Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1084

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Feature

Asa: Quietly confident

Asa @bluesandsoul.com
Asa @bluesandsoul.com Asa @bluesandsoul.com Asa @bluesandsoul.com Asa @bluesandsoul.com

Renowned for fusing her Nigerian roots with contemporary soulful pop, Paris-based singer/songwriter Asa earned international acclaim as an intelligent and socially-conscious new talent following the 2008 arrival of her self-titled debut album. All of which has now paved the way for this monthâs release of her new, eagerly-anticipated sophomore set âBeautiful Imperfectionâ. Which - currently and prestigiously featuring as Album Of The Week on the UKâs BBC Radio 2 - is already being pioneered by its infectious offshoot single âBe My Manâ. Whose upbeat, soul-snapping retro groove is ear-catchingly injected with a familiar rock tinge inspired by British punk band The Clash.

Born Bukola Elemide in Paris in 1982, at two years old Asa moved to her familyâs home in Lagos, Nigeria. Where, as the only girl in a family of four in an African city that was simultaneously vibrant and turbulent, she grew up frequently finding solace in her fatherâs fine record-collection of classic soul and Nigerian music - including such iconic artists as Marvin Gaye, Bob Marley, Aretha Franklin, Fela Kuti and Sunny Ade.

All of which ultimately led to an 18-year-old Asa (meaning âHawkâ in Yoruba) signing herself up to a music school, where the ambitious and tenacious teenager quickly learned to play guitar, and was before long shaping her own, distinctive sound. A sound which, boasting songs delivered in both English and Yoruba, would ultimately lead to the winning fusion of contemporary soul, pop, reggae and funk - complete with emotive vocals and soul-stirring melodies - that can today be heard throughout her first two albums.

Meanwhile, upon returning to France in 2004, an ever-evolving Asa soon began cutting her teeth alongside artists like Manu Dibango and Tony Allen on the Parisian music scene. A grounding which would eventually lead to the 2007 release of her aforementioned debut LP âAsaâ. Which - spawning the hit singles âFire On The Mountainâ and âJailerâ - would go on to attain Gold-selling/Top 15 status in France as well as widespread international recognition. In turn resulting in an extended transcontinental tour taking in Europe, North America, Africa and Japan, with Asa also gaining the public support of globally-acclaimed music greats Lenny Kravitz and Angelique Kidjo along the wayâ¦

⦠Fast-forward to April 2011, meanwhile, and with the UK release of her aforementioned second album âBeautiful Imperfectionâ coinciding with a co-headlining date at Londonâs Barbican Hall (alongside fellow contemporary West African musician Tiken Jah Fakoly), a chilled-out Asa - whose talents have been favourably compared with Bob Marley, Macy Gray and Nina Simone - reacquaints herself with âBlues & Soulâ Assistant Editor Pete Lewis, to discuss her new setâs musical and lyrical direction while also explaining her ongoing love for the culturally- differing cities of Lagos and Paris.

The title of her new album, âBeautiful Imperfectionâ

ââBeautiful Imperfectionâ basically represents the way I see life. The name actually came about from an interview I did about a year ago. I was asked to describe my life. And my reply was âWell. itâs really beautiful - but at the same time itâs IMPERFECT!â⦠And what I realised from that, is that I actually LIKE the imperfection! I like the little surprises that life gives you, because I feel it HUMBLES you and makes you THINK! You know. Iâm always on a journey. Iâm always moving, Iâm always thinking, Iâm always wanting, always finding⦠Iâm always looking for something, and searching for something better every day. So, when I started to compose the songs for this album, I wanted to make sure I didnât lose that Asa ELEMENT! You know, I wanted to really be MYSELF! Which, as I say, is where âBeautiful Imperfectionâ COMES from.â

What Asa wanted achieve musically on âBeautiful Imperfectionâ

âI wanted to go back to the music I was listening to when I was a kid - from soul and funk to hi-life, Afro-beat⦠You know, because I LOVED them all, I wanted to MIX them all! And vibe-wise the main purpose for me with this second album was to be HAPPY! Because last year, around December/January, I had a life-changing experience which made me see everything differently. And because of that, I felt I needed to choose whether to do the same things people might expect Asa to do, or to try OTHER things. So I eventually opted to try different things. And as I say, my main aim was to be happy, and for the people LISTENING to the record to feel good TOO!â

How Asa feels âBeautiful Imperfectionâ differs lyrically from her self-titled 2008 debut LP

âWell, Iâm not the person I was three years ago. You know, going on the road around the first album meant I was seeing a lot of different places and experiencing a lot of different cultures Iâd never seen or experienced BEFORE. So in that way it taught me a lot about the world and - while overall it was definitely a beautiful experience - it also TOUGHENED me, to where I now understand a lot better what I WANT! Plus it also meant I began to see life ITSELF differently. So that this time around, because I was thinking differently, I had different topics to TALK about. And like I just said, I was definitely in the mood to be colourful, to be happy and - as you can see from the video to (the albumâs first single) âBe My Manâ - to DANCE! Because, though I do dance a lot, I didnât really get a chance to SHOW that on my first record, because of the kind of subjects I was writing about.â

Briefly breaking down some of the albumâs key songs

âEvery track on the album stands on its own, and has a meaning and a feeling that I want to portray. But, while they all have interesting things to say, at the same time theyâre all DIFFERENT! Like on âDreamer Girlâ, because Iâm a dreamer myself, Iâm saying that itâs not stupid and itâs not naïve to DREAM! And that people shouldnât lose their dreams and lose their hopes, because a lot of great things weâve heard about have been born out of dreams before becoming REALITY!.. So yeah, I am talking about a lot of varied topics that in turn each reflect the different parts of Asa. Like on âPreacher Manâ Iâm talking about my RELIGIOUS side, while with âWhy Canât Weâ Iâm asking the basic question âWhy canât we be HAPPY?â⦠Which was inspired by the experience I had in December/January last year. Because, with me just wanting to get out of the sad mood I was in, l needed a song with lyrics that would inspire me to DO that - and they CAME!â

Asaâs friendships with her superstar supporters, US black rock icon Lenny Kravitz and Beninoise singer/songwriter/activist Angelique Kidjo

âWith Lenny Kravitz I was opening for him in Nice. And, because I love his records, I was hoping to get a glimpse of him in person - but his bodyguard wouldnât let me THROUGH!... Anyway, later that same day he was coming out of a room somewhere backstage, saw me, called my name - and started singing âJailerâ! Which of course really SURPRISED me - and from that I was suddenly able to get past this huge bodyguard in front of me and SPEAK to him! So he told me a story about how, when he was 15 years old, heâd worked in Nigeria as a stage-boy for one of the big promoters there. And from there we became friends, to where we actually went on to do a couple of duets together in his LIVE shows!... Then Angelique Kidjo I met in Malawi, and was so pleased to discover that not only is she a great ARTIST, but sheâs a also a really great human BEING! I mean, there arenât many people high up there who are willing to be nice to people that are just starting out. But she WAS! She was motherly, she was caring... And so, as with Lenny, from there we started an ongoing FRIENDSHIP!... So yeah, Iâve had really good experiences with them BOTH!â

Asaâs feelings about the two very different cities she calls home - Lagos, Nigeria and Paris, France

âTo be honest, I canât really live without EITHER of them! I canât stay away from Lagos for too long because Lagos gives me my inspiration and my spirit. But then, on the other hand, Paris is where I like to work and RECORD! Plus I love the FREEDOM I get there! I love the fact that in Paris I meet so many different people from so many different backgrounds, countries and cultures who can all live together and share MUSIC! So, while my family and cultural origins may be in Lagos, Paris is the city that helps me create and write, and enables me to reach out to the rest of the WORLD!â

The album âBeautiful Imperfectionâ and single âBe My Manâ are both out now through Dramatico/Naïve
Words PETE LEWIS

From Jazz Funk & Fusion To Acid Jazz

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