It was 2012 when celebrity radio presenter Toolz interviewed Tiwa Savage on NdaniTV’s The Juice. They were both incidentally wearing electric-blue dresses and there were questions about Savage’s mega endorsement deal with Pepsi and if she was the replacement for D’banj at Mavin Records. As newly-appointed First Lady of the Don Jazzy-owned imprint, it was a good time for Tiwa Savage, even without any album to her name. Five years later, and she’s got two albums and an EP and had gone through a turbulent marriage with physical scars from childbirth. Earlier this week, her son Jamal was brought along to the Beat FM Lagos studio for Savage’s second interview with Toolz on her lunchtime radio show.
The interview, reduced to buzzy, trend-worthy tweetbites yesterday, had been published as highlights on Toolz’s website since Wednesday, with an accessible, two-part audio clip that totalled up to thirty one minutes. Towards the end of the first clip, a fan had asked Savage about her perspective on the present gender discrimination in Nigeria. Savage did have a lot to say on the matter, but the controversial, polarizing bits in her responses kneecapped the impact of her initial good points. Bits like “men and women aren’t equal” and “the man is the head of the house” have now been associated with the 37-year-old pop star and, in my view, it’s the worst opinion she has ever given in a media interview.
How it’s possible that Savage hasn’t mined twenty-first century information on feminism and gender equality will forever be a mystery. And while her international peers like Beyonce are blazing feminist icons and inspiring women and girls the world over, there’s a sense that Savage isn’t the only female artiste in Nigeria that holds such patriarchy-endorsing view. By extension, Savage’s comments delegitimises and erases the existence of non-conventional families. Nigeria’s deep-seated homophobia, in its most distilled constitutional form, is still an active, existential threat to LGBTQ Nigerians and it’s a little stunning how Savage’s viewpoint snuffs out the possibility of possibilities. What’s more, it undermines and disacknoweledges years of collective feminist hard work that has, in part, contributed to her success as a pop star.
In June, I remember Beat FM’s radio presenter Douglas Jekan co-hosting an edition of MTV Base Official Naija Top Ten, on which Savage’s All Over was played. When asked about the video, I also do remember his mild condemnation of Savage’s deliberate expression of her sexuality because of her motherhood status. It’s the kind of industry-based, patriarchal sexism that female pop artistes face if their videos are overtly sexual, a personal agency women aren’t allowed to exercise in the first place. Savage’s pop videos may not be Rihanna-grade sexually provocative, but they have aspirationally leaned towards that direction: Kele Kele Love, Love Me, and the controversial Moe Musa-directed Wanted. Though criticized and applauded in almost equal measure, Savage is more feminist than she realizes, subverting patriarchal regulations of womanhood through her music. Off her now-released Sugarcane EP, she tells Toolz in the middle of the interview that the video for her London-recorded song Get It Now will be quite controversial. And what’s feminism if not a little controversial?