing ideas off one another as Savage supervised, selected tracks and came up with top lines. “Just put your heart into it, and let’s have fun,” she told them.

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