TINU: Celebrity Singer, Fashion model & Designer
TINU is Celebrity Singer, Fashion model & Designer. She used to be T-Naija. Remember her? The face of Guinness (with Michael Powers) in billboards all over the world. She is back! But simply as, Tinu. And with a sophomore album, Addicted, that includes an outrageous and over-the-top music video she describes as “a very high-fashion Sex and The City meets Confessions of a Shopaholic.” In a no-holds-barred interview with Xclusive Magazine, Tinu talks about modelling, fashion and music.
I was born Tinuola Arowolo in New York, but was raised in Nigeria since I was a little girl. I was no exception to the African family rules abroad. Born on a foreign soil but taken out long before I could start to learn the birds and the bees of the land. My parents met while attending school in the States, had kids and shipped us out to get some real discipline, Nigerian style, before the American system got too far in our blood. I attended Federal Govt Girls College in Akure, an all-girls school full of very privileged students, girls from prominent families. Notwithstanding the power and wealth of the students’ families, this was a tough place to grow into the adult life. The discipline level was at its peak during the Ms. Shodeinde (the principal) regime. She spared no one and I have her to thank for the discipline instilled in me at that time. That school got me really prepared for the hard and fast paced life in New York and the adult world as a whole. If I had a chance to do it again I would not hesitate to sign up for a second round.
Take us through what it was like being the face of Guinness all over the world: in that popular Guinness Advertisement campaign along Michael Powers?
It was just like any other job I had modelled at that time. I was in South Africa on loan from my agency to an agent in South Africa on contract to work there. I did many other jobs that were equally high profile as the Guinness campaign, but obviously not for the African market. When I was chosen to do the campaign, I was unaware that Nigeria would be one of the targeted for its exposure. It was a worldwide campaign that was also seen in the Caribbean, Europe, Asia, etc. I was in a store in New York few months before visiting Nigeria that year and was cornered by a lady, who told me that I looked like the lady in a Billboard ad she had seen in Europe and Jamaica. I had no idea it was already out at that time. By the time I got to Nigeria for a mere Christmas holiday, I was amazed to see the billboards everywhere. I had no idea there would be that many in one country. Nigerians did not know that the model in the ad was a Nigerian at that time. But I didn’t tell anyone it was me until someone called a newspaper and told them that the girl in the ad is a Nigerian and just arrived on vacation. And just like that word got out and it was all over the papers. I guess Nigerians were proud to know it was one of their own in the ad campaign, which coincidentally happens to be in the country visiting as well. I honestly didn’t think much of it when I got the job. I just took it like any other job I had done before and went about my way to other jobs.
After that you suddenly disappearred from the glamorous modelling scene
Like I said earlier, modelling, for me, was more like a hobby; it was never my first love of things to do. I was discovered into it, I didn’t join any model contest to win any contract or walk into an agency with a book asking to be seen. I was invited to come. I like where I am now in my life. I design for a great number of clientele, high profile clients, private label for major departmental stores worldwide, write and sing songs, chat with my fans online, connect with them, still an avid haute couture collector (they are pieces of art to me, like Picasso). These are the things that make me happy; creativity. Where I am now, I call the shots and not the job calling the shots for me. It is a good place to be. Tinu didn’t go anywhere; she is still very much around only just in a bigger and better place in life, not necessarily as public as before.
You used to be T-Naija. Now you are simply Tinu? What necessitated this change of name?
The “T” in T.Naija was Tinu to begin with. Since my first album my current team members have wondered what it meant. Remember, they are not Nigerians. So I explained it but after doing more research on the name, since the release of my first album, they discovered to their horror that some people now use that name as a surname as well, and was not exactly pleased that I was being called after the nickname of a country, hence not so unique despite spending money on trademarking the name. They didn’t think it was unique as it used to sound back in 2003. Tinu also happens to be the name of my design label when I am not doing private label for clients. They wondered why I didn’t just use the same as a singer and keep all eggs in one basket, so to speak. So we all embarked on doing a survey amongst fans, asking which they prefer. Alas! about 90% chose TINU and it was trademarked pronto! Just like that the name stuck. I have to admit that I actually love the change.
Your debut album, Rhythm of Love, which was launched into the market in 2003, was a hit. Why did it take you this long to bring out a follow-up album? And in between 2003 and 2014 what project have you been involved in to fill the gap?
Well, like every other new artist you don’t always get the best deal to begin with. You sort of “pay your dues” with the first album, meaning chances are you won’t get all the money owed to you from the sale. I was burnt big time, and with that in mind I refused to release any more record but I was under contract for 5-6 years and could not release a new album elsewhere. So I waited out the contract, risking everything I had worked hard for. Emails from my fans kept me going all these years. It was during those years that I embarked commercially in my own design label of accessories. There was never a gap or dull moment in my life. I discovered new things I could do that I wouldn’t have had time for. When life gives you lemon you make lemonades. By the time my contract was out I landed two very good ad campaigns that enabled me to invest in recording my second album, all on my own dime, no investors like the first album. The timing was just perfect; it all fell into place.
You are a musician, a fashion designer and a model. How are you able to combine all these and manage to excel in all? Also, putting all these into consideration, how will you describe yourself that will best capture your multi-facet career?
My friends call me the polymath jane of all trade, energize bunny, etc. I get them all. I think I was wired wrong when I was being “made.” I tend to be very restless if idle for too long. I take up new craft easily. There is never a dull moment in my life. To juggle all of the above is what actually keeps me alive and interesting in my day-to-day activities.
Tell us as much as you can what Addicted, your recently released album, is all about, taking us through the aesthetic construct of all the tracks? How challenging was it for you this time, considering that you have been out of the music scene for a while?
Like I said in the previous question, coming back to music now is a great time than ever before. Things are so much easier now to get to the fans, and connecting directly is priceless. The new album is 180 degrees from the first. I hope my loyal fans from the first would approve. Addicted is a collection of genres, not pigeonholed in one section any longer. There is something for everyone, such as rock, pop, fused R&B, alternative, etc. This is the era where you no longer have to buy a whole album if all you want is that one rock song in the collection. You simply download that one song and voila you are done. This new album was inspired by most of the things I enjoy doing, things I find addictive such as my shoes!
The track, “Wild Things”, is as wild as it can be: sensuous, erotic, seductive, suggestive, raw…mmmm…most African people would think that you went too far, but a lot of western people would insist that you didn’t go far enough. In your honest opinion, how far did you go, looking critically at the “Wild Things” video?
Too far? I find that funny. I think I kept it safe enough to the point where the listener or fan can interpret it as they see fit. I tried to make this album as universal and not to one region. The key is to think outside of the box. Africans thinking I went too far? I don’t think that is the case. It got rave reviews from a lot of Africans to my surprise. I thought the song was as clean as possible, delivering the message without being too vulgar and crass. So far it is one of the highest selling song on the album on iTunes and amazon.com.
How do you manage to maintain this fantastic figure of yours? Is it due to a special diet or religious dedication to daily exercise?
Diet? I eat like a horse! I am a big fan of garri (cassava), I can’t live without it. I drink it every night with nothing but cold water, this is the result of boarding school survival, and it never left me. It serves as excellent roughage. I don’t go to the gym, but took up pole dancing a few months ago since doing it for “Wild Things” music video. I got addicted to it and can’t stop. I spend sometime with my friends going out dancing. There is nothing like dancing to a fast paced dance number and you work your body to it for 5-6 hours non-stop. That is also a good way to get a work out going to a gym. I have fun while toning my body. Besides, I thank God for the genes given to me. I have always been lean all my life and hope to keep it that way for as long as I live. Can you imagine getting fat now? I will have to change my vast wardrope, my shoes (as your feet swells too). What will happen to all of my haute couture collection! Just the thought of it horrifies me!
What is Tinu’s idea of true beauty, generally speaking and from the African woman perspective?
I will be frank by saying it is crucial to stay fit by not abusing your body, eating junk even if you are genetically blessed. Diabetes runs rampant in African people. We should take care of our body inside and out. When you are clean on the inside you radiate health for all to see. You walk and talk different and hold your heap higher. It becomes obvious because your attitude changes when you are healthy and thus feel beautiful. That is how I feel about that. You are what you eat. That is the truth about beauty for us Africans. It has nothing to do with what your face looks like with make up on, it all boils down to how well you take care of yourself and eat the right thing for your body. Case in point, you won’t see me eating a big slice of pizza or bucket of fried chicken at midnight and then head to bed to sleep it of.
What are the things you can’t take from a man in a relationship?
I certainly can’t stand a man who thinks a woman’s place is in the kitchen, lies, and will not pull his share. And when I say lie, it goes beyond the traits common in African men who have kids out of wedlock only for their wives to find out at the man’s death bed or grave burial when all the “Iyawos” show up with their bastard children to pay respect too. I think that is a very heartless thing to do to any one, let alone your legal wedded wife who cared for you while you were out “playing” the field all the while coming home and lying to her face about where you have been.
Define your ideal man, using African man as your model?
A man who shares, is honest, funny, respectful and most of all willing to experiment and try new things to spice up the relationship. A closet case or “mouldy” minded man can kill my spirit.
Can a man tame Tinu?
Yes that is the biblical way, and that will never change no matter how far the woman thinks she has achieved in life. One must still respect her husband, but the man should bear in mind that respect is a 2-way street. If he is not respectful in return he will not earn my respect. I adore a man who worships and treat his woman right. I can do anything for that man from bathing him to making his meal to getting his suits ready in the morning. A man adoring his woman, taking care of her really melts my heart to watch. That to me is priceless. He doesn’t have to be the best looking man on the planet. Handsome face with no heart doesn’t go far. It fades and then you are left with horror to deal with. A man with a heart of gold goes very far in my opinion.
What apects of African tradition and cultural practice (in man-woman relationship) that Tinu strongly disagree with?
Women kneeling in front of a husband to feed him, and woman calling her husband “Sir.” The man not reciprocating by not making meals at home sometimes. Doesn’t take out the trash, doesn’t help at all in the house. It would be nice to see a good role model for the children once in a while. Marriage is loving and sweet when a joint effort is shown to the kids, that is care and loving out in the open. It does makes one’s heart feel warm and cozy.
What are your likes and dislikes?
I dislikes snobs, and pretence. Love honestly, loyalty and originality. I loathe Nigerians pretending to be who they are not whenever in a foreign land. I have had odd looks from a couple whenever I dress proudly in my Nigerian attire here in New York. Non-Nigerians will be admiring it and asking about my culture while the real Nigerians are wondering what I was thinking wearing my attire. I hate the pretence some Nigerians display when you speak Yoruba to them and they reply you in English. I just don’t get it! So many African Americans are looking to connect to Africa, to find their roots. We Africans have one and should be proud of it instead of shying away from it. It kills me whenever I see this happen here in the States.
What is Tinu’s philosophy of life?
To be honest with myself and to fear God. I take one day at a time and follow no trend but my own. We have only one life to live, live it fully. As my personal motto says; Life is beautiful, Live it!
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