I might as well state right away that there are bound to be quite a few people left disappointed after listening to this album. Hold on! They’ll only be disappointed for not finding it earlier. It’s not your fault though. While Asa‘s eponymous debut was released in 2007, it wasn’t until January 27th of this year that it was made available to the American market. Sometimes life just isn’t fair.
Fair enough. Chances are that you will be in for a treat while getting acquainted with Asa (pronounced Asha). This Paris-born, Lagos, Nigeria-raised songwriter didn’t have the best social conditions growing up. Fitting somewhere into the stereotypical lonely-weird- kiddo model, she sang her way through weekday choirs, often escaping into the secluded world of music when the outside reality wasn’t good enough.
Eventually, she would move back to Paris and try out the musician’s life. From there, Asa would begin experiencing a continuing upwards spiral of acknowledgment and appreciation leading to a climax in 2007, following the release of this album. Now, it’s here that you, the listener, come in. The Guardian wrote: “Meet the new voice of Afro-folk.” Allow me to add: “Let me introduce a new face of universal soulpop.”
Second single and first track “Jailer” immediately hooks you with its hand claps and familiarly pleasant guitars as Asa’s sympathetic voice reels you in effectively through her deft songwriting. While metaphorically dealing with the issue of all sorts of slavery today, the song still opens your mind and sets you free to discover the rest of this wonderful album.
Paying equal attention to melodies, arrangement, and lyrics with messages, Asa’s fresh folk, or airy soul-pop if you like, is highly enjoyable from an objective perspective. Her warm voice wraps a blanket around your shoulder and tucks you in at night, that’s for sure. Although the music displays another picture, her lyrics aren’t all sunshine and jolly good times. But there’s always some hope that she infuses into her music and that is why I have come to admire the artist.
On first single “Fire On The Mountain”, she sings about awareness and reaction. She sings: “There is fire on the mountain and no one seems to be on the run,” to which she then adds war imagery to make her metaphor perfectly clear. It’s the sort of song that would be ideal iPod/home stereo material for the Western yuppie who is socially aware but refuses to fully confront conflict far away. On the whole, the song brings attention to the subject but is not assertive or patronizing, which I think can be a positive move because the effect is desirable in theory.
I’ve often enjoyed hearing so many Spanish/Latin songwriters sing their hearts out, delivering passion and politically or socially good-willed messages. But Asa appeals to me in a much closer way, even in the times she sings single lines or entire songs in Yoruba, one of the official languages of Nigeria. Her strength lies in the ability to handle tougher subjects with ease without making light of them and take care of the lighter, everyday subjects without overdoing it all.
It’s with a much more foreign and excitingly subtle energy than I’ve encountered anywhere else that she expresses the bliss and awe for whatever tomorrow may hold for us on the absolute highlight, “No One Knows”. With that specifically in mind, I find it hard to believe that any other album this year will re-energize me, encourage me to be a better person, and show a sincere and eclectic artisanship than Asa already has. To hear her, the French-Nigerian talent and role model, show this off throughout her debut album…well, frankly I don’t know who it delights most: me or her?