Bukola “Asa” Elemide is one of Africa’s most important artistes of her generation. She is widely regarded as the greatest “alternative” artiste of all time in Nigerian music, with a knack for vivid storytelling, urgent lyricism, and excellent musicality.
Asa has remained true to her sound—an intricate blend of folk, pop, and laid-back soul, defying every trend and shift in general sonics. However, following the release of her album “Lucid,” some critics claimed that her sound needed to be changed and that her brand needed to be “revamp.” This was simply false. Asa has always evolved, on her own terms.
The debut album, “Asha,” was a fiery mix of politics and introspection built on simple “singer-songwriter” instrumentation.
The second album, “Beautiful Imperfection,” was far more upbeat and lush than the first, expanding on themes of love and personal liberation.
“Bed Of Stone” (her magnum opus, in this writer’s opinion) is her most experimental work to date, blending genres such as country, folk, pop, and blues while focusing on topics such as hedonism, classism, rape, heartbreak, immigration, and so on.
“Lucid,” as the title suggests, is her most vivid album, boasting of simple pop production and clear-eyed lyrics about love.
These eras were all distinct. They’ve just never catered to the masses. This begs the question of what the critics truly desired. Is this an evolution from Asa, or a quick transition to the mainstream? However, one point must be made. Asa’s eventual foray into Afrobeats is no doubt an evolution, but only one out of many in her career.
Now, “V” no doubt eschews fundamental facets of Asa’s artistry. Her trademark lyrics, are considerably “watered down”, and her usual thematic cohesion is replaced with sonic fluidity. This is Commercial Asa — It’s time to sway.
The album opens with “Mayana”, a breezy Afrobeat track about a destination love story. She proposes that her lover be her “Mayana” which means “tomorrow”. Right off the bat, an avid Asa listener knows things are very different. A typical plea like this from Asa, would be full to the point of bursting— a robust tale of past, present and future. Here, she sounds like she wants a fling, and nothing more. To her, this love is nothing more than “cruise”.
Wurld penned track, “Ocean”, is no different. Its arrangement is definitely more intricate than “Mayana”, but just as freeing. It is the most melodically appealing song on the album and Wurld’s impact is felt impeccably. The song is thorough evidence of an insanely effective collaboration.
“IDG” continues the trail of melodic excellence in this record; it is smooth, groovy and a vibe through and through. Wizkid delivers his best verse in recent memory, and when Asa sings ” Caraibe o, Down Soweto “, all we want to do, is sway.
“Nike” is the closest thing you’ll get to old Asa on this record. A gripping heartbreaking ballad — it is her most muted exploration on the subject, much unlike her (equally arresting) power ballads like “Bibanke”, “The One Who Never Comes” and “Torn” — It is nuanced, airy, and quietly devastating. In this writer’s opinion, it is the best song on the album.
Fan Favorite, “Show Me Off” is probably a worthy contender for a solo single, if she needs one. It is catchy, bouncy and has just enough repetition to stick with mass audiences. I promise, you’ll be the singing the chorus in no time.
“Morning Man” is perhaps the most sparse song on this record. A simple song, about a romantic interest, she sings, ” My Morning Man, Love me mad “. Considering its sparse arrangements, it is perhaps the best segue to the richest song on the album, “Good Time”, featuring the Cavemen.
“Good Times” is a simple, heartfelt ode to friendship. The Cavemen are in prime form, and Asa delivers her second best vocal performance on this record. Also, this song is practically begging for family friendly ads. For Asa, Cash is coming!
Pensive number, “Believer”, sounds like the most serious song on the record. Complete with pulsating drums and a guitar riff to match, Asa offers her best vocal performance on this album, with this song. When she belts, “I’m a believer”, on the hook, we absolutely believe her.
“All I Ever Wanted”, is the most drastic change Asa displays on this record. She raps! And gets away with it too. Amaarae is reliably excellent on this record, but some of her lines are especially note worthy.
Album closer, “Love Me Or Give Me Red Wine” sees Asa tackle house. Be not deceived, the title is about the only serious thing in this song. A track about unrequited love, Asa again tackles this in very different fashion by wrapping her disappointment in two simple options — Love or Red Wine. From the general sound of the album, we’re willing to bet she chose the latter.
In conclusion, “V” is an absolute victory, because it achieves all it’s obvious objectives. “V” might be polarizing to her core fans who want more of her searing lyricism and towering emotion, but it is also her most important record.
With “V”, Asa calms the fears of critics who demanded she “evolve” by bringing in important collaborators, it is poised to become her most successful project in over a decade. Boy genius, P Prime, who produced nearly all of the songs on the record, stakes a genuine claim at being one of the best producers of his generation, and the best part? Asa does all this, in her own time, and on her own terms.
For now, we have a contender for ” Album of the Year”, and it is quite simply, the front-runner.