LIKE ASA? YES? YOU’LL LIKE THIS
A curious thing happened when I heard Be My Man, first single off Asa’s sophomore. It was on radio and the OAP hadn’t mentioned the artist. I was so impressed that I wrote down some lines so I could google the artist. Halfway in I realized it was Asa singing.
I don’t blame me for the error. Asa has polished her vocals so that the Nigerian quality is beneath the surface- not that it would deceive anyone but the most distracted. Still, it is markedly different.
Again she’s lost her shyness, perhaps the exotic sensuality of Europe has gotten to her: the girl whose mother admonished, “be careful if anyone comes to say I love you,” is intent on breaking her mother’s rule tonight, ecstatically singing, she wants to be her man’s “woman every day.” It never gets to the voluptuous heights of say, Betty Wright’s Tonight is the Night, indeed it is performed with a delicate refinement (apologies to Prof Osofisan), still the message is obvious: this Asa is not scared of love and its carnal incarnations. In fact, the album’s first single ends with a question: “Why can’t we be lovers?”
Forget her fine orthoepy on Be My Man, the songs Bimpe, Ore and Brother Ole remove the exotic cover revealing the Nigerian. Not only does she sing almost entirely in Yoruba in these songs, she also communicates common scenes in the average Nigerian neighbourhood.
In the first she tells her lover’s sister- the eponymous character, she only tolerates her disrespect because of the love she has for the brother; the second sees a woman warning her “friend” to stop coming to her house as she has heard she seduced her husband. In the latter, a mother confronts a man in the neighbourhood telling him to stop teaching her son to steal, scorning him and insisting it is not a laughing matter; she warns him on behalf of what appears to be the neighbourhood. (This song continues from Awe, the inclusion of names that are funny to hear in her kind of music: Iya Sidi, Iya Mulika etc.)
There are more differences on the album, most noticeably mood. The album is more diverse and upbeat; she trades the delicious melancholy of the debut for a wider range: there’s the mocking tone of Brother Ole, the sweet and nostalgia inducing Dreamer Girl, the penitent Preacher Man, the ponderous Questions- strongly reminiscent of Disney’s Colours of the Wind and Katie Melua’s Nine Million Bicycles– and the absolutely heartbreaking Baby Gone.
Gone also is the frequent piano and guitar riffs of the debut, the instrumentation is more varied in what is an attempt to include soft rock elements into some of the tracks especially in Ok, ok- there’s even an unnecessary intense guitar strumming in Bimpe. But perhaps, she hasn’t quite mastered percussive instruments as save for Be My Man they don’t feature much.
In spite of these dissimilarities and its diverse content, its success is not triumphal. There are no risks, no unusually high notes, no outrageous pitching, no surprising collaboration, no intricate lyrics and hence no unexpected joy. Unsurprisingly it works; there would be no new fans but the old ones would be pleased or at the very least be grateful.
It would cause the listener to muse, to laugh, to cry and perhaps to dance awkwardly like a Caucasian or slowly like a jazz enthusiast. But, except you have a partner as wild as say, Eva Greene’s character in Bertolucci’s The Dreamers or as wild as Bimbo Akintola’s in Out of Bounds, better listen alone.
The debut had thrived on the sheer novelty of novelty; this one succeeds because- to channel Designer Impostors- if you loved Asa, you would like Beautiful Imperfection. And that’s not a particularly bad thing.
Editor’s Note: A version of this review appears in the January 1st, 2011 edition of This Day.