Asa’s V Album is Not Shy In Its Intention — This is A Bold Undertaking

When Bukola Elemide, popularly known as Asa, stormed onto the scene in the late 2000s, many naysayers believed that her style was meant for the oyinbos, and it was only a matter of time before she threw the towel in the defeat of her sound, after all, she grew up there. But if there is anything to her, the almost stubborn self-consciousness of her craft and belief in what she does is a flag for everyone to see. Wanting to do this kind of music in a country replete with artistes who only pay attention to a woman’s bosom and butt, is bravado. Songs like Bibanke, Jailer, Fire on the Mountain from her first album, self-titled Asa, were on every radio playlist. These were songs that were mind-altering with succulent replay value. They were anthems in every home, school graduation parties, and conferences. They were ubiquitous. Asa won hearts; her resolve to the craft she wanted to do, won hearts.

Asa commands deeper meanings; logs in soul-searching lyricism with a reverberating voice, it is almost as if she summons feelings to become hyphenated incursions.

Here was someone with a stellar distillation of a sound that screams of emotions and choleric wallow, and, you must be a rebel not to have prodded your feet or bob your head to the haunting strings and the lyrics of Jailer, which describes the political irreverence of the masses succinctly, by those in power. Little did we know it was the tip of the iceberg, an unveiling of the musical maestro. Jailer is an emancipation cry on its own–

“I have fears, you have fears too. I will die, but, you sef will die too… you suppress all of my strategies, you oppress every part of me, what you don’t know you are a victim too.”

Her second album hits the charts in the country, emblazoned with an oxymoronic title — Beautiful Imperfections – with hit songs like Preacher Man, Baby Gone, Be My Man; the latter, a fast tempo song that became a fan favorite. With Asa, there is a song that is a favourite of someone, and it doesn’t have to be the one that gets a lot of airplay. With the ability to use her spell-binding voice to inundate intimacy, coupled with her intense guitar riffs, she somehow can calm the ripples of an ocean. Asa is the dream for artistes. For an artist whose lyrics push the complexities of life — inveigling fans with her harmonies, folksy but not so folksy instrumentation, nerve-racking lyrics, sneaky swells, serenading chords, ecstatic beats – Asa is the dream for artistes. But in V, her fifth studio album, Asa decided to experiment. The 39-year-old diving into a terrain that many may think is for the youngies and bodying it, is textbook wonder!

V is Asa’s fifth studio album, and it is an evolution. It is a bold announcement that Asa is nothing short of a modern artiste. One quality an artiste must have is the ability to evolve with time. You must come to terms with the topography, pop culture, in-demand beats, and several contours of musical evolution.

Adekunle Gold comes to mind about rebranding and his evolving from Urban highlife to Afropop should be made into a book. From fuller hair to braided hair, from traditional clothing to silk shirts, from Adekunle Gold to AG Baby, Gold’s frontal and posterior transformation is palpable. While Asa’s brand has gradually seen deregulation of her image, the core still remains, and that’s what makes her so unique. In V, Asa assembles some of the best interpreters of music in the industry; the super talented WizKid, the wispy vocals of Amaarae, and rave of the moment, The Cavemen. All of these artistes came in with their red game.

The album opens to the tone (Asa’s melodic introduction) we were used to “la la la la” with some piano juggling inflating into a sudden saxophonic rendition, undulating basslines all before the afrobeat percussion bursts in — Asa introduces the album as if to say, here, the evolution starts. Mayana, the first song on the album, is an affirmation of Asa’s love for a partner; this love, however, screeches to a halt just at the edge of obsession. It is almost like a casual male objectification on display. But, the dominant but vague repetitions only give a thinning laser beam on commitment, which is questionable as the song’s intent is shadowy. Ambiguous!

“Nothing but our love, nothing but our love. Nothing but the smile on our face ‘cos we know say nothing but our love…”

In Ocean, there is some level of vulnerability here. It is what we reconcile Asa’s songs to. The synths here are rhythmical. The lyrics are rather pleading; however, the interpretation of the lyrics is subjective. But, there is a subtle fear of loss in the billet-doux to her lover; it is almost as if there is gesturing at submission —

“Maybe I move too fast; before we go too far, Maybe we take it slow. Don’t wanna make you sad. Don’t wanna make you mad. I’ll never hit below… For you are the Ocean…”

In IDG (I Don’t Go), teaming up with Afrobeats superstar WizKid makes this song even better. The pesky vocalisations known with Afrobeats songs ferried by heavy percussion were on display. The message is unambiguous in three minutes: to wait till real love finds her. One of the many social ills that society is embroidered with is, settling for anything as long as you are temporarily happy. “I don’t go where no love o,” simply shows the thematic angle of this song. One thing to note is how Asa took the shape of the song’s rhythm; she enveloped the song so much WizKid’s unique sound came in smoothly.

Again, another testament to Asa’s chameleonic presence in this album. Her ability to accommodate her features without making them lose their style should be lauded.

In Nike, which is arguably the most dynamic song on the album, and I daresay this song is vintage Asa. The sound gives the vibes of an indie sound; droned bass, muffled piano, and rhythmical but light percussion. It is the only song that is conversely divergent in delivery. In this song, Ocean Vuong’s haunting words “only something in pain could make a sound you could enter,” is embodied. The melodic chorus calls you in; the synths are an earful only that this time, they make you want to snap your fingers. The vocal arrangements, including the background harmonies, make this song desirable. Asa presents her disgust at being played by a Cassanova with all the “drip,” left at sea for giving her all. I no know if na Yoruba man do am strong thing, but as one myself, and I speak on behalf of Yoruba men worldwide, she wasn’t referring to us. Selah. There is no denying that this is Elemide’s lyricism in its full regalia; the carefully chosen aphorisms by Asa showed she hasn’t lost her touch. Vintage Asa!

Show Me Off comes off as a good Afrobeats song. With a filigree of strings and light piano, it offers spooky voicing and soundscapes big enough to take in her scantily high pitches. Asa projects what everyone who has a lover would want; eulogy and showoff of how beautiful they are. The resurrection of erotic love shards climaxing into the bridge makes the confession the mirror image of the good feeling she has about her lover.

“Show me off, show me to the world, I wanna live my life with you.”

In Morning Man, the old Asa comes to the fore. The ad-libbing distinguishes her coupled with the staggering guitar strums we are all used to in her music. It is some form of “exitrance” into the world of love.

“I want to be the one who makes you never forget what it feels like -to be with a woman In your life -who knows what you really want. I want you to never forget what -it feels when the sun shines so bright. Oh, in the morning time when you -wake up with a glow…”

Good Times featuring the Urban Highlife crooner, The Cavemen is already a favourite with many fans. Rightly so. Do they have any bad songs? Here, South African chords are properly lived out here in this song, like an enmeshment of Nigeria’s eastern music and South African slow-tempo music. Slow tempo beats riddled in Igbo dialectic infusion with resonating lyrics make Good Times an expression of good friendship. There is no better feature than The Cavemen, who somehow have a way of metabolising sounds.

Believer takes another route — light-hearted Hip-hop sound with Asa in her breath-singing best. The song escalates into a prayerful tone, reemphasising the notion that sometimes repetition blossoms into conviction. Penultimately, In All I Ever Wanted featuring the silky-voice, Amaarae, we see Asa delve into the world of “trap music” with some haunting lyrics. Amaarae’s verse comes with a lust like the sun peering through blindfolds into a room it wants to light up. No better artiste could have conveyed the sensuality of this song better than Afropop sensation, Amaarae. It is undoubtedly one of the songs Asa experimented with.

Asa ends the album with a fast tempo song, just as the first song. Then, in Love Me or Give Me Red Wine, Asa climaxes with dinghy lyrics that summon you to bob your head, a lucid way to express her experimentation. It is a vastly different meal course we are used to being served by the star.

This is surely an experiment but it was worth it. Asa always makes room for herself in the palace.

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