Meeting singing sensation, Bukola Elemide, popularly known as Asa, face to face is as exhilarating as listening to her self-titled multi-platinum album. The Nigerian-born artiste is not your regular celebrity who walks with a chip on her shoulder. She has no airs, she doesn’t have hangers on, only her bandleader and a female back up artiste reminding her of their rehearsal scheduled to take place in 30 minutes.
Asa looks smaller than you expect for a woman who sings which so much power. Her dreadlocks seem longer than it does on her album cover.
How long she has been wearing dreadlocks?
“I have been wearing it for five years.” She also tells the story behind her choice of hairstyle. Her hair is not a fashion statement but, according to her, it is her way of expressing her state of mind, at the very beginning of her career, when things weren’t going as planned.
“While starting up in music, I wanted to be more comfortable with my looks. Because I wanted to concentrate on what I wanted to do at that time, which is music, I settled for dreadlocks. So, my decision to wear dreadlocks came at the beginning of my career,” she said.
For many music lovers, the beginning of Asa’s career is a recent past and they still can remember that things were a bit tough for the MTV African Music Award (MAMA) 2008 nominee for Best Female Act. She got signed on to Kelvin Luciano Gabriel’s Question Mark Records, but had to leave the label. She relocated to France the country where she was born, from where she returned to Lagos, Nigeria at the age of two.
Asa, who was invited to France for an artistic residency, did not have to search for a record deal. After a number of shows the record companies came calling for her signature. Scared from a record deal gone bad in Nigeria, Asa did not fall for the big record companies promising her all the beauty of the world. She followed her heart and went for a small company that allowed her dictate the direction of her music.
The singer, who is the only daughter in a family of four children told Saturday Independent why she did not give up on her dreams despite her disappointing attempt to release an album with Question Mark.
“What kept me going was that it wasn’t the end. The hope that I am better than what they (former label) thought I could do. This hope kept me moving, and people prayed and stopped me sometimes on the streets to encourage me. You know, these things kept me going. I won’t lie; the beginning of my career was quite a difficult period for me. Everybody goes through difficult moments and they need people to give them positive advice.”
Speaking specifically on how she hooked up with her current record label Naive Records she said, “I was performing, travelling a lot. So on one of such occasions I went to France for an artistic residency. During that time I was working with a lot of people, record labels, that is. There was this French record label, I never thought much of my interaction with them, but at the end of the day after talking with so many other big labels for a year, I settled for them. You know, when everybody is telling you the same thing and somebody is telling you something different, you change your focus and you kind of focus on them. Because by saying something different you tend to focus your attention on the person saying something unique.”
Undoubtedly, Asa made a wise decision to settle for a small label. Not only has she hit it big with music lovers across the world, Asa recently scooped France’s prestigious Constantine Award for New Musical Talent for her ground breaking CD.
“I am very happy with my label, just on Monday (November 17) we won the most prestigious Music award in France. This is one of a kind because never has a non-French speaking artiste won this award. So with this label, I am happy, they may not be giving me the world but I have the freedom to sing the kind of songs I would like to sing, songs that appease my soul, songs that will carry the messages I want out there.”
Asa, which means falcon in Yoruba language, was voted the best of France new talent among 10 singers or groups by a jury of 19 music industry specialists at the Olympia Concert Hall in Paris. Often compared to Tracy Chapman, her first single ‘Fire on the Mountain,’ followed by other hits like ‘360’, ‘Jailer,’ ‘Bi Ban Ke,’ ‘Fire on the Mountain’ and ‘Eye Adaba’ has seen Asa cement her name on a tablet of musical greats. Probably because Asa and Chapman have a lot in common-they both sing deeply rooted music, both play the guitar and are dreadlocked, the Nigerian singer doesn’t mind being compared to the American.
“It is an honour to be compared to a woman like that, she is amazing, and her work is good. She had touched many lives and it is one of my aims as a person to touch many lives. It is one of the reasons why I am into music, to touch people.”
Speaking on her producer, Cobhams Asuquo, Asa said theirs is a match made in heaven.
“It was just automatic for me to work with Cobhams. From the beginning he was the person who I thought is a good musical partner for me. I felt I was safe to work with Cobhams because he knew me, he had studied me and I studied him. We kind of challenge each other. So, when I went to France I thought, what is the essence of doing music, if one would not put out Nigeria, not as a bad country, because some people have mixed up ideas about us? I also thought what is the essence of making music if I don’t bring out other Nigerians who have talent? I needed to show that not all the things that come out of Nigeria are negative.”
Unlike some other female artistes who believe in selling their records with their sexuality, Asa does not fit in the mould that believes that sex sells music. She cracked a joke that: “Oh I must have forgotten my blush at home. Like I told you at the beginning, I like to be comfortable with my outlook, I don’t want to be distracted from my work.”
But she was quick to add: “Don’t get me wrong, it’s good to look beautiful sometimes. What I wear depends on my mood, and where I am going for the day.”
When we sought to know about the man after her heart she became evasive. “I am in many different relationships now; I can even start to talk about a love relationship.” When this reporter insisted on getting a definite response, she giggled like a woman in love but refused to give the identity of her partner away.
“Let’s keep it a mystique, but yeah I am in a relationship,” she said.
She also agreed that she is open to be getting married someday.
“Of course, I would like to get married in the future. Every woman would like to get married when she finds the right man.”
But is Asa a demanding lover?
With a wide grin, she answered: “No, no, no, I am not a demanding lover. I am just a simple woman who wants to be loved sometimes like any other woman. I want to be romanced, cuddled, those kinds of things. I am normal. But you know again that when something has to do with the heart, I try to capture it exactly the way it is.”
One person Asa loves from the depth of her heart is her mum. In her song ‘So Beautiful,’ she praises her mother and mothers all over Africa as Orisa (goddess). Said she of the song: “I am not only talking about my mum but other mothers too. I think I am blessed to be a woman. I think we women are a special gift, but unfortunately, we are not very well recognised in Africa. I have a very close relationship with my mum; she took me through a phase in my life. She taught me many things and I am grateful for her openness. Women who take care of their family, send their children to school, feed them and make the people around them feel happy are heroes,” she said.