From Accounting to Afro Beats: The Incredible Journey of Tiwa Savage

Kent Business graduate Tiwatope Savage, known as ‘The Queen of Afrobeats’ has achieved an incredible music career that has produced four albums, 23 singles, and 10 music videos. Tiwa was the first African woman to sell-out at the Indigo-02 and the first African woman to win the Best African Act at the 2018 MTV Europe Music Awards.

The Kent alum, studied an undergraduate degree in Business Administration at KBS and was awarded an honorary doctorate this week for her incredible music career.

She said: “My biggest experience since leaving Kent is coming back to receive this, actually. It means a lot because I remember the day of graduation. I didn’t graduate with a first, and I was disappointed because I really wanted to do that for my parents, and look where I am today.”

As a result of her music success, Tiwa became the first African woman to be a brand ambassador for Pepsi and to appear on the front cover of Billboard Magazine’s first issue devoted entirely to Africa. With an excess of 56 million of views on YouTube for the track “Somebody’s Son (featuring Brandy)”, 15.3 million followers on Instagram – the most followed female African on social media – her work hosting Nigerian Idol, reality TV and acting, she is the very definition of a global celebrity.   

Tiwa was born in Ikeja, Nigeria, her parents moved the family to Wembley, via Queens Park, London. As a teenager, Tiwa was a gifted musician, playing the trombone in the school orchestra before she found her voice as a singer, watching and eventually performing in Church and as part of a choir. 

By the age of 16, she was providing backing vocals for George Michael which led to other opportunities with artists such as Mary J. Blige, Andrea Bocelli and Ms Dynamite. Strong academically, with a business sense inherited from her mother, a business owner and father, an accountant, she joined the University of Kent in the late 1990s to study Business Administration, a discipline that she still uses every day. She explains:

“Anytime I’m in boardrooms, anytime I’m looking at negotiating contracts. I use it (my degree) in every single aspect of my career.” 

Tiwa enjoyed her time at Kent, but perhaps the most significant moment was when she joined the Afro Caribbean Society. This was her first taste of performing in front of an audience and she developed a local following – fans who would travel and eagerly await her Society performances. This was the springboard.   

The superstar says her KBS education provided her with two main qualities – An eye for detail and the ability to speak with confidence. Even now, she displays an understanding of the profit and loss associated with her industry and business dealings and goes through contracts assiduously line by line. 

“These skills are vital, regardless of the profession you find yourself in,” she says.

Her passion to write and perform was clearly a driving force and while she had a sensible career to fall back on – she gave up her job in a bank to pursue her passion. 

On the advice of Keith Harris of the Black-Eyed Peas, she attended the Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts on a full scholarship, a connection she would later draw upon for her philanthropy. After completing her music studies, Tiwa moved to New York to begin her music career, writing and recording for and with others, Tiwa signed her first publishing deal with Sony in 2009.   

As a songwriter, her collaborations have received significant acclaim, and in 2010, her collaboration with Fantasia led to the artists receiving a Grammy nomination.  As a solo artist, Tiwa has forged a path that draws from her musical beginnings of mainstream pop and R&B to develop a fusion which was heavily based in the emerging afrobeats music genre, typically switching between English and Yoruba in her lyrics. “There’s beauty in bringing both markets together and I had the ability to do it.” She says. She released her debut album in 2013 which was nominated for the best album of the year in Nigeria in 2014.

Her philanthropy focuses on youth engagement organisations and breast cancer screening programmes in Nigeria. Most recently, she has been focused on progressing the development of a Music School that has a holistic offering, from music therapy to sound production, in order to give young people clearer paths into the burgeoning music industry in Africa. 

Her new foundation We are Tired is registered in Nigeria and London which provides support for those facing gender-based violence.  In this project, her business background emerges once again, recognising the value of education, and business. 

On a final message to the Class of 2022, Tiwa said: “I just want to say a huge, huge congratulations to all of you. Well done. I’m super proud! I want you to go out there, have fun, kill it, and be the best ‘you’ you can be because you truly deserve it.”

Kent Business School Alumni is a globally connected community of 23,000 innovative, entrepreneurial, and ethical students with the foresight to inspire future generations.

Follow Tiwa Savage via Instagram for the latest tour dates.

Tiwa Savage’s full acceptance speech can be viewed here:

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