We interview the veteran Nigerian singer about her 'home cooked' new album and opening up to collaborations with Wizkid, Amaarae and more.
When Asa and I get on a Zoom call, she has problems with the sound of my mic. "You sound like you're in an empty room," she tells me and then proceeds to direct me on how to move and angle myself to help improve the sound quality while casually explaining how sound works in an open space. It’s impressive to watch her quietly, but confidently talk about sound. It's this intuitive understanding and mastery over music that has made Asa into the enigma that she is today.
Over the last decade, Asa has established herself as an A-lister. Her vocal ability—especially as a live performer—and her pen game are considered some of the best within Nigeria. She's had significant commercial success and is adored by the masses across the country, continent and beyond. Yet, Asa is in some ways removed from the music industry, existing as an entity of her own, crafting her sound, style and rules.
Asa and I talk about her fifth studio album, V, which she recorded and produced primarily in her home in Lagos—a first for the singer whose traveling and performance schedule has meant she has had to record, write and usually produce in between trips. But that’s not all that is different with this album; Asa now works with vocal collaborators. For the average artist, featuring and being featured by others is a norm, but Asa isn't at all average. Across her three studio albums, she hass yet to feature another act. With V, she is changing that with contributions from the likes of Wizkid, Amaarae and The Cavemen.
Photo: Lakin Ogunbanwo.
How do you feel currently?
I’m excited. Super excited. I feel just the way everyone else feels right now actually. I too can’t wait for the album to be released and out into the world and see the music and the work just be out there.
What are your earliest memories of falling in love with music?
I think music has always been with me, it has come naturally to me. When I look back on my life and childhood, I find that across all ages and stages, music has been this one constant. As a child, I never wavered about what I wanted to become when I grew up. Adults then would ask me and I would say, I want to be a singer, I want to be a musician. So I don’t remember falling in love with music because at every stage in my life, in every memory I look back on, I can see myself being in love with music.
Your sound and career is very different from pretty much all of your peers, did that ever bother you?
Absolutely not. I wasn't even thinking about that. I wasn't thinking about who was doing what, nor was I ever bothered about filling a gap. I was really just thinking of making music that would touch people, help heal and move people. I wanted to be part of something. So it wasn't intimidating. I was super focused on wanting to be part of something, wanting to contribute. And that was pretty much what was on my mind.
Photo: Lakin Ogunbanwo.
This is the first album you have created entirely in Lagos, what difference do you think that makes?
Usually, I would write in Lagos and then go elsewhere to produce it. I think this time around the most important thing was recording the album. It just had this relaxed feel because it wasn’t done in a studio this time around, which is the usual. Being boxed in a vocal booth and, you know, thinking of time and how you have to get everything right. Recording from home and in Lagos, there's just something about the album that is home cooked. Take food for example, outside food is never the same. It's never the same as something that's cooked at home. Because a home cooked meal is made with love and, and a lot of good vibes.
This is also your first album to feature other artists, can you tell me about that?
It was natural. It was fun. It was easy. You know, we started with ease. A lot of them are people I’ve worked with and things just fell into place naturally. Like with The Cavemen, we’ve been working on other projects, and then naturally, this song came out as we were working together and it just fell into place. And it was the same with Amaarae as well. I actually was writing the song for her. I was thinking of her and I said, I should write a song that would fit her and work for her. And then, she got to listen and said, ‘hey, we should do something together’ and so I thought, ‘why not? That is amazing. It's a nice plan.’ But initially, it was all her. And that’s how a lot of the collaborations came about, from existing relationships just growing and becoming collaborations on the album.
How did you decide what songs and artists got on the album?
First thing I considered was if I was happy. For this album especially, that was a major thing. I feel like I have to let the person listening in hear this part of me, where I am happy. Where the song is coming from a place of happiness and then they can connect with that. If I’m happy that person can then tap into that when listening.
What do you want people to feel when listening to the album?
It's just another album with music made with love for them, thinking of them. Thinking of people who have followed me from the beginning, and also bringing something different. Another level of me, another facet of my sound. Simultaneously, nothing has changed, actually. But also nothing is the same, you know? What remains the same, however, is Asa.