Tiwa Savage's "Celia" is Here and it is Masterful
Nigerian Superstar Tiwa Savage has released her fourth studio album, Celia. The album is named for Savage’s mother, whom she credits as the strongest person she knows. Savage’s mother, Cecilia, is also featured prominently on the album’s cover artwork, which depicts Savage and her mother in front of a Ludo board game. Savage has said she chose a Ludo board for the background because, growing up playing Ludo, she remembered that in the game one must move to win -- an axiom that applies to life as well.
The recording artist has definitely been making moves in her career. She began her career singing backup for artists like George Michael, Mary J. Blige, and Chaka Khan before unsuccessfully competing in the UK version of the musical competition show, The X Factor. Post-X Factor, Savage signed a publishing deal with Sony enabling her to write for the likes of Fantasia, Babyface, and Monica. She then moved back to Nigeria and released her 2013 debut album, Once Upon a Time, to critical and commercial success. One album later, Savage signed a publishing and management deal with Roc Nation, marking her the first Nigerian artist on Roc Nation’s roster. The deal helped cement Savage’s foothold in the American market.
After a string of successes, Savage was invited to write and record for Beyoncé’s The Lion King: The Gift soundtrack album, where she performed “Keys to the Kingdom” with fellow Nigerian star, Mr. Eazi. In a recent interview with HOT 97 host, Ebro Darden, Savage shared that she and her team initially ignored the email from Beyoncé’s camp inviting her to work on the project, because they believed it to be a scam.
Celia is the artist’s first album since the Beyoncé cosign, and Savage delivers. The album is a good portioned 12 tracks (plus a significant interlude “Us”) and allows Savage to mix traditional and new-age Afrobeats with R&B, a buttery musical blend which has become Savage’s calling card.
Savage shared a promotional video for Celia on her Instagram which begins with this statement:
Celia is a celebration of beautiful women.
She is powerful and strong, yet
vulnerable. She’s fearless,
she’s loves love, she’s respectful of her
culture, yet free and open to new ideas.
She refuses to be boxed or pigeon-holed,
she is unapologetic.
She is You, she is Celia
The powerful declaration is followed by a series of Black women cameo’s declaring some variation of “I am Celia” or “I am my mother’s daughter.” The women who participated in the video, which pieces together individual short self-shot videos, range from American multi-hyphenate recording artist Kelly Rowland to Nigerian soccer player Asisat Oshoala to, ultimately, Savage’s mother, the inspiration for the album, Celia Savage.
In a joint interview for Billboard with Mr. Eazi and DaVido, Savage described the limitations facing modern Black women and her desire for the cultural acceptance of women as both strong and vulnerable. That May issue of Billboard, focusing on Africa, titled Africa Now is the first of its kind in the magazine’s history and highlighted the three artists -- Savage, Eazi, and Davido. Later in the conversation, Savage noted that her vision for Afrobeats is that aspiring artists can get industry recognition, without having already obtained a large following.
The album is boosted by lead singles “Dangerous Love,” “Koroba,” and “Temptation,” it is bolstered by features from international stars Sam Smith, Naira Marley, Stefflon Don, Dice Ailes, DaVido, and Hamzaa. Smith notably assists on the sultry single “Temptation” which was co-written by him, Savage, and Fireboy DML. “Temptation” marks Smith’s second recent collaboration with Nigerian hitmakers, the first was his own track “My Oasis,” which featured Burna Boy.
Savage performed “Dangerous Love” on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon and released an Ibra Ake-directed music video for the single, which has garnered positive reviews. Savage saying that the song is meant to be relatable for every girl and (maybe) guy.
The track “Save My Life” opens the album, with a bright Afrobeats background and lyrics that invite the listener to sing along. The song makes clear that this is still an Afrobeats album at heart, but allows Caribbean and Pop influences to inform the tune and lyrics.
“Temptation” utilizes British singer-songwriter Sam Smith to complement and croon alongside Savage. It, like most of the tracks, stands firmly in Afrobeats, but borrows from old school pop chords and introduces jazzy instruments (I am not expert enough to name the instruments precisely, so I won’t attempt).
The album is filled with standouts, but I am always partial to songs that are odes to mothers and that is what the final track “Celia’s Song” does. The song is slower than most of the album and features heavy background vocals, singing hallelujah. Savage alternates between English and Yoruba hypnotically singing her mother’s praises. The song closes the album out with audio of, what sounds like, church goers praising hallelujah.
At 40 years old and four studio albums in, it is quite possible Savage has made the best and most cohesive album of her career to this point.