Sahara Reporters Exclusive
It was a rather cold day across the New York Tri-state, with a lot of snow, and sub-zero temperature. Notwithstanding the adverse weather, Asa's debut in the US, and first performance ever at Joe's Pub; a popular hot spot for live music in New York City, was met with a sold out show and warm reception by the audience. Right on time, the drummer, three guitarists; including Asa who plays the guitar as well, and her back up singer and manager, Janet Nwose, took to the stage. Opening up her show to the hearty applause doled out by her fans, she got busy strumming her guitar and singing over the melodious music spurned by her band. From one song to the next, her emotive lyrics traveled over such distinct vocal chords characterized by a faint raspiness and exceptional range that it reaches deep down in one's soul for applause while leaving listeners in awe at the same time.
So who is this new face on the music scene? From her profile on www.myspace.com/asaofficial, amongst other things fans readily learn that she was born in France, raised in Nigeria, and is now back in France where she resides and travels the world serving as a musical ambassador of the African continent. Amidst her busy schedule promoting her self titled debut album; 'Asa', she granted Sahara Reporters sometime to do an interview at a studio in downtown manhattan.
Q: Asa, we find your music to be enriching and ladden with soul stirring messages that compels listeners to higher levels of consciousness with sounds arranged in such impeccable fashion. Could you share with our readers your musical inspiration and early development in music.
Asa: My father had a rich collection of music ranging from soul, afrobeat, apala and church music, music on the street. I grew up in festac. I remember after school, me and my brothers would go on the street and beat on any wooden surface that would give us the desired sound. And music, I dont really know when I started because I was told I was singing. But as I grew and realized that music was a part of me, it was a habit, then it was a hobby and that's how it started. It was a dream and I wanted to become a musician and I through it in and out.
Q: How much support did you receive from your parent?
Asa: I always made them know that I wanted to be a musician ever since I was a little girl. It was met with a mixed reaction, my father preferred me to be a lawyer. I mean, its the usual thing. My mother, on the other hand didnt have much of a problem. She thought it was a good hobby. She always liked seeing her daughter sing but not as a profession. So I had to struggle with that, and that was the need to, eh, compared to having people telling me that I didnt have a good voice, I couldn't stay in the choir because I was always fighting all the time to have one chance on the mike. It was a struggle for me, childhood was a struggle, coming out telling people I wanted to sing was a struggle because they just thought I didnt have a good voice.
Q: Well, we are thankful that everyone now realizes that you are truly gifted and talented.
Q: Given your dual citizenship; French by birth and Nigerian by heritage, can your fans expect an album in French in the near future now that you are residing in France?
Asa: Well, we'll see, we'll see. If you are asking what the next project would be like, I dont know. The environment is inspiring, I'm travelling, I'm seeing places, I'm doing what I love to do, and I'm experiencing life, we'll see. But I'll love to do it. It is a beautiful language. I love the language.
Q: I took a year of language in college and must say there is a very close similarity between our shared mother tongue; Yoruba, and I was just telling someone that just yesterday.
Asa: Indeed it is.
Q: Where the youth see music and sports through entertainment as a way out of poverty, how would you advise upcoming artists who are often bombarded by the lure of commercial appeal than to real soulful music, honing their skills and developing rich lyrics such as you have.
Asa: Well, I think everybody is called to do something, we all have talents. Now, the question is, or the thing is, what are you trying to do? What do you channel it to, what do you use your talent for? For upcoming people, I wouldn't say, 'Quit commercial music. It's bad'. It's not. We need these kind of music to feel like humans, to live... to be... we need to laugh, to cry, you know; death, birth, we need all those things. It's what makes a larger story. I just say you need to search within yourself, no body is going to help you do it. When you come into the music business, or the entertainment business, nobody is going to give you that direction. You know? Nobody is going to help you out. What makes the difference is when you've thought about this, and you are convinced, and your imagination will allow it to run, and to move forward. and I think you are going to be amongst the great.
Q: Now, importantly, your album release. Could you tell us about the date, what to expect, where the party is at?
Asa: I dont think there is so much of a party. The first time I had an album release in France, I was getting prepared, I thought there was going to be a party, it was just like any other day. It's going to come out on the 27th of January, and its going to be in every music store you can think of. It's going to be there. So you go out and get it.
Q: So you are working with a distributor or label that is based here in the US.
Asa: Yes, I'm working with a label that's based in the US. It's a big channel. My label is in France but we work with operators that have a global network. That's how it usually works.
Q: Can we get your music on iTunes?
Asa: Yes. Its there. Once it comes out on the 27th. I have a live version, Tokyo Live. We were in Tokyo and we did a concert there. Its on iTunes. Thats another version where you can get a feel of Asa live, and the appreciation from Tokyo. It was different, it was beautiful, and I never thought I would ever one day go there to do music.
Q: And you were received warmly of course?
Asa: Warmly you know. We had to come back there a second time and we toured 7 cities.
Q: Right there in Japan?
Asa: Yeah, we went every where.
Q: Right now you are here in the US, promoting the album, doing the tour dates, and I'm sure you are going to find out you have to come back because the fans probably can't get enough of you. When can we expect you back in the US, and how open are you to working with promoters to schedule tour dates or are you going to be booked for the next few months?
Asa: Well hopefully. . Why not? Laughter.
Q: We want you back in New York.
Asa: The joy of being a musician, for me, is to travel. I love to travel, I love to discover places, meet new people. We'll be coming back in March. We are very open. Hopefully it's for our own good. We want to bring the music to those people, because I want to. I enjoy it, I want to react. This is a new thing. I am just seeing the Nigerian community and it appears minuscule and I am like, wow. I am proud
Q: It's a big community.
Asa: Really? Like I saw last Monday. I just always hope that we can come home.
Q: Speaking on behalf of the Nigerians here in New York, we are definitely honored to have you here, and very proud of you as well.
Asa: Thank you. It's fun. So we'll be coming back in March, and hopefully we will be having an extended stay. So bring on the tour dates.
Q: Of course you did mention you grew up in Festac, in Lagos. And I gathered from a brief conversation you were having with one of your fans that you went to school in Federal Government College Jos, and also went to school in LASU (Lagos State University). Could you tell us about your experience with the education system. As a poet whose work is rich in social commentary, could you share with us some of the things you would like to see, or your aspirations and dreams for a better future for Nigeria, and Africa as a whole. Because our experiences are really collectively shared.
Asa: My experience with the educational system, I didn't have a sweet sweet... no body has a sweet experience with education. Education is a luxury. If you can afford it then you can buy it. Even in the state schools, which is unfortunate. We don't have larger state schools, and that's one of my major problems. We hear, Nigeria is rich and we can feel it, because Nigeria is truly rich. But unfortunately we don't see those riches. There are so many youth out there who are graduates that are jobless, and you know what? They just go back into depression or become nuisance problem to the society, and so there is no movement. We are just in one box.
Q: Your song "Mr. Jailer"
Q: If you are not already doing it, you must probably have an inclination towards social enterprise maybe philantrophy, in which case I would like to know what causes you are compassionate towards addressing at this point in your career.
Asa: At this point, I want to stay connected to the people, and I think I am doing this. That's the purpose of writing most of the songs. I want it to inspire people, I want it to heal, there's been a lot of fun, there's been a lot of pain. Growing up in Lagos I experienced that. You know, I usually love to go into the 'molue' (big transit buses in deplorable condition), sometimes for fun. Just to be inspired and when you sit down, you sit there, you'll see people with a far away look. You know? And there's talk, 'It will be good tomorrow.' People are always looking foward to tomorrow and its actually difficult. Everybody is struggling. You see, in the 'molue' you have the preacher man who tries to get us with the name of God, but behind that he has his own little business. You know? And there's the fish seller; and there's the meat seller, Baba Risika or Rasiki, and there's this endless war. But you know, the interesting thing is when we go back home, and you remember and say, oh, I had a good day and reflect back to what happened and we just laugh. Now, in the midst of this pain, how can we find it... how can we laugh? That's what a lot of people don't have; to smile, to laugh. People in Europe don't have it. We in Africa don't have it ... we don't have everything on a platter of gold. There is so much imperfection, but we still smile, and I treasure that. I don't laugh all the time because I grew up in a hard way and I know what it means when I have a good laugh... in one day, I am okay.
Q: That's refreshing.
Asa: Yeah, and like what we were saying about education sector its a pain for us, its the way it was for us. People need information. When you are informed, you can go any where in the world. When you are not informed, you are ignorant. That's a big disease and that is what's killing us. If people can go out, if people can travel. Why? When you travel...
Q: It's such an enriching experience.
Asa: But it is difficult. People just travel for the wrong reason. Brilliant people just going one way. Why don't they just make it easy for everyone? Why?
Q: I wish we had more time to ponder these things and get more of your perspective on African society. However we are pressed for time. Your fans across different generations already see you in the distinguished class of artists and appreciate your emotive style of music. We certainly wish you tremendous success with your album release, world tours, and hope to sit down with you soon enough.
Asa: Thank you, special thanks to my listeners worldwide for your support, and thank you very much for your time. The album drops on January 27th 2009.