“Sooo you treat me … like a modern slave, Mr. Jailer!” With this exclamatory and poignant verse, 25 year-old Paris-born Nigerian singer-songwriter Asa (pronounced Ah-Shah) introduced herself to the United States’ music scene with a thunderous message and a divinely-gifted voice for all times. Although the self-titled album has been available for less than a year in France and other parts of the world, it wasn’t until January 27, 2009 that copies of its official release hit the streets of the U. S.
It is without any reservation the most powerful compilation of tracks to bellow out of Africa in close to two decades (sincerest apologies to artistes whose underachieving recordings in this period have failed to charter a course or incite pride in post-colonial Africa).
Up to now, a vast majority of African recording artistes have been all about simulating the most popular music in the West, aimlessly seeking to perfect those rhymes of the West with a little bit of “hit or miss” African twists here and there. For so long, the attitude has been to be more catholic than the Pope.
And this is exactly where Asa excels. Not bound or chained by this superficial emptiness, she lets off a resounding mixture of vocal wonder, an acoustic guitar, and an array of instruments common to the traditional African landscape that achieves an unmistakable symphony of soul, reggae, pop, African hi-life, and jazz. Her music, as you will hear, cannot be boxed in a genre.
On the first track of the album, Jailer, Asa takes on the establishment. It is no misconception that the colonialists that ravaged Africa never left, in lieu morphed into savage imperialists and remained. In a track that boasts a skillful blend of reggae and soul, Asa fearlessly states—you suppress all my strategies/you oppress every part of me … you don’t care about my point of view/if I die, another would work for you. And she sums all these up by appealing to the universality of the human fate—I have fears, you have fears too/I will die, but you self would die too/life is beautiful, don’t you think so too Mr. Jailer?
And yet in a further proof that one does not have to shortchange melody for message, Asa delivers such wonderful pop and reggae themed tunes like “Fire On The Mountain” and ‘No One Knows” that could easily be singles in an album full of them. (“Fire On The Mountain” was an actual single).
Asa’s indelible infusion of her native African dialect, Yoruba, and the English language on many tracks catapults this album into a top-notch production. Not only does she do this with such seamless grace, for the listener who understands the Yoruba language, she deftly uses popular adages and proverbs from the culture in lyrical verses.
What is an album without life experiences? And in this, Asa once again delivered. In what is a masterpiece love ballad, Bi’Ban Ke (If I’m Crying), Asa uses a web of English verses with an enigmatic, soulful, and powerful hook in Yoruba to deliver a truly unforgettable number. And the album is full of this—songs like “Subway,” “Iba,” “Awe,” show a talent and gift very well beyond others. I continue to read testimonials of fans who say regardless of having no clue what she sings in Yoruba; they don’t need to … the music in itself is euphoric enough.
In “So Beautiful,” the last track on the album, Asa pays homage to mothers everywhere. One is first introduced to a blues-like serenade of the mother that takes the tune of a peaceful ballad, when with a sudden and sharp twist; the listener is hit with a pleasurable batter of African drums that creates an up-tempo rhythm like no other. It is a triumphant sequence and moment in good music—one that cannot be savored in haste.
For so long, “message-less” tunes have flowed like aimless rivers from African albums, emptying into seas and oceans that care a nought. How long could the African listen to club and party bangers that do little to address the destituteness that covers vast regions of Sub-Saharan Africa?! Asa’s music no doubt sets the new standard for the new African: you can have fun and still have a message. It no doubt encourages contemporary American artistes like Kanye West to continue to use African themes in songs like “Love Lockdown.”
Her collaboration with Cobhams Asuquo, whom she describes as her “musical director” has been a blessing—regardless of being blind–has helped Asa deliver a sheer work of genius. Album is currently available here on Amazon.com.