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MY WORLD, BY ASA

By FEMI SALAWU
Asa
Asa

Since her emergence on the music circuit, Bukola Elemide popularly known as Asa (pronounced Asha) has continued to win more fans and has earned critical acclaim within and outside the country. Her hit single, Fire On the Mountain was released in UK on February 11, while the complete album follows a week later. The release of the 12-track album follows a series of promotional appearances on various TV and radio shows in UK, including Terry Wogan show, arguably the biggest UK radio show with an estimated 7 million listeners.

"This is my country. I don't want to be big abroad and uncelebrated at home," she said recently adding: " Yes, we'll be spending a lot of time in Europe. But we'll also be spending a lot of time here too. That's why the album is released in Nigeria before it's released in Europe. There's no way, I'll abandon my motherland."

The self-titled album Asa, is a pot-pourri of different genres including R'n'B, Funk, Reggae but predominantly Soul laced with African folks and produced by award-winning music producer, Cobhams Asuquo. Some of the tracks include: Jailer, 360, Bibanke, Iba, So beautiful, Peace, Eye Adaba, Awe, Sub Way and 360.

"We took out time to record this album. Thanks to Air France, we were able to fly (Cobhams, myself and my manager, Janet) to France over five times. And during this period, I knew I had to withdraw from circulation because I had to have something to show to all those who believe in me", she explained.
But the release of the album didn't quite come easy as an initial disagreement with her estranged record label, Questionmark, almost marred the release. Asa had walked out on her contract with the Kelvin Luciano-owned music label which generated a lot of media attention. Speaking recently on a TV show, Asa claimed that there were certain things she was asked to do by the management of the label which didn't go down well with her.

Among other things, the label's attempt to 'sexify' or make her music more sexually appealing left a sour taste in her mouth as she was even given dressess to wear. For Asa, staying true to her convictions was more important than compromising her standards to make her music more commercially acceptable. Interventions by Nobel Laurete, Prof. Wole Soyinka, one of Asa's fans to broker peace, among the feuding parties, did not achieve much.

Meanwhile, Asa's immense musical talent and penchant for hardwork has not gone unnoticed. Her performance at the public presentation of Prof. Wole Soyinka's You Must Set Forth At Dawn earned her a standing ovation. The platform also served as a public endorsement for the musician by the Nobel Laureate.

As a child, the musican, who was born in Paris, the beautiful French capital city, had cause to change environment frequently as her father, an attachee with the Nigerian Embassy, was moved to Nigeria. Her adventure continued as she had to leave Lagos where the family resided for her secondary education in Plateau, Jos. A particular incidence however, earned her the name Asa, the Yoruba word for hawk. The restless girl strayed away from home one day, panic gripped her parents who feared she would never return. But much to the relief of everyone the young girl appeared in the company of an old woman who had found her loitering. Hence, in the confusion and excitement that ensued, she was re-christened and nicknamed Asa.

Like most musicians, Asa did not find it easy winning the confidence of her parents to pursue a career in music. " They hoped and anxiously waited for me to study the Law or Medicine. But I refused," she recalled. She, however, has an advice for reluctant parents, "I will advise every parent, If you find a talent in your child, please help the child develop it. I am a master in what I do. I will be a flop if I had gone into Law because that is not what I want to do."

Naturally, her inclination for music spurred her to pursue a degree in Theatre Arts and Music at Lagos State University, LASU, Ojo, Lagos. Asa also came under the influence of versatile Jazzist, Peter King, whose College of Music in Badagry helped sharpened her skills on musical instruments as well as her knowledge of rudiments of music.

Yet, her unsatiable quest for excellence blossomed as she took advantage of her French citizenship to seek further studies on Music in Paris, France. This was over 20 years after leaving the French capital with her father. " At the beginning of 2004, I sent off a cassette to 'VISA' programme run by AFAA, the cultural section of the French Foreign Ministry. It was like throwing a bottle into a sea. But I was lucky because somehow, I got my message heard."

Infact, it was more than that as she ended up studying music in France which helped horned her skills as a professional and enabled her to meet great musicians like Manu Dibango, Richard Bona, Daby Toure, Toney Allen and sisterly double acts Les Nubians among others.

Interestingly, the musician who shares striking semblance with American soul music dive, Tracy Chapman, dismisses any influence from the latter. Said she, "I have never really listened to her, but just because I use the guitar and I have dreadlocks,
people keep saying that I remind them of Tracy Chapman. Or probably the content of my music. I do a lot of conscious music, and she does that too."

Like Chapman, who has a series of recognitions and awards to her credit, including the prestigeous Grammy Award, Asa who has taken her music to various international fora, while also promoting the Nigerian culture, may soon be among the few Nigerian stars to dominate international music scene in 2008.