Essentials: Asa's V perfectly merges her folk sensibilities with sleek Afrobeats.
After traversing unconventional soundscapes and alternative music roads, Asa has returned with her extraordinary talent, wisdom gained from experiences and mixed that with Afrobeats.
In 2006, I watched Italy and France battle it out in the World Cup final. It is the first football match I clearly remember watching, and therefore the singular event I recall whenever anyone asks how I became a fan of the beautiful game. But I wasn’t the only one who began a journey in 2006. That year, Bukola Elemide, professionally known as Aṣa won the “Next-rated” award at the Headies, Nigeria’s most prominent music award show. At the time, she had released two singles “Fire On The Mountain” and “Eye Adaba” to instant acclaim and had a significant portion of the population singing her lyrics. Even my mother, whose music appreciation stopped at Gospel music or old Fuji tunes would belt the lyrics to “Fire on the Mountain” and proclaim that it was good music, “different from the rubbish that all these people are singing nowadays.”
Sixteen years later, a lot of growth has happened. In my life: I have watched a thousand football matches, seen players from that World Cup final become title-winning coaches; listened to, and fallen in love with a lot of the rubbish music that “these people sing nowadays.” In the same time, Aṣa has transcended borders, released classic and moving bodies of work, cementing her place as one of Nigeria’s greatest talents. Aṣa, Beautiful Imperfection, Bed of Stone, Lucid, V. The letter “V” has so many meanings across different fields. From astrology to chemistry, it is representative of so many emotions and states of being: Valentines. Velocity. Vanadium. Voltage. And for Aṣa, it is number 5. The fifth album with a fresh perspective on life and sound.
For years, Aṣa has occupied a rare spot in Nigerian music, garnering critical and relative commercial acclaim while being an outsider, or as we like to frame it, an alternative artist. Her eclectic mix of soul, R&B, as well as traditional folk music was something almost exotic. It wasn’t the regular Afrobeats diet, and in some ways could be likened to a guilty pleasure. Aṣa in the midst of the mainstream Nigerian sound is like my friend Demi and Taco Tuesdays. There’s Chicken Republic for him every day of the week, but on Tuesdays, he’s headed to his favourite Taco spot for an evening of bliss. On V, however, she has jumped into the Afrobeats pool after flirting with it for a while. So, Aṣa on Afrobeats, what’s the verdict? Good? Bad? Trying too hard?
First of all, nobody with Aṣa’s talent can make a bad project - it’s nearly impossible. I am convinced that the lukewarm reception to her last project, Lucid, was a result of her fanbase refusing to align to her desire to experiment and evolve, a process that has led her to this present moment. Produced almost entirely by 20-year-old maverick producer P-Prime, the overriding theme on V is love. The album is a comprehensive expression of affection in different ways; her romantic interests, her friends, and society at large. For the first time ever, an Aṣa project has features, and they too represent various facets of love: Starboy Wizkid comes in with a smooth feature on “IDG”, a song about being intentional about choosing a loving and accepting community; delightful sibling duo The Cavemen appear on “Good Times”, bringing their typical vibe of highlife paired with lyrics about missing the love of friends. Also produced by the brothers, the nostalgic track momentarily takes away the pain of lost love, replacing it with a warmth that appreciates the good times while they lasted. Ghanian superstar Amaarae completes the trilogy of featured acts with good old physical loving. Honestly, if you had told me I’d hear the words “The pussy is wet, it's on ﬂood” on an Aṣa song, I’d have knocked your head, but look at where we are. Another (fantastic?) addition to Aṣa’s catalogue, “All I Ever Wanted” reminisces over a failed relationship. However, unlike “Good Times”, there is no fondness here, just heavy sighs and regret over wasted time. Amaarae’s sultry voice and R-rated lyrics give a solid edge to the track.
Love is heartbreaks too, and on early fan favourite “Nike”, she explores the full range of emotions that affect the heart after a betrayal. The bridge of the song is definitely its most powerful part, tugging at the strings of the listener’s heart: “Tell me how I ﬁt to love anyone When you give me the world / And when let my guard down You throw me the bomb / You say you love me Still you break my heart / You say you love me Still you plague my heart ”
It has been a marvellous ride for Aṣa since she stepped on the scene 16 years ago. From the Headies to the Prix Constantin, acclaim has followed her every step of the way. But awards and recognition don’t come if you aren’t doing something right. From a variety of genres explored, excellent songwriting to conscious and topical subject matter, her range and feel for sound has lifted her to heights that might have seemed like fantasy when she set out all those years ago.
But everything and everyone comes home, including the prodigal son. And so after traversing unconventional soundscapes and alternative music roads, our heroine has returned with her extraordinary talent, wisdom gained from experiences and mixed that with Afrobeats. Unlike the prodigal son, however, there is no shame, only glory, and the masterpiece that is V.