dynamic duo

Pretty Yende and Tiwa Savage to sing at Charles III coronation

By Dami Ajayi, Jerry Chiemeke

Posted on May 5, 2023 16:40

 © Pretty Yende (lt) and Tiwa Savage (rt) will perform at Charles’ coronation.
Pretty Yende (lt) and Tiwa Savage (rt) will perform at Charles’ coronation.

Pretty Yende and Tiwa Savage, two African musicians, are billed to perform in London this weekend at the coronation of their majesty King Charles III and the Queen Consort.

Featuring two talented women of colour at the Coronation is quite progressive of the British monarchy with its chequered history, both recent and past. In the light of family drama in the British monarch’s inner ties, it may be a masterclass in public relations for some.

For others, especially those with Republican leanings, it is an affront. But for Pretty Yende and Tiwa Savage, it is a career bullseye, an unprecedented opportunity, a colossal achievement, and an earned footprint in the sand of times.

‘Staggering achievement’

Yende, an opera soprano singer in high demand, will lead a solo at Westminster Abbey on Saturday 6 May. It will be the first time an African musician will perform a solo at the coronation of a British monarch.

King Charles, the 40th monarch to be crowned at the Abbey, will be the oldest to ascend the throne at age 74. Yende, 38, will sing ‘Sacred Fire’, a composition by British composer Sarah Class, Zulu songs on the way to church and gospel music with the choir.

This is a staggering achievement for the South African born in the Piet Retief township in 1985 at the height of Apartheid.

This once-in-a-lifetime performance contrasts significantly with what transpired 23 months ago at the Charles De Gaulle airport in Paris.

Yende was strip-searched and held in a dark room with all her belongings taken, even after she had proven to the airport officials that she had the required visa to enter Paris for a La sonnambula performance at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, where she had previously performed.

Hopefully, the winner of the 2011 Operalia will not encounter similar difficulties at Heathrow Airport this weekend; she will need all her vocal abilities at Westminster Abbey.

‘Jet-speed rise’

It has been a jet-speed rise for this singer whose first contact with opera was hearing Delibe’s Flower duet  on a British Airways commercial in 2001. Not many women born in Piet Retief would aspire to this niche career, but the graduate of Milan’s Accademia Teattro all Scala has lit up some of the world’s biggest venues with her lustrous soprano.

Yende, whose singing has been described as “fearless”, appeared at the 2010 FIFA World Cup closing concert alongside Bryan Adams and Bocelli, and was featured in the latter’s 2011 Live in Central Park concert.

Yende, who also studied at the South African College of Music in Cape Town, got her big break in 2013 when she played the lead role in Rossini’s Le Comte Ory at New York’s Metropolitan Opera. Her silky vocals enthralled the audience that had no inkling that she showed up on barely a month’s notice. Not even a small tripping accident on stage could take the shine off her performance. In 2016 she released A Journey, lauded as a “sparkling debut album that unfolds like a musical diary.”

‘Queen of Afrobeats’

Singer-songwriter Tiwa Savage, 43, hailed as the Queen of Afrobeats – the current wave of contemporary West African dance music – will perform alongside an eclectic A-list of global superstars, including Lionel Richie, Katy Perry, and beloved British band Take That, at the Coronation concert on 7 May at Windsor Castle.

Savage, a graduate of the University of Kent, fortuitously relocated to Nigeria in the early 2010s to join arguably the most influential cohort of Afrobeats musicians that, include Wizkid, Davido, Olamide and Yemi Alade.

With several well-received long-playing and extended albums and singles to her credit, Savage won the Best African Act at the 2018 MTV Europe Music Awards, the first woman to be so decorated. In 2022, she received an honorary doctoral degree from her alma mater for her outstanding performance in music.

In more ways than one, Savage, who crooned her way into the consciousness of Nigerian musicophiles with the release of her timeless singles “Love Me (x3)” and “Kele Kele Love” in 2011, has lived up to that quintessential African pop queen status. An impressive stride in a male-dominated industry which has been quite tricky for female superstars to navigate, Savage’s longevity is attributable to her industry, penmanship and uncanny ability to adapt to local trends while keeping up international appearances.

It has been a tough ride for the Isale-Eko-born songstress – chart-topping collaborations, record deals and critical acclaim have sandwiched industry catfights, marital woes and personal scandals – but staying relevant for nearly 15 years has made her one of the continent’s most successful musical acts in recent history.

Precedent set

Arguably, her achievements have also kicked the door open for a cohort of female musicians, including Tems, Ayra Starr, Amarae and Fave.

In 2013, Savage released her debut album Once Upon A Time, which was supported by the singles “Without My Heart” and the pop anthem “Eminado”. Three years passed before the release of R.E.D, her sophomore effort, which yielded the singles “My Darling” and “Standing Ovation”, in 2016.

Publishing and record deals with Roc Nation and Universal Music Group respectively, would precede the 2020 release of her third album Celia, a record which blended upbeat Afropop with sombre, post-breakup rhetoric marinated in RnB. Building on that momentum, in 2021, she released the Water and Garri EP, memorable for the genre-melting smash duet “Somebody’s Son” with American singer/songwriter and R&B legend, Brandy.

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