From the late ’80s till the mid-’90s Tyna Onwudiwe was generally considered the undisputed princess of Nigerian pop music and revolutionized the sound, style, aesthetics and message that female musicians in her era espoused.
Born to a Scottish mother and a Nigerian father from Anambra state, she began writing music from an early age and by her mid-teens, she had been recognized by her peers as a musical force with talents that could one day make her a global superstar. Upon completion of her education, she began recording music and adopted an entirely different approach to creating her music.
According to veteran music journalist Femi Akintunde Johnson,
“She had spunk, she had a message, she was more aligned to African consciousness, blackism, getting out of colonial mentality, slavery and all that. A lot of people took up their activism from some of her philosophies and her penchant for socially relevant music,”.
It was not just her witty and charming music, unusual sets, and socially relevant message that endeared her to millions around the world. She left many in awe of her persona and art.
Tyna Onwudiwe was a multi-linguist and was known to perform her music with a blend of the three major languages in Nigeria, Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba all seamed together with a dash of Pidgin English. Her notable songs include Asiko Lo Laye, Black On Black, I Don’t Know Why, amongst others.
Generally considered to be Nigeria’s answer to Beninoise Grammy award-winning singer Angelique Kidjo, Her contributions to pop music were prolific, persisting through a challenging era when it wasn’t as easy and profitable as it is now – parents used to disown their children for doing music after years of investing in their education. Tyna was a major part of Nigeria’s TV and radio history in the 1990s. Her music and videos, which were way ahead of their time, enjoyed constant airplay as music interludes on many shows on the few television stations at the time.
She was also very vocal and courageous. FAJ recalls how she rejected awards presented to her at the Fame Music Award (FMA) in 1993 because she believed she deserved the ‘Crossover Award’ won by late Sunny Okosun.
“In 1993, despite the fact that we were close, she rejected some of the awards she was given right on stage. An award was given to Sunny Okosun’s ‘Motherless Child’, she felt being reggae-influenced music, it shouldn’t be in the cross-over category where one of her songs was also nominated and she felt she should have won in that category because her song was more crossover than reggae.”
Tyna accepted only the awards she had won earlier and rejected other awards she won after the Crossover category went to Okosun. One of her closest friends and collaborators Charly Boy said of Tyna, “She was really a no-nonsense person, she ‘no send’ anybody any message“.
For today’s version of Retro Sound, we present her single Lite Low, a cover of Bob Marleys 1977 single Turn Your Lights Down Low, which is taken off her only album Afrikan Oyibo. It’s a song that sums up her qualities as a superstar of her era. Check it out below.