In her infamous radio interview with Toolz earlier this month, Tiwa Savage had seemed very inclined in collaborating with afrohouse songstress Niniola on a song. Toolz had enthusiastically proposed the idea, and Savage had uncertainly referenced Sarz as Niniola’s producer. At the moment, Savage and Niniola are both enjoying good spells from the release of their respective materials last month. Niniola’s Sicker, first of all, is humid and tropical and while it will be featured in dance clubs in the months to come, Savage’s Sugarcane EP is trademarked by the kind of fluffy, sublimely homespun bubblegum pop songs that have defined her songcraft in recent years. Not that it’s a bad thing. The titular track Sugarcane runs with a bright, blippy undercurrent, almost like she’s saying, “I have done proper R&B songs in the past and I just want to have fun with this” and so we hear her vocals transmuted with an effect that is as honeyed as it is vaporific. “I was in a good space when I was making the EP,” Savage fondly tells Toolz in the Beat FM Lagos studio, “I was in the mood for those kind of sweet songs.”
The EP is a forerunner to a full-length album due next year, the third project in her still-expanding catalog. And with an omnipresent, notorious status as a featured artiste, Savage has historically shown that she’s amenable to making collaborations happen. She sounded lovestruckingly dizzy on Flavour’s 2012 Oyi remix and, on the 2011 Don Jazzy-featured Without My Heart, she folded the dancehall riddims into a motif of veiled sex and longing. Her stage performances are also remarkable. Addressing the press upon her arrival for Classic FM’s Valentine concert in Lagos in 2014, American R&B artiste Brandy, who had to be reminded of Savage’s name by the same press, praised Savage and her voice: “There was this one lady, I saw her perform last night at the Kelly Rowland show…I love her. She’s amazing on stage.”
Unlike Savage, Niniola is yet to have a full body of work but has thus far been known for navigating her own path in the current pop firmament: she mildly rages in her novel and unique genre-busting concept, steeped in a strong sense of roots and self-aware sensuality. It’s worth mentioning that female artistes are quite equally spearheading the niche appeal of alternative sounds: Lady Donli (classic soul), Ranti (neo-soul/jazz), Asa (jazz pop), Aramide, (afro-soul). Taken together, Niniola’s artistic style, with all of its misty-eyed nostalgia for South African afrohouse, has much of a poppier gloss and millennial sensibility. More importantly, there’s a crackling magic in her voice – a sharper, smoother edge that will ferment nicely with Savage’s smoky swirls and swooshes. In 2013, Niniola’s goosebumps-inducing performance at the Glo X Factor Lagos auditions elicited a standing ovation from the judges. It was a spectacularly unvarnished picture of Niniola’s early beginnings, hewed closely to R&B and with a shared X Factor history with Savage, who had auditioned at the parent version of the show in the UK in 2006.
Incubating in the MTN Project Fame machine from which she emerged as third runner-up in 2013, Niniola was the darkhorse many had seen before: talented and driven but blissfully occupying that slippery space between oblivion and a new-found pop cultural spotlight. She would later release her Sarz-produced debut single Ibadi, a flirty, spunky song immersed in the trappings of digestible, radio-agnostic pop beats. But beneath Ibadi’s candy-coloured glaze was the exquisite, uncritical strain of afrohouse. Like the video of Savage’s Kele Kele Love, Niniola showed she could dance, ostensibly utilizing Ibadi as a statement for sexual independence. With a cinched waist and in tight faux leather pants, Niniola danced and thrilled a crowd at the Etisalat Cloud 9 concert last year, and, one time, invited male fans to rock her body while performing on stage. “I’m a dancer as well as a singer,” Niniola on Accelerate TV’s July Edition of The Cover, “And so I love to move on stage and so I love wearing comfortable clothes, like shorts and pants. But most of the time shorts, so that I can move my legs and body.”
For a Savage-Niniola collaboration to work, both artistes would have to imbibe small elements of each other’s artistic ethos. The song may heavily lean towards Niniola’s signature afrohouse, brisk and summery with the potential to dominate the dance club circuits. After the release of Sicker, Niniola announced on Twitter that her debut album, This Is Me, will be out on November 3, so there’s a sense that she’s currently focused on the efforts towards promotion. But you never know. Beyoncé and Shakira’s Beautiful Liar was released in 2007, and was spontaneously geared towards the re-release of Beyoncé’s second studio album Bday. The pop industry can be fickle and erratic sometimes, and it’s just the way we like it.