Asa finally understands it.
She finally understands why she’s so incredibly important.
I should put a disclaimer here, and say that i am a huge fan of Asa’s music. Listen to me. Asa is a big deal.
In case you’ve been living under a rock, and don’t know who Asa is, she is a truly special, ‘world’ musician of Nigerian origin. Now get off and go get some education, cavemen.
She evokes sounds of old bamboo carvings, Yoruba goddesses, thatched huts, with a twist of New Orleans and the smell of pepper fruit sprinkled in for good measure.
I love Asa. I loved ‘Asa’, her self titled first album, when she announced herself to the world with the help of Cobhams and others, but I felt like her second was a bit sub-par (as sub-par as her super quality would allow). It was a sound that I wasn’t used to on her first album, more Jailer than “bibanke”.
I love soulful, melancholic Asa. I’m not sure how I felt about sophomore, “You’ll be my man, and I will be your woman everyday” Asa. But ‘Bed of Stones’ Asa, is incredible.
Asa has matured over the years. She’s married and raising a family in France, rightfully received world acclaim, and gracefully ascended the throne of ‘most respected young African artist performing today’. A lot of our Jollof rice artists don’t dare identify themselves with her, for fear that their stars might explode in close proximity to hers.
She deserves it. This album is a stellar effort. Every song is different, but quintessentially Asa. You can tell that these were the songs she wanted to sing, at the very moment she sang them, rather than a formulaic “I should do this type of song”. She delivers a masterful, controlled, confident album, and places it in your ears, with a wry smile and a “you’re very welcome”.
The album starts with the ballad “Dead Again”. Asa lets you know she means to do what she wants and only that, when she basically chants/recites her way through the first verse. Somehow it works, and as the song picks up pace, you’re struck by the paranoia of the lyrics. “You picked up the knife, cut me in two, stabbed me in the back, left me for dead again… So it was you?” It’s a fantastic introduction.
The second song is called “Eyo”, a warm, folksy song that reminds me of 1:30pm on Sunday, in a village square, with people coming back from church. Little children running around with Ice lolly’s in their mouth, bottles of limca and Tandi guranda lying on the ground. I don’t know what Eyo means, but I got a warm, communal sentiment from it. That’s what Asa does. She takes you where she wants. The instrumentation was beautiful too. The bridge has a piano arrangement that just tickles your brain. Lookout for it. Fantastic.
The third song is a strange one. It’s a southern boondock chant, with high top boots and lots of sand. It’s a folksy tune that revolves around the chants “Satan Be Gone, get on Satan be gone”. It reminds me of Florence and the Machine, Alabama Shakes, and The Civil Wars (maybe only because it sorta sounds like Barton hollow). I wasn’t sure about it the first time, but its absolutely one of the gems of this album.
‘Bed of Stone‘ is absolutely worth its place as the album title. Asa takes you into a story, describing each nostalgic detail of a young woman’s life. It’s a sad story of strength, victory, sacrifice and love for family. I think it’s an absolutely beautiful song.
‘Moving On‘ is another such story. It’s a story of a woman who was probably violated when she was younger, and her journey in dealing with the things in her head. She resolves to keep moving on. The musical arrangement leads you everywhere she intends it to. This song is 4:17 long, Bed of stone is 4:20. These are the two longest songs on the album, and they certainly capture your attention.
‘Grateful’ is Asa just being Asa. She sings the verses in Yoruba, and although I don’t know what she’s saying, I can definitely get into the spirit of it. It’s a rhythmically perfect song that executes everything perfectly. Love it.
‘Society‘ is magical. It’s the gem of the album for me; it’s subtle, perfectly executed and very good listening. It’s delivered on disciplined strums of the guitar, drums, violins and stellar accompanying vocals. Asa delivers scathing taunts at people I assume are politicians? She addresses them as “Mr Talku Talku”. “Winner today, Tomorrows loser. I wouldn’t want to be him.
“How did love find me” is world class. It’s a story of a love-shy princess on her wedding day? Reminiscing on how she got shot down by little Cupid. It’s a shameless admission of gratitude, acceptance, with a hint of incredulity. She sings, “You found me” for maybe a whole minute, With such gusto, to a point where you’re not sure if you’re eavesdropping on her private soliloquy. It’s a beautiful, authentic song.
I hope one of my Yoruba friends agrees to transcribe ‘Ife‘ into English for me. (Or Asa could do it personally and make me happy for life). Sonically, the song is a wonderful experience. A clanging electric guitar, a string quartet, Asa soothingly laying out her beautiful voice in your ear, it has everything.
‘Situation’ is some Reggae influenced, politically conscious song. Asa croons out on this song, and I feel like I’m in Havana. “This is who we are, its our reality now” is a groovy tune that touches on frustration, hypocrisy, broken promises and a reflection of our society today. Think Amy Winehouse if she studied Tolstoy
Spoiler: Personally, the trumpets absolutely slayed me. Look out for them towards the end of the song, they’re beautiful.
‘New Year‘ is an inspirational song, upbeat in it’s instrumentals and message. The lyrics in this song are maybe the strongest in this album, which surprises you when you realize it, because the rest of the album is so absolutely great!
“Don’t be crazy, It wont break ya, you’ve got to know, when its over, it’s over. It’s a new year”.
“The One That Never Comes” is another delicious feast of melancholy. Asa talks about a guy who she put in the dreaded friend-zone, who stupidly watched her looking for love in all the wrong places, and one day blurts out the fact that he loves her. Basically this song should be the national anthem of the friend zone. “Please don’t tell me you love me, don’t tell me you’re falling abeg. I wouldn’t know what to do with myself, I’ve been waiting for the one who never comes”. I’ve been on the receiving end of this song so it’s a bit of a painful listen.
“Sometimes I Wonder” is, you won’t believe it, Asa talking about her haters. This is not just Asa speaking, it is Bukola Elemide, and you better stop talking nonsense about her. She talks about people spreading lies and rumors, she laughs at the sleepless nights they go through worrying about her, and then she goes “yes its just meeeee”. I don’t think I’ve heard a more “raw” Asa on a song since her first album. Shes Cheeky, She’s upset, but She definitely can defend herself. It’s not the most sonically pleasing song (and it will be especially painful to its intended recipients), but I love it. You go, feisty Asa. Rawr
The final song on the album is ‘Shine Your Light’. Its unlike any Asa song you’ve heard. It’s a totally different sound, and I understand why it was pushed to the end of the album. Basically, you’re too grateful for the rest of the song to put up what should be your first reaction when someone told you this was an Asa song. Doesn’t take any thing from the song though. It’s a beautiful song on its own, and I can imagine hearing it playing at a house party in Marbella, or in River Island store in London.
One thing that gets you is how well produced this album is. The beautiful booklet that gets automatically downloaded when you buy it, lists a “Brian McKichan” as producer. I don’t know much about him, but Kudos to him, and the instrumentalist on this one.
This is an almost perfect album that must surely reestablish Asa as the most important musician ever to come out of Nigeria. She may not have the controversy of Fela, The youthful, attention deficit appeal of the Davidos and Wizkids, but Asa is an incredibly artist that we should all be proud of, and I hope she finally gets the global appreciation she deserves.
I believe this album is important because it so obviously came from a good place. There is so much positivity and contentment oozing out of it that one can only conclude that Asa was in a great place mentally when recording. If this is the case, I’m happy for her, and I wish her that joy all the days of her life. But she is human, and her life may not be as perfect as this album sounds. If that’s the case though, then Asa may have done the one thing that makes truly great artists what they are, create music that transcends the space in time they were currently occupying.
Long may she reign.
-Festus Okubor Goziem.
Bed of Roses is on sale on Itunes