Tiwa Savage or Yemi Alade. That’s the question that hangs on the lips of every music enthusiast in Africa. A competition that exists in perception and conflicting interest. Sometimes the contest takes a back seat, and it becomes a juxtaposition: Tiwa Savage and Yemi Alade. Side-by-side, mentioned in the same breath, and conjuring inherently the same, yet different mental imagery.
Like all pop culture rivalry that is generated by the media, this one truly exists only in the minds of fans, propagated by social media, and made real by the insistence of the artistes to ignore the conversations, or sometimes, to stylishly avoid the question during press interviews and talk shows. Why these rivalries come up is self-evident. The Nigerian music industry is male dominated, with very few women rolling in the big time. Omawumi, Waje, Tiwa Savage, Yemi Alade, and Seyi Shay are the current “Big 5” in mainstream music. An argument for Cynthia Moran can be made, but she is too niche to properly lay a claim to the pop soundscape. Omawumi and Waje are seen as too of a kind, with very little designs on the pop crown. Seyi Shay, well, she is regarded as a Tiwa Savage spin-off.
Yemi Alade and Tiwa Savage’s rivalry was stoked in 2014 after the latter took time out to chase the joys of motherhood. After a successful entrance into the music scene and partnership with Don Jazzy in 2012, the singer had a meteoric rise to the top of the African music industry, selling sexiness, divadom, and a seductive brand of pop music that possesses a versatility which has appealed across the continent. But her exit in 2015 created a vacuum that was seized by the Yemi.
Miss Alade, who has consistently toiled the backwaters of Nigerian music, hit the jackpot with the Selebobo-produced, ‘Johnny’, perfect timing for an African onslaught. That she has done, growing with more cultural music and branding to appeal to the deep-seated traditional values of the people. Where Tiwa offered sexiness, Yemi was decked in Ankara. Where Tiwa catwalked with grace, and queenly sophistication, Yemi visited orphanages, and made sure the clips made it to her video. Where Tiwa made more Afropolitan sounds, Yemi chased local influences, and went the extreme of making her music in French and Swahili to skip the language barrier, and offer raw, relatable, music. Her 2014 album “King of Queens” was released to mark time, and define the rise of her sound on the continent. In many ways the two singers had the same goal, but followed different approaches to achieving it.
Tiwa’s return in late 2015 with an album, and Yemi’s release of her “Mama Africa” marketing created a clash of ideals and methods. “R.E.D” and “Mama Africa” are sonically divergent projects. Tiwa featured the internationally upwardly mobile Wizkid, and had Busy Signal, a globally acclaimed Jamaican dancehall superstar on the remix of ‘Keys To The City’. Both projects and their promotional visuals continue to embody the philosophies of both stars. There was no love lost for Tiwa and her fans who took to her again. Her marital troubles this year, while a curse to her personal life, was handled professionally, turning a media and PR blessing for her, and everyone who touched it in the media. There’s something universally emotional and admirable about a single mother, raising a kid on her own due to it’s father’s misdemeanors. That further amplified her comeback, and appealed to the emotional side of the continent. Her curse, became her blessing. Yemi Alade has also in the past, rode on sentiments. Her biggest single yet – ‘Johnny’ – was sold as a true life story of her maltreatment at the hands of a man.
Yemi Alade’s sophomore album is still being promoted continentally and her videos continue to bring in the numbers from the continent. But this year is one of international recognition, with Nigerian music getting ahead in the US and UK circles. Tiwa Savage has had no trouble gaining access to that market. Before the start of her singing career, she was a registered songwriter, with a 2009 deal with Sony Music/ATV publishing, for Babyface, Kat Deluna, Fantasia Barrino, Monica and Mýa. She has received songwriting credits for her contribution to Monica’s soul-tinged ballad “Catch Me”. Moreover, her collaboration with Fantasia on the song “Collard Greens & Cornbread” earned the American recording artist a Grammy nomination in 2010. Savage wrote Jaicko’s “Oh Yeah”, featuring Snoop Dogg, and Kat Deluna’s “Push Push”, featuring Akon and David Guetta. Savage performed background vocals on Whitney Houston’s album I Look to You (2009). Her credits include “Collard Greens & Cornbread” off Fantasia Barrino’s Grammy-nominated album, Back to Me. She did backup vocals for George Michael at the age of 16, and lent vocals to other musicians such as Mary J. Blige, Chaka Khan, Blu Cantrell, Emma Bunton, Kelly Clarkson, Andrea Bocelli, and Ms. Dynamite, amongst others. Furthermore, she has performed on stage with Sting, 50 Cent, The Black Eyed Peas, Eminem, Robbie Williams and Destiny’s Child, to name a few. With this background wealth of experience and her dominance on the continent, she has inked an international management deal with Jay Z’s ROC Nation, one which puts her in good stead for penetration at the least, and crossover success.
Yemi Alade is still chasing her UK big bang. Her single ‘Ferarri’ failed to get the effect it deserved in the UK charts. That’s why she is returning with ‘Want you’, a fusion of Electronic Dance Music (EDM) and Afro-Caribbean music for the European market, where it is in vogue. In this uber-competitive space, to stay motionless, is to fall behind.
For numbers, Yemi Alade and Tiwa Savage have played in the same league within the past 8 months, averaging over two million views for their visuals on Youtube. But this is excluding ‘Romantic’, Tiwa’s collaboration with label mate, Korede Bello, which sits proudly at over 12 million views. Yemi Alade does have her mega video, ‘Nagode’, featuring Selebobo. It stands at over 7 million. iTunes and streaming numbers are private in Nigeria, and guarded jealously by the record labels.
Yemi Alade and Tiwa Savage are currently defining female pop artistry on the continent, but the latter edges her out for international recognition and fame. Tiwa Savage still retains her status as the continent’s best, but the growing influence of Yemi Alade and her Afrocentric marketing and branding has achieved phenomenal results.