Three albums after her entry into the Nigerian music scene in 2007 as just another guitar-playing, rasta-sporting, soul-singing artist, Asa has gone on to become synonymous with quality music set apart from the usual pop offerings her country is known for. Asa (2007), Beautiful Imperfection (2010) and Bed of Stone (2014) have, in different ways, shown the evolution of an artist confident in her ability to deliver emotionally charged performances. Her songwriting and storytelling are just as excellent.
This list, containing ten songs from her three albums, represents some of her finest songs, but is by no means exhaustive. Asa is one of a few contemporary Nigerian artists who don't stuff albums with forgettable tracks. Some of her songs will grab you on first listen and stay with you for years, others will grow on you, but none is ever to be dismissed.
10. Ba mi dele
This is from Beautiful Imperfection, her sophomore album, is produced from the storytelling style established in ‘Awe’ from her debut: a story told tongue-in-cheek but layered with music that sounds melancholic.
9. Satan be gone
This, from Bed of Stone, is all slow-paced southern jazz. She credits New Orleans music as inspiration for the song, but every time I hear it I imagine a medicine-man standing over a child carrying out an exorcism, or a dance by the water in the middle of the night, bangled-feet stomping to the rhythm of the song.
Asa’s albums have that token religious track that a lot of Nigerian pop stars have, but while many can feel like a variation of the Nollywood credits line “To God be the glory,” she’s made real genuine worship out of the tracks on her album, and it's fun to try to piece together her religious worldview from tracks like ‘Iba’ and its deep reverence, the invocation of ‘Eye Adaba’, the ambivalence of ‘No One Knows Tomorrow’, that exorcism in ‘Satan be Gone’, repentance in ‘Preacher man’, and really in lines and verses from her other songs.
7. The one that never comes
Bed of Stone is Asa at her emotional best, and when she sings "Please don't tell me you love me. 'Cause I wouldn't know what to do with myself" it's hard not to conjure the image of past lovers who we let go.
6. Be my man
The bouncy joy of Beautiful Imperfection was epitomized by this track and ‘Why can’t We’. Either song should find a place in this list. That jaunty feel that flows through this song is absent in her other albums, with their melancholic feel. But joyful Asa is still good Asa.
'Jailer' was one of the songs from Asa's debut that became an instant hit. Like many of her songs, this one has aged well. It's incredibly layered, the metaphor delivered in ways that makes it open to reinterpretation on every replay. Insert any power dynamic into this song into it and it fits just well.
4. Fire on the Mountain
On days when Nigeria defaults to its sorry state, I think of this song and how prophetic it seems. But then, we’ve always known Nigeria is a mountain on fire, we all just choose to ignore the smoke and try to live normal lives.
Asa’s debut album was enchanting in many different ways and for different reasons, one of which is this hard-to-define song. It’s like a dirge sung at the death of a man whose name one suspects is being called out if one weren’t familiar with the language. The man isn’t dead. His philandering self is just in trouble.
This was the song that established that Asa had a voice potent to carry emotions in ways that were perhaps unprecedented in the Nigerian music scene at the time of her debut album.
This choice is a highly subjective one. Nostalgia is often a useless emotion, but is redeemable when set to wonderful music, and that is what 'Eyo' is. It’s a song about going home, about a past that we carry around with us and long for. Parts of the song seem to have been written for the concert crowd: hundreds of people singing along with phones up in the air, swaying in waves to the song's chorus.