Tiwa Savage

Tiwa Savage has long held a unique position in African music as the leading female artist in the Afrobeats genre.

After headlining global tours, collaborating with Beyoncé and Brandy, and championing newcomers, Tiwa Savage is embarking on her next venture: starring in and executive producing her debut full-length feature film, “Water and Garri.”

The film, slated for global debut on Prime Video on May 10, follows Aisha, a successful fashion designer, as she returns to Nigeria after a decade in the United States.

She’s taken aback by the profound changes that have swept through her homeland and the people she once knew. Set to the evocative soundtrack of the same name, Aisha’s journey unfolds to reveal poignant cultural shifts.

The accompanying soundtrack is a key component of the experience, as the film’s tracklisting mirrors Aisha’s interactions and feelings throughout.

The soundtrack makes heavy use of live instrumentation and ambient sound effects to create an immersive experience while Tiwa returns with her signature overtone singing. The project includes an array of sonic elements from Afrobeat and Afropop to amapiano to R&B, gospel, and hints of mainstream trap and pop.

Featured are Grammy-nominee Ayra Starr, and Afro-reggae fusion artist Black Sherif, with highlight contributions from Olamide and rising Nigerian star Young Jonn.


“Water and Garri” draws inspiration from Tiwa’s eponymously titled 2021 EP, and her journey as a Nigerian-born British woman who ventured to Brooklyn to ignite her music career as a songwriter. Directed by Meji Alabi, this marks his debut in full-length filmmaking. The film also stands as an investment from major entertainment conglomerates as the demand for African content continues to rise and stabilize.

“Audiences worldwide crave well-crafted, contemporary African narratives, and ‘Water & Garri’ delivers precisely that with a fresh perspective,” said Ayanna Lonian, director of content acquisition at Prime Video. “Both Meji Alabi, in his directorial role, and Tiwa Savage, as the lead, have truly delivered a stellar debut alongside an exceptionally talented cast and crew.”

Additionally, a commitment to authenticity is evident as a Nigerian production company collaborates with Prime Video and Tiwa’s production team.

“We are thrilled to collaborate with Prime Video, who grasp the significance of this cultural milestone celebrating the intersecting power of film and music, especially emanating from Africa at this exciting time,” said Jimi Adesanya, producer and Unbound Studios executive.

Variety caught up with Tiwa Savage in New York to discuss the film, her journey with her own African identity, challenging herself at this stage in her career, and much more.

The name of this film is “Water and Garri,” which is also the name for your 2021 EP. Why did you decide to keep the name the same; is there a connection between the two?

When the ‘Water and Garri’ EP came out, I had no idea of doing a feature film. I thought, ‘Okay, I’m just getting bored of doing music videos.’ I wanted to do a visual album. I was inspired by (Beyonce’s) “Black is King” and Kanye’s films.

Then we were like, ‘Okay, we’re going to do a visual album.’ I got the script and I was like, ‘This is amazing. Let’s do a short film instead.’ We started shooting it and it ended up being a full feature. And so I couldn’t change the name. It felt like there was nothing else that fit. Water to Garri is like love to pain and that resonates a lot in the movie. Now the EP is a standalone project and we have a completely new soundtrack for the movie.

Why did this feel like the right time now to go into acting? Had film opportunities come up for you before?

I’ve gotten many roles before but I wasn’t ready. Acting was my first love before music. So I knew I was going to go back to it at some point. Why now? Honestly, I got bored. I got bored of, producing the album, doing music videos, and then going on tour and moving to the next thing. I was like ‘No, I need to do something else.’ Not completely forgetting music but I needed to be challenged. I needed to be scared. And, and this is a this is a good scare.

I also feel like, many of us, I’d say, Wizkid, Davido, Burna Boy, are at a place where we’ve established ourselves as household names, and at this point can do something new or do anything that we want to do.

You worked with director Meji Alabi, a previous music video collaborator, and with this being your first film, how did he support you? What was the creative and preparation like?

This is his first [film] and this is my first so it’s special for both of us. Meji was amazing. Because it started out as a short and then evolved, the pressure wasn’t there for either of us. I took acting classes in London for a couple of weeks. One of the things that they helped me with on set was [staying in character]. They made sure that everybody kept calling me Aisha. The whole team, Meji, and my partners Jimmy and Vanessa – everybody was incredible.

It’s good to know that you had like a group of people around to make you feel safe.

I’ve worked with [Jimmy and Vanessa] for years. We clicked, from day one. So they can tell when I’m a bit nervous about something and they’ll give me a shot of tequila.

This soundtrack explores a lot of Afrobeat elements but also showcases experimental concepts with jazz, gospel, and more. Was there any hesitation to stepping a bit outside of your comfort zone?

People expect a certain sound from me. So by doing a soundtrack, I could [experiment]. The title track with Richard Bona and the Cavemen is very jazz. I was able to do so many things because obviously, it’s a soundtrack.

I went to Berklee [College of Music] and I studied jazz. My background is jazz and R&B — but, even though that’s my background, I didn’t start as a jazz artist. I kind of have to ease my fans into those types of genres and show them that I can do that.

You were among the first to modernize African music and bring it to the global stage and really break out of that “Afrobeats” box people tend to place African music in. On your “Water and Garri” EP, you worked with Amaarae, who is also praised for defying genres. Is that intentional?

Amaarae is incredible. I love that people expect me to be African and I’m going to always be African. I don’t have to wear dashiki or have braids (laughs) but I am, what I am. But yes, I like to experiment but African culture – I would either put it in my fashion or put it in my music, always. It’s because it’s beautiful to be African, I’m sorry, like, I’m not ashamed of it at all! That’s especially important in a time where some African artists are saying, “Don’t box me in an Afrobeats. Don’t call me an Afrobeat artist.”

I think everybody has different experiences. Some artists were born and bred in Africa, so for them, they want to explore other things. Although I was born in Africa, I lived in London and I lived in America… when I was growing up in London, I was bullied for being African. And now, it’s the coolest thing. It’s the coolest thing. So for me, I have a different perspective. Like, I’m not, I’m not trying to shy away from it at all. In fact, I’m running more towards it because I lived away from Africa for so long.

You just spoke about having to leave home at points and go chase after your career. Your character, Aisha, reflects that experience — she leaves home for 10 years and she comes back to everything being so different. Did you at any point experience that?

I would always go back in December. [December is a high tourist and celebration season in Nigeria and other parts of Africa] And when you go back in December, I don’t really feel like you really experienced Nigeria. You’re experiencing the fun parts of Nigeria. Now when I moved back and I was there for like a few months, I was like, ‘This isn’t dirty December (laughs).’

You’ve worked with so many up-and-coming artists. You’ve previously worked with Ayra Starr and now you have Ayra on this project as well. We spoke about Amaarae earlier. You also have Black Sherif on this project as well. Is working with new artists a conscious effort or does it just happen

It literally just happens. I’m just a lover of music and a lover of artists. So I just want to work with anybody. I don’t care if you have 10 streams or 10 million streams. like As long as the song is great. I didn’t plan to work with mostly up-and-coming artists, but I also feel like they’re more hungry. I feel like when two big artists come together, there’s too many [logistics], and then it just gets complicated. It’s always, it’s always just fun to just work with someone new and someone who is just hungry for it.

You’re obviously in the midst of promoting and supporting this film and its accompanying soundtracks but what sonic direction can people expect from your next studio album?

I’m not really thinking of collaborations right now. I’m just recording. It started off as an Afro R&B, I don’t know [the words for it in English]. It’s just music because I’ve just got so many different sounds. Now, the challenge is to tie it all and make it sound like an album, not like just different songs that I’ve just put together.

So, I’m trying to find something to tie everything together. But individually, all the songs are magical and I’ve got lots of live instruments. I’m recording some parts in New Orleans and Nashville as well. So it’s a, it’s a different sound, but like I said, it’s always going to have the African element. I’m really excited because I’m not, limiting myself to anything and vocally too. I’m pushing myself like I’m singing, singing [laughs].

What do you hope people take away from this film?

First of all, if they’ve never been to Africa, they should come because the way Meji shot it was so beautiful. And I’d say not being afraid to pursue your dream. Where Aisha she’s coming from, you would never imagine that she could be anything. But she ended up being very successful as a fashion designer, but then she still went back home. So, I think the film can encourage anyone. I don’t care if you’re from the slums, all it takes is just that dream and it definitely can happen. Whatever you put out, what you speak with your tongue, it has to – it will to come back.