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Issue 1084

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Feature

ASA: FOCUS, TALENT AND AN INTERNATIONAL STYLE

ASA; Guitar 2
ASA; Guitar 2

Already being acclaimed by the critics as "a Franco-Nigerian Corinne Bailey Rae". Paris-born, Lagos-raised singer-songwriter Asa is currently hoping to see the Gold-selling Top 15 French success of her self-titled debut LP spread across the Channel via its UK release this month on internationally-successful London indie Dramatico (home to multi-million-selling Europe-wide superstar Katie Melua).

With 25-year-old Asa having grown up in Nigeria listening to an intricately-diverse mixture of African music and some of the West`s best-loved black music icons (Aretha/Marvin/Marley), her haunting, strikingly melodic songs fuse soul, pop, world music, folk, funk and jazz on a highly-individual album which interestingly finds her singing in both English and Yoruba. Instrumentally, meanwhile, her ever-present acoustic guitar strumming fronts arrangements that combine elegant strings, drums, percussion and Hammond organ to create a record whose unique cultural fusion effortlessly blends underground/niche credibility with broad mainstream appeal.

"Musically, I wanted a very peaceful, soulful sound for the whole album", begins an intelligent, forthcoming Asa (pronounced "Asha") from Central London`s Cumberland Hotel: "And, with me coming from Nigeria, lyrically it has a lot do with my childhood, my growth and the path that I`ve chosen. With lot of people my age in Lagos having lost hope, I felt that through my music I could help these people see life in another way. Which is why, at the end of the day, hope is the one theme that connects all the songs."

Which results in Asa`s album combining insightful 21st Century love songs like `Subway` and `Bibanke` with the more socially-conscious morality tales of tracks like (the first single) 'Fire On The Mountain' and the anti-slavery-themed 'Jailer': "With `Fire On The Mountain`, my producer Cobhams (Asuquo) and I are talking about all the things that are happening right now in the world and how, though we KNOW about them, we`re not doing much ABOUT them", she explains: "It talks about the wars, the famine, incest... And we`re really trying to bring people`s attention to the indifference of the modern world towards all the these problems. Then 'Jailer' is a song about an oppressor. At one point in my life I was going through a stressful moment where I got caught in the web of a bad record deal. So, with the whole situation still causing me problems in Lagos - I have death threats over there because I moved away to Paris - that song was actually a very personal way for me to speak out through my music and say what I`m feeling, in the form of a conversation between a prisoner and a jailer."

With a young Asa being the only girl in her family alongside three brothers, her parents` frequent absences from home due to drug problems meant she was forced to become a responsible mother-figure from a very early age. Nevertheless, her passion for singing never waned, and - following stints at both University and music school - would eventually lead her back to the city of her birth, Paris: âOne day - when I was performing at the French Cultural Centre in Lagos - I was approached to become the lead singer for a jazz trio who were visiting from Marseilles in France,â she recalls: âAnd, while it was my first experience with jazz and at first it was a struggle, I ended up really enjoying it! We toured a few states in Nigeria; we recorded⦠Then in 2004 the guys invited me to perform with them in France. After that, I began coming back to France again and again to work on different projects. Which eventually led to me signing with the French record label Naïve and recording my album.â

With Asa set to perform her first UK concerts (on the 12th of May in London and the 13th in Manchester), she interestingly attributes much of her eclecticism to the two very different cities she calls home: âGrowing up in Lagos - because you constantly hear the local music on the streets - you can learn to appreciate your own culture and language - Yoruba, which is actually very beautiful and very musical. But then coming to Paris - which is very open to world music - does make you expand your horizons, because there`s so much freedom to do so many different styles. So basically the experience of living in the two cities has given me the opportunity to mix and merge my Nigerian roots with a more international style of singing and writing.â

The album 'Asa' is out now through Dramatico... As mentioned Asa plays the Islington Academy on the 12th of May and The Club Academy in Manchester on the 13th.
Words PETE LEWIS

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