A solid contender for her strongest body of work in years.
There’s a certain reinvigoration and upturn that accompanies 41-year-old singer Tiwa Savage’s extended play releases. 2017’s Sugarcane – released two years after her sophomore album R.E.D – arrived at a period when Tiwa Savage’s name was on everyone’s lips for the wrong reasons. She had just endured a messy public separation with ex-husband Tunji Balogun aka Tee Billz. However, Sugarcane quickly redirected attention away from her personal troubles, firmly placing it on her music and undeniable talent.
Water & Garri, Tiwa’s latest EP, also has an undertone of artistic and creative revivification to it. While Celia – which arrived a week shy of a year before her latest EP ー was sturdy, there’s a lingering feeling that it never reached the heights it could have. Not only did the promotion for the album feel cursory, certain songs also showed promise but never really hit the nail on the head. Water & Garri, from the onset, looked to right some of Celia’s wrongs. Months before its release, Tiwa Savage shared a video of multi-hyphenate magnate Pharell Williams calling an unreleased song (at the time) “a classic”, immediately creating a much-needed buzz. Weeks after the Pharell video, she hosted several listening parties, which further increased the anticipation. This anticipation eventually went through the roof when Tiwa finally shared the tracklist a couple of days before release, which featured a mouth-watering list of guest appearances.
Throughout Tiwa Savage’s decade-long career, she has carefully selected moments to be vulnerable. Her explicit and likely excruciating interview revealing details of her estranged marriage to Tee Billz back in 2016 probably tops the list. Musically, she rarely lets her guard down, save for a few times, mostly wearing her impenetrable African bad gyal cloak. Water & Garri, however, gently lets down that cloak, finding Tiwa at probably her most vulnerable. “I’ma be honest, I’ma keep it hundred / Don’t need to smoke a j to make me smile again” she sings almost triumphantly over drums and a piercing guitar riff on “Ade Ori”. There’s a certain confidence and conviction that accompanies that line. She sings, “Ready to come out of my pain; I don’t need yours,” with the same conviction. For Tiwa, her healing process no longer requires men who bring her pain and hurt or some marijuana; instead, she’ll turn to a higher power: “I’ll go pray, and I go pray.”
The Afropop-inspired “Somebody’s Son” seems to add context to “Ade Ori” as she seemingly doubles down on a similar message. “Should I try/ Try again?” she asks in the opening lines of the song. Even the most resolute minds experience moments of doubt, and Tiwa, just like everyone else, rethinks her earlier decision for a split second. Still, she snaps out of it as she concludes “This won’t be another heartbreak song / Somebody’s son go find me one day.”. She’s not settling for less than she deserves; rather she’ll remain optimistic than entertain men that seem to bring a cycle of unending hurt. American singer Brandy delivers a perfectly complementary verse as she assuredly sings, “Worried, I’m not worried / No i no look for embrace / Who wan settle for whatever / And live your life forever displaced.”
“Work Fada”, the opener thematically deviates from the central theme of the project. Here, she’s preaching hard work and diligence alongside legendary Queens rapper Nas and Rich King. “One more hour on tha FIFA / Too far along to play with toy / Tidy and go wash it off and fix a plate oh hazy boy / Come get to work / Wasting daylight,” she gently sings over Jazz-inspired production almost like a mother chastising her son. On “Tales By Moonlight”, she steps into Amaarae’s world, delivering sensual lines over gloomy synths and a watery beat alongside the Accra-based singer-songwriter who steals the show with her feather-light, whispery vocals.
To create a body of work that would both clear doubts and once again remind everyone why she has remained relevant for about a decade, Tiwa Savage opened up bits of herself that her fans and onlookers haven’t been necessarily privy to. While she has always told tales of love and heartbreak in her earlier works, this feels different. It’s a much riskier and braver approach both thematically and sonically. “Special Kinda”, the emotive closer nicely encapsulates this. Here, her voice is expertly woven with Tay Iwar’s into one single lead vocal as they both sing about a fiddly relationship. The production is off-kilter, at least for Tiwa, but she doesn’t sound out of place. She’s gliding over the bright synths and slow drums. It doesn’t sound like a typical Tiwa Savage record, but that seems to be the whole point of the intricate EP. She’s not reenacting her tried and tested formula; instead, she’s opening herself up, taking more risks, and the result is arguably her strongest body of work in years.