The year was 2010 and a new talent was about to heat up the Nigerian entertainment space. Her name was Tiwa Savage. Blessed with a sonorous voice, talent and a banging body, it was obvious that this damsel was headed for the top! Thanks to the love and support of her boyfriend and lover turned husband, TeeBillz (Tunji Balogun), who stood behind her like the Rock of Gibraltar.
With the release of her debut single, Kele Kele Love, Tiwa Savage serenaded her way into the hearts of Nigerian music buffs and overnight, she became a household name, snapping up numerous awards and endorsements worth millions of naira. In the twinkle of an eye, Tiwa Savage, the British returnee, had become the Nigerian female act to beat!
According to Mr. Remi, a music producer and singer who spoke to Sunday Sun: “From the very outset, Tiwa Savage knew what she wanted. And what made it easier for her was the fact that she had a loving and dedicated husband who shared her dreams. It was obvious that she was headed for the top of her game; TJ and Tiwa were the perfect entertainment couple. Together they could conquer the world. The stage was set for Mavin Records first lady to rule the industry.
Once upon a time…
Born March 5, 1980 in Lagos State, Nigeria, young Tiwa relocated with her parents at the age of 11 to the United Kingdom. Though she displayed her talent for music at an early age, Tiwa was a brilliant kid.
According to an insider who spoke to Sunday Sun: “Tiwa’s dancing steps were wonderful right from her childhood. Though she grew up as a tom boy but that didn’t kill her love for music at all. While attending high school, she was a trombone player for her school’s orchestra band. Tiwa Savage experienced culture shock when her parents relocated. She had to deal with bullying as well but she eventually conquered her demons and emerged stronger.”
After graduating with a degree in Business Administration from the University of Kent, Tiwa started working at The Royal Bank of Scotland and then music came calling.
Pursuing the dream
As early as age 16, Tiwa knew precisely what she wanted to be and so she relocated from her home in the UK to Los Angeles where she studied Music at Berkeley School of Music with the blessing of her mum.
“Tiwa was one of those dedicated girls at Berkeley,” reveals another source. “She put aside distractions and concentrated on her dreams. All she did was leave and breathe music.”
During this period she did backup vocals for George Michael, Mary J. Blige, Chaka Khan, Blu Cantrell, Emma Bunton, Kelly Clarkson, Andrea Bocelli, and Ms. Dynamite amongst others and also performed on stage with Sting, 50 Cent, The Black Eyed Peas, Eminem, Robbie Williams and Destiny’s Child to name a few.
Recalling her experience the first time she did backup vocals for George Michael, star struck Tiwa Savage once said in an interview that she was so overwhelmed by his presence she almost missed her lines: “I was shy. I was like wow! I was actually doing backup for George Michael. He was big back then.”
At age 27, Tiwa graduated with a degree in Music. While reminiscing about her experiences in Berkeley, she says she was motivated by the drive and passion of the younger students.
Her first taste of success came in 2006 when she participated in the UK edition of The X Factor and made it to the last 24 people standing.
Recalling the experience, the songstress says: “You have to always realize that people are watching. When I got the bad news that I wasn’t getting through to the final, it was really painful. But you still have to learn how to hold that until you get home because you don’t want to just let everything out. People admire you and want to see that you’re strong; they don’t want to see you breaking down.”
However, that served as the spring board for her career and In 2009, Sony/ATV Music Publishing signed the curvy and hardworking damsel on a music deal. Before she could say Jackie Robinson, she was writing songs for Babyface, Kat Deluna, Fantasia Barrino, Monica and Mýa among a host of others including receiving song writing credits for her contribution to Monica’s soul-tinged ballad, Catch Me. She also did stuff with which earned the American recording artist a Grammy nomination in 2010 and did background vocals on Whitney Houston’s album, I Look to You, in 2009.
For many years, the Nigerian music space had been dominated by male entertainers unlike the good old days when the likes of Christy Essien Igbokwe, Onyeka Onwenu and a host of other female singers gave the male folk a run for their money. Tiwa Savage wanted to fill that vacuum. Another thing that struck her was the way Americans talked about how much afro beat legend, Fela influenced their songs and how much they were interested in Nigerian music.
When Nigerian hip pop began to gain relevance on the global scene, only few female artistes could be counted among the stars making waves back then.
It was during this period that the path of her future husband and hers crossed. Tiwa met TeeBillz at Timaya’s show in Los Angeles in 2008. Sources say it was Tiwa who first approached TeeBillz. They both agreed on a meeting the next day and from there one thing led to another and Tunji started working on Tiwa’s image to make her look more attractive as a screen diva. Consequently, he became her manager.
In a recent interview, Tiwa had recalled the experience and how Tee Billz had been her pillar during the early years.
“I told myself ‘why should I wait for someone like Beyonce to do Afro beat songs while I am from Nigeria.’ I was like ‘let me go back and do this myself.’ That was when I met my husband who was my friend back then. He was actually playing a lot of Nigerian videos and I fell in love with Yori Yori. That was the best song at that time. I watched videos from Mo Hits and P Square but I noticed there weren’t many female artistes.
“That was when I decided to pack everything and move to Nigeria. I had a good job as a songwriter with Babyface at that time but I sold my car, my belongings and came to Nigeria.
“But when I got to Nigeria, I was humbled. I was speaking fone. I was like ‘hello, I am singer,’ and the response in Yoruba was like ‘E jo a ko yen je.’ (Please we don’t fancy that). My first performance at Kennis Easter Fiesta was a disaster! I was stoned with pure water bags because I was singing English songs and blowing too much phonetics.
“I ran back to my husband who was my boyfriend at that time and cried, ‘my people are not accepting me, I don’t know what to do.’ He told me to start singing songs that they could relate with. And that was how I came up with Kele Kele Love.”
Tiwa Savage’s first single, Kele Kele Love, launched her formally into the Nigerian music industry in 2010. And in 2012, she hooked up with Mavin Records under the supervision of Don Jazzy, when the platform officially signed her as its first female artiste and ever since she has never looked back.
She went to release hit tracks like Ifewa Gbona, My Darling and Standing Ovation. Today, she is one of the most featured female artistes in the Nigerian music space with over 15 collabos in the kitty featuring stars like Pasuma. Flavour, Waje, Kiss Daniel, Partoranking, Sean Tizzle and label mate, Doctor Sid among a host of others.
And with the collabos, her fame grew and the endorsements started rolling in. Today she is brand Ambassador to brands like MTN, Forte Oil, Pepsi, Jumia and Pampers, earning millions of naira in the process.
By 2013, the chemistry between Tiwa Savage and TeeBillz was so strong and papers began reporting that they were dating but they vehemently denied any such insinuations, insisting that their relationship was strictly business.
However, as Tiwa Savage’s fame and influence grew, so too did the love between her and TeeBillz and in April of 2013, the pair decided they wanted to spend the rest of their lives together. To prove that he meant business TeeBillz gave Tiwa a $2,000 diamond-encrusted, yellow canary wedding band. The pair held a traditional marriage in November 2013 and a white wedding in Dubai, UAE, in April 2014.
It could be described as one of the biggest society weddings of 2014 as Tiwa Savage and her husband flew guests from Nigeria all the way to Dubai for the wedding. Indeed, it was a star-studded event that attracted the crème of Nigerian society.
The way the cookie crumbles
However, the marriage had scarcely been solemnized when trouble began as newspaper headlines and internet chat rooms feasted on the wedding, exposing unpleasant events that transpired at the wedding, including TeeBillz’s attitude. In fact, images of an angry and frowning TeeBillz had flooded the internet as reports revealed that he refused to speak to any one during the flight back home to Nigeria due to events that unfolded between him and his bride in Dubai.
However, back home, the couple had denied there was any rift between them but it was like the marriage was doomed to crash from the start. A few months later, in September precisely, reports emerged that their marriage was headed for the rocks. Reports had it that Tiwa Savage was up to the hilt due to TeeBillz’s excesses, which included excessive drinking, siphoning Tiwa Savage’s money and allegedly converting her into a punching bag when she dared to complain.
In September of 2014 TeeBillz pocketed payment meant for Tiwa Savage’s performance at an event in the UK. This culminated in the songstress firing him as her manager and employing an outsider and TeeBillz did not find this funny. And indeed, Tiwa Savage’s five-month old marriage came under serious strain. Insiders say with the sack, TeeBillz lost his source of income and couldn’t push his own management outfit, 323 Entertainment and so he slid into a world of drugs, and alcohol and the domestic abuses, which Tiwa Savage was subjected to before marriage intensified.
Said an industry source: “Things were really bad after she fired him as her manager. Tiwa suffered a lot but she did all she could to make the marriage work because she truly loved her husband. But it was all in vain. TeeBillz had slid beyond the point of redemption and so they continued to grow apart.
“With the arrival of Jamil, their son, there was hope that the arrival of the newborn would bring the couple back together but it did not as the duo had drifted very far apart,” the source added.
Said another industry source: “During Tunji’s birthday, Tiwa stopped sending congratulatory messages just like TeeBillz was doing. The climax was during their anniversary on April 28, 2016, when they both ignored each other. At this point, music buffs knew the marriage was truly headed for the rocks as TeeBillz took to social media and vented his anger.
From hero to pest
“This was what culminated in Tiwa Savages raunchy performance on stage at concerts. A case in point was in the eastern part of the country when she ‘seduced’ a fan on stage.
“She wanted love and attention but she wasn’t getting it from her hubby and so she had become a rebel and she was looking for ways to express her anger because her husband was cheating on her and stealing her money. He had suddenly turned from being the pillar he was to a pest!
“Within a short while, the pair stopped appearing in public together. Tiwa Savage was spotted alone at several events including Mo Abudu and Florence Ita Giwa’s birthday parties,” the source added.
Was Tiwa in denial when she posted a message a year ago on her Instagram page that her husband could not return her to her parents or exchange her for another woman? She had wrapped up that post with a bold message across the picture, which stated that ‘All sales are final. No exchanges, no returns.’ Was this a reflection of the crisis rocking the marriage?
Meanwhile, despite the denials, reports soon emerged that Tiwa had moved out of her matrimonial home. When a close family source was asked how Tunji was faring, the source said: “What will he do? He (Tunji) brought all this upon his family. Tunji is a randy guy. It is family members that are trying to salvage the situation now. He really hurt her this time. There are serious issues with the marriage as the duo failed to celebrate their second wedding anniversary.”
As if Tiwa already saw the handwriting on the wall on her birthday this year, she recorded a track and dedicated it to Tee billz and titled it, My Baby Daddy instead of My husband. And some days before Tunji’s public rants on Twitter and Instagram, Tiwa dropped another single entitled, If I Start To Talk, sending a signal that indeed, it was all over for the two of them and when TeeBillz broke the internet with his rants, the balloon just burst.
According to Mr Remi: “Indeed it was an anti-climax. This couple had so much to offer the industry but now it is only a miracle that can bring them back. Indeed, music lovers will miss the chemistry between Tiwa Savage and her estranged husband, TeeBillz for a long time to come.”