(Photo by Andreas Terlaak)
If Bob Marley and India Arie had a daughter and raised her in Nigeria, she would probably look and sound like Asa, the Nigerian singer who's first full-length album just hit U.S. markets January 27, 2009 on Downtown Records' new imprint, Mercer St. Records. I had the pleasure of speaking with the budding African musician this afternoon:
The Afrobeat Blog: Who and what has shaped your musical identity? When I listen to you, I hear a lot of Bob Marley, a little India Arie, What artists, what experiences have influenced your music the most?
Asa: Bob Marley, Fela Kuti, I grew up around music, my father had a lot of records, Aretha Franklin, Miriam Makeba, Yoruba Classic songs I listened to all kinds of music, I drew inspiration and picked pieces from everybody. Coming from the Yoruba culture there's a strong musical identity blending with my language to create what I do.
TAB: How did growing up in Lagos effect your perspective on politics and world affairs, and how has that manifested itself in your music?
Asa: Growing up in Lagos, you get to see the realities of life. Things are not perfect. My parents were struggling parents. We were always looking for a better future, but in my time I think things haven't changed they've only gotten worse. I felt I needed to use my music to talk about this, you can't escape the political sides of life when you live in Nigeria
TAB: Do you feel a responsibility to represent the continent, do you feel you've been typecast at all due to your Nigerian heritage?
Asa: Yes and no. I come as an African singer someone who originated in Africa but talking about things that relate to everybody. I also use it as way to introduce myself, my culture and my language.
TAB: Do you feel like it's more difficult for African artists to achieve mainstream success in the US or Europe w/o being lumped into a "World Music" category?
Asa: I don't like to be seen as World Music, that's a misconception. I am a singer who puts my roots down in Africa for you to see, but it doesn't matter my nationality,
TAB: With the inauguration of Barack Obama, do you feel there's a sense of hope in Africa that the U.S. will start to pay attention to the continent's problems?
Asa: Things have changed, but I don't know for Africa or the rest of the world. Problems have been coming for a long long time. With Obama people will begin to change their ways of thinking. For me there are things that I can think are impossible because of who I am and because of the color of my skin. With him I think those ideas will change. But in terms of problems, I'm not expecting a miracle. It takes time, I think we're on the way. Even America too is on the way. The way America sees the world will change Nations, people, will look at themselves differently and hopefully that will lead to change.
TAB: Being a Nigerian Woman, are you inspired by Fela's creed and legacy--Music is a Weapon--using your music to effect positive change both in Africa and all over the world?
Asa: Fela used to be like the newspaper. You would get up in the morning and read the newspaper like listening to Fela to know what's going on, people who were educated and informed were listening to Fela. While I was growing up and listening to this man, I saw a lot of things, I saw courage, I saw the ability to use music as a weapon to educate and inform people and also to connect other people, Africans, to give them hope and also have the rest of the world informed about Africa and its people and the world at large. Fela has helped me see this way to use my music, not only Fela but Bob Marley, today we still listen to him, we use his lyrics in our everyday experiences. They used music as a tool to bring people together. I admired those people I wanted to go that way the best way to do it was to have my individual voice, but also borrow from those people.
TAB: Who are some other African musicians that inspire you?
Asa: Angelique Kidjo, Femi Kuti, Keziah Jones, Lagbaja, they all inspire me in different ways.
Buy her new album here, check her out on myspace