Asa’s Beautiful Imperfection: An Interview
As African artists like Tinariwen gain visibility in US media, the Paris-and-Nigeria-raised Asa (Yoruban for “hawk”) flies under the radar with the promise of breaking free at any moment. Her first release, Asha, showed off her sharp political wit as blended with her impossibly soulful vocals. Her latest release, Beautiful Imperfection, is a more lighthearted affair, evocative of the summery stylings of Zee Avi while her vocals drip with soul beyond her years.
ELM: Why did you decide to go for a more fun vibe with your new album than the heavily political tone of your debut?
Asa: The first album reflected my state of mind then. I had a lot to talk about — social and political issues. Beautiful Imperfection is different, it has more brightness. This time, I wanted to create something that would make people feel uplifted.
ELM: You have said that you are influenced by artists like Lauryn Hill, Bob Marley & Michael Jackson, which all come out in your music. What artists would people be surprised to hear influenced your new album?
Asa: Surprisingly, I wasn’t listening to anybody while I was writing the second album. I was listening to myself,to my heart. Beautiful Imperfection was about changes I was experiencing at that time. I was growing,my ears where tuned to good music, I knew where I want to go.
ELM: How are you able to make a song with both a political message, while also keeping the song fun, such as in “Fire on the Mountain”?
Asa: I don’t believe that to bring about change one must riot, protest, or be destructive. This is a song hat concerns everyone. It’s about humanity,our sense of reason, community; it’s about caring for our planet.
ELM: Growing up, what albums influenced you to want to become a musician?
Asa: I was the second of four children, the only girl. I spent my childhood taking care of the house and my brothers, helping my mother. I would always make sure that everyone around me was fine, I’d put my own needs last. I never really played, I was too busy for that. I was really responsible and serious. In my childhood I did feel loved and happy, but I was always trying to make everything right for everyone around me…and that hurt me. Music was my favourite thing. My dad was crazy about music, he used to play all kinds of records and I absorbed everything – Fela Kuti, Diana Ross, Miriam Makeba… I was always the first one to start dancing and I’d still be there after all my brothers were tired out, I didn’t want to miss one note of music! When I was 12, I announced I was the singer and band-leader of my own group. I rounded up some kids from the neighbourhood to play my songs – but they quit the band! I had faith though. For as long as I can remember I always dreamed about being a musician. I used to pretend to sing to the millions of fans at my feet, screaming my name. I would throw them kisses. My brothers used to make fun of me. I was just their crazy little sister and no-one took me seriously. I didn’t give a damn.
ELM: How do you feel that your childhood in both Paris and Nigeria have helped you cultivate your sound?
Asa:I used to fantasise a lot about Paris when I was little. I used to wonder what my life would have been like if my parents had never left France. In Nigeria, there is hope, energy, emotion…but everything is tough there! Nothing is set up to make things easier, you have to work ten times harder than in Europe. When I arrived in France I was pretty lonely. But I got through it. The cosmopolitan city brought the world to my doorstep, and that cultural diversity fed my music.
ELM: What makes you decide to sing a song in Yoruba instead of English?
Asa: Yoruba is my language,its my culture. I am lost without it. So, it’s very important for me, to sing in Yoruba and share this beautiful language/culture with the world.
ELM: What is your songwriting process? Do you go into songwriting with a certain topic you want to discuss, or does it just come naturally?
Asa: Songwriting for me starts with a melody. It comes naturally and then the lyrics.