One of the biggest and most influential names in Nigerian music, Aṣa has the ability to instantly connect with listeners. Since 2007, when she first appeared at the helm of the Nigerian music scene with her debut single “Eyé Adaba”, followed up with her platinum-selling self-titled debut album which had much of Asia, Europe and Africa entranced, Aṣa, has not only become a beloved artist but also a significant force in todays’ rapidly-growing music scape.
Born in Paris and raised in Lagos, Aṣa grew up in a household where music reigned supreme -with her father who was a cinematographer- music has been an essential part of Aṣa’s life. Now, with a myriad of wide-ranging musical and creative influences, the internationally celebrated music star continues to forge her path with her trailblazing sound, using a combination of afrobeats, jazz, soul, pop, folk, and reggae.
Aṣa breathes fresh air into the music scene as she returns with the release of her eagerly anticipated fifth studio album V. This is a full-circle moment for her as it’s the first project she’s created entirely in Nigeria. The 10-track body of work which features brand new collaborations with Grammy Award-winning global superstar Wizkid, Ghanaian Afro-fusion sensation Amaarae, and the popular Nigerian highlife sibling duo The Cavemen, including the project’s precursors “Mayana” and “Oceans”, is everything soulful, breathy and ethereal.
How influential was your father on your music?
My father collected records. He was a cinematographer, so he did a lot of videos, and he edited a lot by himself and used music along with the pictures. And I remember while he is working, I would go behind the couch and just listen. The music always took me somewhere else that I loved and enjoyed. So my father has been a big influence, honestly. A lot of things I’ve watched him do or keep, I am also doing the same thing. All those sounds I listened to around the house, and my childhood, majorly came from my father.
What were you going for when you were working on your debut body of work?
I was going for good music. Something local yet international. I guess I also kind of had this idea that I could save the world a little bit. It was probably a childish idea at that time. So, it was a mix of all that.
The album was not only a platinum-selling body of work but it also charted radio stations across Africa, Europe, and Asia. What did this accomplishment mean to you?
Honestly, I didn’t wait to see or to celebrate it as I should because, after that, I just went on to the next one. I didn’t know a lot of things that are happening today, like when you celebrate your project and put it on social media, and also let people know about the tours and everything. I didn’t know all that. But when I look back or when I go somewhere to another country and tour, I start to see the enormity of the album, I now appreciate it and see how far it went. But back then, in the beginning, I was just really on to the next thing and never really stayed or stopped to celebrate.
Can you talk to me about Jazz Music in the early 2000s? What was the genre like then, and what do you think it is now?
Jazz music is another world entirely. I don’t know much about it, but I remember that when I was starting, I did listen to a lot of jazz singers like Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, and borrowed things from them but I never went straight into jazz music. If I was going to do jazz music, then it was going to be hybrid, but never straight because it’s another world of its own. Jazz music, unfortunately, is not a big genre, it’s a niche. It’s something that if you truly love, you’d go for it. It’s not something for everyone. But you must be deep and open-minded to appreciate this kind of music, which is where a lot of us come from. It’s for a certain kind of people who just want to escape in this world and listen to something deeper. Something a little bit more spiritual.
You’ve had such an incredible musical career over the years. What do you have to say about your sound now, and how much do you think it has evolved?
I’m always evolving. I’m always wanting to find something interesting, something different, but I’m talking a lot more about songwriting now. I’m always wanting to find new territories. I just feel like there’s a limit to how much you can put in an album and all of these things that I’ve heard and listened to from my childhood, and even my journey, they’ve all influenced me one way or the other. This new album is going to be another evolution.
What was your experience like living in Paris and Nigeria?
It’s such a good combination because living in Nigeria is real life; it’s the hard knock life. But Paris is also an escape. When things get so crazy, you just want to go to a stable and a little bit more structured space, but then there’s also the time when it gets boring. You can’t allow yourself to be carried away by this. So for me, having the chance to live in both worlds is a great thing and it does influence my writing. Lagos, Nigeria is always with me wherever I go because that’s my roots, that’s where I grew up and that’s the story I know. Whenever I am in Paris or wherever I go, I always bring Lagos into whatever I’m doing through my writing and my melodies.
Do you feel having cross-cultural experiences from living in Paris and Nigeria has hindered and/or helped your career as an artist?
I think it helped. From the beginning, I always want to act local but think global. For my first album, all of the songs were written in Lagos before I recorded them in France. I just happened to record in France but still, I worked with a Nigerian producer in France. I took him with me to France to be able to record this and of course with collaboration with French producers as well. This has created a good mix. Music is supposed to be without borders. If anything, it’s helped and it’s just what I’ve always wanted.
Tell me about your single “Mayana”.
You know, we artists lie a lot, and our lies become the truth because we hope that you will find yourself in the lie [chuckles]. And so “Mayana” is a fiction and it’s inspired by the music. The music gives me the picture. It tells me what the song is going to be like. Is it a love song, is this a song about murder in the USA? But “Mayana” had that rumba Afro-Latin feel and it just put me automatically on an island or the beach. And what do you want to do on a beach if not to be with a lover? That’s what “Mayana” is all about. It’s just a cool vibey love song.
You are a storyteller at heart, and this means telling both honest and carefully presented stories through your sound. Do you find this dualism even when performing on stage?
Yes, that’s why I said earlier that the lies become truth and you find yourself in it. Of course, there is dualism. If I’ve never been on the beach or an island, I’d never be able to write “Mayana”. If I’ve never known what it feels like to love somebody, I would never write that song because I don’t have the experience. It’s always one way or the other from personal experiences. And the stage is my number one love. I’d rather be on stage than in the studio, and I don’t think people have seen enough of me on the stage. I think it’s perhaps partly my fault for not celebrating enough and showing people because I’m a very private person. But, the stage is even more true, it’s even more honest, it’s even rawer, and it’s another side to Aṣa that perhaps not a lot of people have seen or experienced.
If you could look back at how you started, did you ever think that in 2022, you’d still be putting out an album?
Definitely! I don’t plan to retire soon.
Now that you’ve unveiled your album, what is next for you?
What I want to do now is to put out more projects. I think people should hear more of Aṣa. I’m looking at going more into classical music. Also in the future, I plan to release an album solely in Yoruba. But I mean, with V, now that it’s out, you never know. I’ll just let the universe take charge, and if my journey or path is to go somewhere else, then we’d see.
Listen to V by Aṣa out now.