With ‘Water & Garri,’ Nigerian singer Tiwa Savage makes her acting debut and emerges with a new sound

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Despite her extraordinary success in Afrobeats music, Tiwa Savage has long harbored a secret aspiration: to pursue a career in acting.

At 44, the multifaceted, award-winning Nigerian artist has transformed her dreams into reality. On May 10, her much-anticipated debut film, “Water & Garri,” hit Prime Video, marking her leap into acting.

Executive produced by Savage and directed by her long-time music video director Meji Alabi, “Water & Garri” is a collaboration between Everything Savage, Unbound Studios, and JM Films.

The concept was born from Savage’s idea to create a visual album for her 2021 EP of the same name. Because of that, it “initially it was only supposed to be like a short film,” Savage said, “and then it grew on its own and took its own identity.”

Written by Comfort Emmanuel, the film is set in a fictional town on the Cape Coast of Ghana and follows a determined fashion designer named Aisha (Savage) who returns to her hometown due to a family tragedy after a decade in the US. However, upon her return home, she finds her once familiar surroundings altered by escalating violence and heightened tensions.

As she reconnects with her family, old friends, and a former flame, Aisha must confront her past and face the guilt of what she left behind – an experience Savage says drew parallels to her own life.

“We both felt like we had to go somewhere to chase our dreams,” said Savage, who spent two weeks in intensive training in London to prepare for the role of Aisha.

“It was just to break me out of my shell, to break me out of Tiwa Savage and just empty me out – and then just allow me to be or embody like a whole different character,” she added.

Experimenting with a new sound

As the production of the film pressed forward, Savage didn’t only shed her superstar persona, she moved on from the initial musical inspiration for the film, instead opting to create an original soundtrack for the movie.

“It was supposed to include the first five songs on the EP; by the time we finished filming, it just took on a whole different identity, and we just created a whole new soundtrack,” the singer explained.

The album served as a platform for Savage to push her vocal boundaries and delve into new musical genres.

“I feel like I’ve been boxed to a certain sound because I’ve done it for over 10 years,” Savage said.

The 10-song soundtrack included collaborations with French Nigerian singer Asa on the folk song “Emotions,” American gospel artist Zacardi Cortez on “I Need You,” and Richard Bona & The Cavemen on the jazz track “Water & Garri.”

“Creating the soundtrack allowed me to explore those different genres, and I think I didn’t feel like I would have been able to do that as Tiwa Savage,” she said. “(So) I was able to explore those pockets of my talent.”  

The singer admits she has always loved Jazz, R&B, and gospel music, but after acting in “Water & Garri” and performing the soundtrack, she says has discovered how much she has grown as an artist and feels encouraged to be limitless in her creativity.

“I’m not limiting myself to the sound that people know me for; I’ve definitely grown even in a performance – like I used to have a lot of dances and do routines,” the singer-turned-actress explained.

“Now I think I’m more about vocal delivery,” she added. “Going forward from that … I feel like I can do anything.”

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