Album review: On ‘Once upon a time’, Tiwa Savage isn’t quite sure what she wants to be
In a way, since 2010 when she burst upon the scene in her barely clothed glory; all brown skin, come hither eyes, suspicious lyrics and toned thighs, we have been waiting for the Tiwa Savage debut album. Her entry was splashy, resolute in it’s all-conquering goal and within a space of 2 years, she became more than a household name. Threatening no ‘Kele kele love’, she demanded we ‘love her 3x’ and even enlisted Don Jazzy to back her up on ‘Without my heart’(to mixed results).
Her unrelenting publicity team brow beat us into submission with her overt sex appeal and we eagerly anticipated the album all through name changes and release date shifts.
‘Once upon a time’ opens with a saccharine soaked and fairy tale updated account of her relationship with her benefactor/fiancé/manager Tunji ‘TJ Billz’ Balogun. The true story is one she may be willing to tell someday and we’ll gladly skip this air brushed intro and wait for such a time.
Things get serious with ‘Wanted’, a Rihanna-esque ‘Man down’ retread that samples lines from Damian Marley’s ‘Welcome to Jamrock’. Potent, upbeat, and bathed in a ragga glow, it works as a sensible opener. The next number, ‘Ileke’ ideally shouldn’t work but somehow it does. With a thumping, resounding beat by Gospel on the beat, she shows she has been taking lessons from the Iyanya playbook. ‘Ileke’ is at once ‘Alingo’ and all of Iyanya’s recent body of work. So bad, it is good.
In an earlier (atrocious) duet, ‘Somebody’ from his ‘IVD’ album, the Kukere master gives her strict warning that people just want to dance and singing does not necessarily pay. It is advice she has taken seriously as she does most of her singing in her lower register, almost the bare minimum if you will.
While this approach works on ‘Ileke’,- a filler that is actually a roll call for popular females (think Rita Dominic, Linda Ikeji) to shake their booty- it fails on others like ‘Ejim afia’ and ‘Baby mo’, the dismal attempts to placate the Eastern brethren.
Tiwa Savage has always had a thing for the Igbo language but ‘Ejim afia’ is only of interest because of the funny ChiGurl ending that sees the comedian putting her own slant on the classic ‘Que sera sera.’ On the latter, she makes sure Flavour pays his debt from an earlier collaboration and the result is an ugly younger sibling of his dance anthem ‘Shake’. Plus plenty of autotune.
The real Tiwa shines on ‘Middle passage’ a sizzling soul slow burner that has her doing some vocal hard hitting at the end. It becomes obvious immediately that these are the kinds of songs she is most comfortable doing. Her strengths lie in her song writing and silky smooth crooning and both are brought the fore on the excellent ‘Written all over your face’ an album highlight that has her singing tastefully about cunnilingus. She goes; Now I know the flavour of my love/coz when you kissing me I’ll be tasting my love. This after the dude just spent some time with his face err… down there.
She ups herself on ‘Get low’ a straight up R&B ballad that sees her offering to go down on her man. Excellent vocal work too. Ms Savage is an R&B artiste in the Brandy tradition masquerading as a pop star and would serve herself well to do more of these kind of songs.
Which is not to say her foray into pop music has been a total disaster. The trifecta of ‘Kele kele’, ‘Love me x3’ and ‘Folarin’ are exquisitely crafted pieces that will always pack their punch.
Don Jazzy is around to remind us that Tiwa is still a Mavin and consequently we have to deal with his heavy handed production which unfortunately constitute some of the disc’s weaker spots. ‘Why don’t you love me’ is an attempt at electro-pop that gets you dancing, starts off well enough but does not build up to anything interesting. The techno tinged beat demands more vocal work than Savage is willing to give. ‘Oh yeah’ has the sad luck of being bogged down by a strenuous and unnecessary Don Jazzy vocal guest contribution. Even the much touted and future mega hit ‘Eminado’ is clunky and roughly sewn, carried away by ideas of it’s ready for radio accessibility.
The elegantly produced ‘Shout out’ may be an extended Pepsi and Remy commercial but it is undiluted fun and goes down even smoother with the Iceberg Slim and Sarkodie guest appearances.
At 21 songs, there are just too many fillers, too much autotune, too much Don Jazzy and an over dependence on the gloss. One has to dig deep to find the real substance. It plays like Ms Savage is just pandering, surrendering to market dictates while throwing a bit of her true self in between. One can easily count 5 songs that should have been left out altogether, not a good sign.
And so we’ll keep the better tracks on this one and keep our fingers crossed even as we await the moment when Tiwa Savage delivers the pure R&B album that she so glaringly has inside of her.
The writer tweets from @drwill20