Aṣa (pronounced “Asha”; born 1 September 1982)is a Nigerian musician and French singer-songwriter and recording artist. Her stage name “Aṣa” means “Hawk” in Yoruba. For lyrics of her songs click here.
Born Bukola Elemide, Aṣa was born in Paris, France to Nigerian parents. She was two years old when her family returned to live in Nigeria. Aṣa grew up in Lagos, in the south-western part of Nigeria.
She states that the city is “buzzing with energy but also home to a deep-rooted spirituality. Islam thrives shoulder to shoulder with Christianity in an atmosphere of tolerance, and the turbulent city moves endlessly in an infernal and yet harmonious ballet of love and hate, laughter and violence, poverty and wealth
However twenty years later Aṣa returned to Paris, which is where her life as an artist took wing. Aṣa was twelve when her mother sent her to Corona, which is considered one of the best schools in Nigeria. But educational excellence had a bitter taste : five years of studies and hardship. When she came home, she discovered Erykah Badu, D’Angelo, Raphael Saadiq, Lauryn Hill, Femi Kuti and Angélique Kidjo, in whose footprints she dreamed of following.
At 18, Asa was very familiar with frustration. The university was on strike, the choirs were snubbing her. During these frustrating times, Asa used to lock herself in her room and sing; this she said was very comforting. Nevertheless, she managed to get her voice heard on a few radio talent shows and her first applause brought her boundless pleasure. She then signed up, in secret, for the Peter King’s School of Music and learned to play guitar in 6 months. She sings Yoruba songs differently and these attracted more Yoruba people to her music.
Aṣa was the only girl in the family and had to share her parents with her three brothers. At a tender age she began to look after the house during her father and mother’s frequent absences. That is when Aṣa started to sing.
The desire to sing came to her and did not go away, carving out a permanent place in her soul. She preferred singing to talking, improvising endlessly until her mother made her stop. Over the years her father had built up a fine collection of records featuring soul classics and Nigerian music, including Marvin Gaye, Fela Kuti, Bob Marley, Aretha Franklin, Sunny Adé, Ebenezer Obey and Lagbaja and went on to draw inspiration from them. Aṣa said “I was a tomboy and when I was a teenager I became very shy because people made fun of me … in my own way, I was already attracting attention ! I got in the habit of never doing anything like everyone else. People didn’t understand my low-pitched deep voice, the choirs didn’t want anything to do with me. I had to get to church first if I was to have any chance of getting near the mic”
In 2004 Aṣa met her manager and friend, Janet, who introduced her to Cobhams Emmanuel Asuquo, who in turn became her musical partner and producer. He enabled Aṣa, the free spirit, to find her bearings and: songs in English and Yoruba, music falling somewhere between pop and soul, inspired by her musical heritage – with particular care paid to the melodies – and reflecting the feeling she puts into it. Her texts talk about her country, the things in life, the things in her life, all delivered with feigned naïveté and real irony. She states “I like writing or thinking about my texts on the bus, or the molué, as we call it. 49 seats, 99 passengers standing up, as Fela described it. Everyone’s squashed up together and mini-dramas break out all the time. And, at the end of the day, we still manage to laugh, that’s where our strength lies
At this stage of her life that Aṣa finally returned to Paris. This was her chance to test out her talent on the French musical scene, playing with artists, In the meantime, back in Nigeria, her first single, Eyé Adaba, then Jailer, were beginning to get airtime. Aṣa soon signed to the ‘Naïve label’. Partnered by Cobhams, and with the new involvement of Christophe Dupouy, she produced her first album, Aṣha. The release of the album saw Asa win the prestigious French Constantin Award in 2008 as she was voted best fresh talent of 10 singers or groups by a jury of 19 music industry specialists in Paris.
Her second album titled Beautiful Imperfection was released on 25 October 2010. The lead single off Beautiful Imperfection is titled “Be My Man” and was released in late September. A videofor the song was released in mid-October. Speaking in January 2011 to noted UK soul writer Pete Lewis – Assistant Editor of Blues & Soul – about her second album, Asa stated: “‘Beautiful Imperfection’ basically represents the way I see life. The name actually came about from an interview I did about a year ago. I was asked to describe my life. And my reply was ‘Well, its really beautiful- but at the same time it’s IMPERFECT!… And what I realised from that is that I actually LIKE the imperfection! I like the little surprises that life gives you because I feel it HUMBLES you and makes you THINK!”
ALBUMS AND AWARDS
Asa has released Asha in 2007 and Beautiful Imperfection in 2010. Beautiful imperfection was Number 3 on the World Music Chart Billboard in USA. Asa won the 2008 Prix Constantin award and was 2011 Female artist of the year nominee at the French Music awards Victoires de la Musique . Nigerian songster Asa is a household name in France following the success of her new album Beautiful Imperfection (certified Gold Record in January 2011).
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