The long anticipated promise of an excellent Tiwa Savage debut album was aborted with the 2013 release of Once upon a time. After teasing with well-crafted gems like Kele kele love, Love me 3x and Ife wa gbono and coming on the heels of a media blitz that was relentless in its efficiency and hasn’t been matched ever since, the debut album landed with a thud. A couple of the songs were good but it was immediately obvious that even Tiwa Savage did not know what to do with Tiwa Savage.
This brand and personal confusion was manifest in the album’s bipolar song selections. Savage and her minders wanted to showcase her international polish and woo local fans at the same time. Thus brilliant, soulful material like Written on your face and Middle passage existed side by side with soulless drivel like Eji m afia and Baby mo.
However, it has to be said that for all of Once upon a time’s failures (and they were plenty), most of its running time, the album managed to retain a shiny gloss that suggested that put in the right hands, the album could have been explosive.
That tentative gloss is all but gone on the new disc Romance. Expression. Dance but it is just as well as R.E.D is not the kind of album that needs it anyway. After enjoying about 3 years of top flight superstardom as the hot to trot siren/troublemaker of record, Tiwa Savage is now at a place where she is more confident and in control of her music. She may still be sorting out her identity as a woman and artiste, but the years have taught her some and she knows where her target audience resides. R.E.D caters to that audience and it is certainly not her neighbours in the posh Lekki-Ikoyi- Victoria Island axis.
Occasional rapper, Olamide once called for a street takeover but he wasn’t starting so much as he was following an already established trend. The streets are where it’s all at now and both Savage and Olamide head that way for the urban radio (and street) friendly Standing Ovation.
Savage appears tough and plays up her credibility while Olamide, whose street cred has never been in doubt helps to ground the song with his Fuji leanings in ways the Mavin first lady could never have managed on her own.
The album’s first single Adura opens with label boss and executive producer, Don Jazzy reaching for his inner Ebenezer Obey, complete with throbbing drums and pious calls for answered prayers. Don Jazzy follows her to the significantly more secular African waist, a cacophony of sounds and influences that zip from Afro-Caribbean to dubstep. There is more Don Jazzy, but in an important departure from Once upon a time, he wisely restricts his presence to background vocals such that even his normally heavy handed producing habits are wrapped up and under control.
This serves the album well and helps her largely uninspired guests to come through clearly. She does the dutiful thing and accommodates label mates Dr Sid (If I start to talk), D’Prince (Before nko) and Reekado Banks (Go down).
To put the power balance in context, should Ms Savage agree to appear on any of the afore mentioned artistes albums, she would instantly be the highlight, at least on paper, and should she decide to put in some actual effort, would find no resistance in outshining them. But with the situation reversed, they do nothing for Ms Savage or her material, except maybe contributing testosterone. Having said that, Dr Sid has the best material and isn’t as consumed by the circumstances. D’Prince doesn’t know when to quit and plays on his Oga Titus persona.
R.E.D may boast an interesting concept driven title but the content is basic Nigerian pop, which isn’t exactly a bad thing. Gone are the stylings and pretences of songs that made Once upon a time constantly escape its limitations. Savage is more grounded here and knows who exactly she is selling her market to. The content is baseline feel good fare. If mindless afro pop had a standard, R.E.D would probably be close to it.
Her song writing, so sharp and tinged with a slice of mystery on Once upon a time has devolved considerably into bland fare like Anybody wey wan step up to this, you go need Burantashi/any girl fantasy. The record’s themes touch on the usual sex bomb, love and religious tropes.
But who cares for higher aspirations when the music makes for pleasurable listens and fast dancing. R.E.D is exactly the reason Don Jazzy will never agree to serve Kanye West when he can be King in Nigeria. When it comes to this kind of basic denominator material, Don Jazzy really has no peer. And in Tiwa Savage, he has found the perfect muse. He raises his game up a notch, she dumbs hers down a lttle. They both get their inescapable hits. Everyone wins.
Welcome to the music business.
— Wilfred Okiche (@DrWill20)