Music fans in Nairobi are in for a real treat as a highly regarded, soulful singer, songwriter and recording artist brings her music to one of the city’s main festivals this weekend.
ASA (Bukola Elemide), the French Nigerian singer is the headline act at the 25th edition of the Koroga Festival at the Mamba Village this weekend.
The sweet voiced singer has opened shows for some of the world ‘s biggest stars, Beyoncé, Akon, Snoop Dogg and John Legend. With her trademark quirky glasses, dreadlocked hair, and guitar, the charismatic performer is celebrated for her powerful voice and deep lyrics. Hers is a voice that literally stops you in your tracks and she has built a reputation as an exciting performer in world music circles.
Whenever she is on stage with an acoustic guitar or a full band, she is able to present a variety of styles, from acoustic sets to upbeat dance songs and rhythms.
Her performances are simple yet sophisticated, with sparse instrumentation and backing vocals adding beautiful harmony to her outstanding voice. “Despite sampling the sweet taste of global recognition, it is Nigeria and Africa that remain the singer’s main sources of inspiration,” said CNN in a review of Asa’s work in 2011.
The style of the music fluctuates from upbeat and catchy tracks to soft soulful, jazzy songs, it is a balance between pop and neo-soul influenced by the likes of Lauryn Hill, Erykah Badu and Raphael Saadiq. There are traces of Afrobeat, hip-hop and a twist of reggae.
Most of her songs are in English though she switches to Pidgin, Yoruba and the occasional French. The quality of her vocals is so strong and versatile and that is why her live shows are such a delight.
Her influences are as diverse as her own background: from soul greats like Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross and Aretha Franklin to Afro pop giants like Fela Kuti and King Sunny Ade.
Born in Paris in 1982, ASA (pronounced as “Asha” the name means ‘hawk” in Yoruba), returned with her family to Nigeria when she was just two and she grew up near Lagos. As the only girl among three brothers, she would look after the house in the absence of her parents and it was during these times that she would dig into her father’s expansive collection of soul classics and Nigerian music. Soon she began singing herself and within 6 months had learnt how to play the guitar.
Her career as a singer/musicians began at the age of 20.
when she returned from Paris where she studied music. ASA brings together the best of Western and African music in a funky fusion with her stated aim being “to show the world that some thing beautiful and positive can come out of Africa”.
She was introduced to the top Nigerian music producer Cobhams Emmanuel Asuquo who worked on her first album “ASA” released in 2007. Her early singles “Eye Adaba” a Yoruba ballad with orchestral backing and the popular pop influenced “Jailer” introduced her to audiences in her native Nigeria and her debut album became a hit across Europe, Asia and Africa. It also earned her the prestigious French Constantin Award, where a jury of music specialists in Paris voted her the best new talent among 10 groups and singers. Asa’s political consciousness was loudly proclaimed on the single “Fire On The Mountain” containing a harsh message on the impact of greedy humanity.
Her second album “Beautiful Imperfection” was released in 2010 featuring songs like “Why Can’t We” “The Way I Feel” and the big favourite “Be My Man.”
Her third album “Bed of Stone” was released in 2014 with the singles “Dead Again”, “Eyo”, “Satan Be Gone” and “The One That Never Comes”. The album was produced by British producer Blair MacKichan, who has previously worked with Sia and Lily Allen.
ASA has chosen to be patient between her releases with a gap of up to 4 years between her albums. In December last year she announced that the recording of her latest album was complete and that a release date for early this year would be set. In between the recording, she undertook a massive world tour from 2015-2018.
Asa’s performance at the Koroga Festival this weekend, along with Kenyan acts like Fena Gitu, should be a must-attend for any music fan who wants to appreciate the vibe of an African musician who has taken the best of the continent’s rhythms and packed it into a contemporary style with global appeal.