Tiwa Savage on Global Citizen Festival, Activism and Using Music for Social Change: 'It's My Core'

Tiwa Savage
Dami Oyetade

Tiwa Savage

Nigerian singer-songwriter and Roc Nation signee Tiwa Savage will perform alongside Beyoncé, JAY-Z, Ed Sheeran, Coldplay's Chris Martin, Pharrell Williams and Eddie Vedder at Global Citizen Festival: Mandela 100, a meeting of artists, activists, and world leaders taking place in Johannesburg on Dec. 2 to honor the work of the late Nelson Mandela.

“What’s great about Global Citizen is that it gives artists an opportunity to use our music and our platforms to motivate and encourage activists to speak out about the issues that are affecting millions around us,” Savage tells Billboard over email. “Music has always been a part of social change — and musicians like Fela Kuti and Nina Simone all created music that challenged those in power to do better for their people.”

Taking place in the year Mandela would have turned 100, the upcoming gathering at Johannesburg’s FNB Stadium is the culmination of a six-month-long campaign by the Global Citizen organization to celebrate the former South African president’s anti-apartheid activism and mobilize one billion dollars' worth of commitments to end extreme poverty. Oprah Winfrey will deliver a keynote address about Mandela’s life and legacy, while stars like Naomi Campbell and Tyler Perry will serve as hosts.

World leaders expected to attend and address the festival include Cyril Ramaphosa, president of South Africa; Nana Akufo-Addo, president of Ghana; Amina J. Mohammed, deputy secretary-general of the United Nations; and Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director-general of the World Health Organization. 

“Giving back has always been very important to me — it’s my core, it’s how I was raised,” Savage says. “It’s exciting to be able to use my platform to impact change and get to speak first-hand to policymakers about the issues that matter most. It will be particularly thrilling to do so in Nelson Mandela’s honor — [he] did so much to change Africa and the world.”

A slew of African musicians — including Nigeria’s Femi Kuti and Wizkid and South Africa’s Caspter Nyovest and Sho Madjozi — will also perform at the festival. “It’s an amazing time for Nigerian music right now,” Savage says. “I’m proud to be part of a growing movement that is influencing mainstream and pop culture globally. [Artists] like Fela [Kuti] paved the way for artists like me to stand on this platform. Much of music’s origin stems from the motherland, so it was only a matter of time before the spotlight fell on Africa.”

Savage — who has written for artists such as Fantasia, Monica, and Kat DeLuna — was born in Nigeria, spent a large part of her childhood in the U.K., and later studied music in the U.S. “Naturally I am influenced by the culture that I was exposed to there,” she says. “But it’s my Nigerian [and] Yoruba heritage [that] influences me most. It’s important to me that whenever I write or record a song I include part of that heritage, whether it’s in a lyric or a particular sound.”

Later this year, Savage will embark on her first international headlining tour, titled the Savage Tour. She's also working on her fourth studio album. 

Free tickets to Global Citizen Festival: Mandela 100 will become available Aug. 21.

Festivals 2018