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.
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.