If you thought Naomi Campbell’s SeptemberHarper’s Bazaar “Wild Things” editorial feature was about as “wild” as it gets, then you obviously have never heard about Tinuola (Tinu) Arowolo aka “Jane of all Trades.” Tinu whose sophomore album “Addicted” debuts this October has over seven personalities all rolled in one. She is a singer, performer, designer, social butterfly, fashion model or “fashion prop” as she prefers to call it, “chef” in the making and world traveler.
Tinu a graduate of New York University (NYU) with degrees in finance and marketing began her foray into modeling in high school. Her modeling later turned into a lucrative career that saw her grace the cover of Oprah’s long time makeup artist Reggie Wells book, “Face Painting.” Tinu also walked global catwalks and appeared in high-end international campaigns and magazines.
In 2003, she debuted her freshman album, “Rhythm of Love.” Like her modeling career, her singing career was also successful. Within a year of the album debut, she sold over 250,000 copies and her album was nominated for the Soul Train Lady of Soul R&B/Soul Album Release Awards. It wasn’t all success all the time. In fact, the success came with its own problems which eventually made Tinu take a break. Her break? Globetrotting to exotic, exquisite countries like Italy, Cambodia, Greece, Japan, Thailand and Morocco.
The very savvy fashion designer and entrepreneur also found time during her music hiatus to operate her successful company www.myuniqueshop.com selling accessories (shoes, handbags, jewelry), some of which were all the rave at the 2005 Oscars. We could go on but think it best you hear directly from Tinu our Ladybrille Magazine Woman of the Month!
LADYBRILLEmag.com: Tinu it is good to connect with you!
TINU: Likewise Uduak, so happy to be part of Ladybrille magazine. I am honored.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: What don’t you do? Many might recognize your face but not really know you. Introduce yourself?
TINU: It’s Tinu, shorten for Tinuola, born to Nigerian Parents in New York City, singer-songwriter with a sophomore album due out this October and among many other things I also find time to run my accessories design company.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: What I really love about you is your very global feel. Tell us how many countries you’ve visited?
TINU: (laughs) I have God to thank for that. Yes I have been to quite a lot but there are still some missing on my list of places to see such as Australia, New Zealand, Peru, Chile just to name a few. I get a special high whenever I’m in a foreign country. I just immerse myself in the culture and blend in.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: How many languages do you speak?
TINU: It’s hard for me to even figure out a number because most of them are not fluent such as Arabic, Hebrew, Italian, French, Hindi. I know my way around these languages whenever I am in the country of their origin. It helps a lot to try and speak their local dialects. In other words you can call me a “sponge” of languages wherever I go but once I return to the states and don’t use the language anymore it becomes a working knowledge. This was the case with Norway where I understood and spoke the language in 1999 during my visit, but haven’t used it since my return to the states. All I seem to remember now is “yes” in Norwegian. That really blows!
LADYBRILLEmag.com: What is most exciting country you have visited so far?
TINU: I am so in love with Thailand right now. It was India for a while but since my 3rd visit to Thailand last December I can’t get my mind over the place. It’s pure heaven on earth! I mean seriously, where else will you get a 2 hour massage for $5? Or have to be asked how you would like your fish prepared minutes after being caught from the ocean? It’s just splendid!
LADYBRILLEmag.com: (I have heard how amazing Thailand is but I am yet to visit, can’t wait!) We will get to your music and your recent “Wild Things” video but first let’s talk fashion! You were at the height of your modeling career and then you disappeared. What happened?
TINU: (laughs) I didn’t disappear. I have been here all along but decided to go in a different direction and fashion such as building my accessory line and company where I do one of a kind designs for collectors and private label for high end department stores worldwide. I never found my modeling career promising. For me it was just a stepping stone. These days it’s few and far in between because I am so busy doing what I really love, designing and most recently writing songs. I knew from day one the shelf life of a model’s career was limited so I was not dumb enough to sit on my buns thinking it was going to last forever. I left before it left me, and now I am in a much happier place.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: Give us a sense of the kinds of shows you did when you were at the peak of your modeling career?
TINU: It’s all so blurry to me now coming to think of it. It’s not a memory lane I wish to travel again ever. I let the past be the past. I don’t think about at all. Pictures from those days are stored deep in my storage room in New Jersey.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: How many shoes do you have? Let’s get your shoe addiction out there right away. (laughs)
TINU: WOW!!!! You are brutal (laughs) Hmm. . . “mum” is the word on that one. Tell you what, I promise to tell during my next project which I am working on at the moment and will be released end of next year. Then you will get to see what the fuss is all about, all the skinny and the dirt about my shoe collection. Yes I admit the number is insane. This led to my Shoeholic song which we are about to shoot the video this coming Labor day weekend. My shoes are the stars of the video, I am just a prop in it. The video tells a lot about my “shoeholism.” God help me. (laughs)
LADYBRILLEmag.com: (laughs) You are also a designer, accessories and jewelry. Tell us a bit more about your line?
TINU: I do a lot of private label such as designing for other company’s brands, with their names on it. I have my own line with my name on it but most of the time they are custom order, one of a kind. I am known among some collectors as the “shoebag lady”. That is because I invented a particular style of bags that happens to look like shoes. I make them in New York and Italy. They were seen at the oscars a few years ago and also in gift bags. I don’t mass produce my line as I personally don’t like mass produced items, hence, the reason for my collection of Haute Couture in Paris. There is nothing like owning a piece of art that was designed just for you. Yes fashion is art, my shoebags are pieces of art collection. Some you might see on www.myuniqueshop.com but people better hurry because whatever is on that site is the last and I seldom sell to online stores.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: Back in the days you also dabbled in music and went by the name of T.Naija. What happened to the T.Naija name?
TINU: The name was voted out by my new management team. Besides I was ripped off on the first contract on the first album. It debuted on the billboard chart, got lots of international press and sold hundreds of thousands, but I was not seeing my money coming in. I was told I had to do another album to get part of the residuals from the first. So I called their bluff and left but I was under contract and could not release another album until it was finished. By the time it was over last summer I dusted myself and regrouped. The new group did not like the old name. They told me to keep the Tinu name a brand like my accessory line and change my stage name, the same name my mother calls me by the way. I thought they were kidding but they were serious. They did a survey amongst my fans and to my surprise they all chose “Tinu.” And that was the verdict, it stuck. I actually like Tinu to be honest, I really do.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: New look, new site and new album. How would you describe your music style?
TINU: I would say it’s more pop rock as supposed to the first one which was more R&B, soul in some cases. The new album which is due out this October (available on www.tinuonline.com linked to iTunes, Amazon and other retail sites) consist of just about all genres. I have never liked to pigeon hole myself. I think the more diverse an album is the better. There is no point being one genre these days when everything is downloadable. Having a multi-genre enables me to reach out to all types of fans who are not obligated to buy a whole album just to get to that one rock song they like. Now all they have to do is download that one song. This way all types of fans can buy the type of genres they like from one album There is no longer a need to buy the whole turkey just to get the thigh. The music style lies in the ears of the listener.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: “Shoeholic” and “Addicted” are both tracks on the album that let’s the secret out on your addictions. Share with us inspiration for both tracks.
TINU: The “Shoeholic” song was born while I was busy arranging and looking through my collection only to find one particular pair had been purchased twice. I was going through them and singing to them at the same time. It occurred to me that the song might be doable on my album and just like that I started to sing the song into my recorder. Talk about a joke being real. “Addicted” I wrote while I was in need of some loving, I am no different from any other woman I too have needs. Just like that, the song was born out of “desperate” needs. (laughs)
LADYBRILLEmag.com: I like the rock and roll “My Life” track. That’s a cool track. What brought about that song?
TINU: Family members who would not mind their business. They had poked their noses where it didn’t belong and out of anger just after receiving their phone call I started blurting out to myself, singing the song with all the anger in me. Then I thought…hmm…why not let them hear the song on my album, and voila!
LADYBRILLEmag.com: When you were T.Naija, Africa’s music industry was not at the place it is today i.e. MTV Africa Music Awards which is coming right around the corner. Do you think the continent is ready for your kind of music?
TINU: Good point. It’s amazing how things (have) changed since 2003 when I released my first album. I really don’t know how they will receive my kind of music to tell you the truth. I mean let’s face it how many Africans are into Pop Rock or Rock? (In Nigeria, for example) a lot of them like what they call Nigerian Hip-Hop or something along those lines. However, MTV Base Africa accepting and playing “Wild Things” proved me wrong. I received lots of emails from fans across Africa telling me about the video and the song. I was shocked to the core. I underestimated the continent entirely. I am so happy about the result. I didn’t see that coming at all. I think Africa is growing at a very fast pace and I am so proud to be part of the phenomenon more so now than ever. It is a good time.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: For the USA and European market, what are you doing differently to really push your music out there this time around?
TINU: The first album we did a lot of store promotion and as you know, the music industry didn’t have a strong online presence like they do today. The internet now has taken over the jobs of the stores. Lots of music stores are no longer in business. Case in point Virgin Megastore, FYE and others. Even magazines are folding in (Vibem Blender, Honey). Having an online presence today really makes a difference. Back in 2003 we would have had to pay some promoter in Europe $100k minimum to create a presence for my album there but today all you have to do is make a lot of noise with a few ads here and there on Facebook, Myspace, and others for fans in far away regions to know about your project. People in countries you have never even heard of are writing to you saying, “hello, can’t wait to get your album.” That is priceless.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: Thank you Tinu for being our Ladybrille Woman of the Month and much success in all you do.
TINU: The pleasure is mine. I am so flattered and honored, totally speechless to say the least. Thank you so much for giving me this opportunity. It is I who should be thanking you. “E seun gan” (translated from the Yoruba language to mean “thank you so much”).
~by Uduak Oduok
A running feature for 12 years on Ladybrille.com, The ‘Ladybrille Woman of the Month’ celebrates women in business and leadership, who empower themselves and others through their contributions and actions in their local and international communities. In 2014, the feature expanded to include a podcast show. If you would like to nominate a woman to be celebrated, please email [email protected].