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 to become synonymous with quality music set apart from the usual pop offerings the country is known for. Asa (2007), Beautiful Imperfection(2010), Bed of Stone (2014) have, each in their different ways, shown the evolution of an artist confident in her vocal prowess and its ability to deliver emotionally charged performances, excellent in her songwriting and storytelling, and unique in her faithfullness to quality performance no matter where the stage is set across the world.
This list, containing ten songs from her three albums, represents some of her finest songs, but it is by no means exhaustive. Asa is one of the 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 with time, but none is ever to be dismissed as worthless.
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 be happy’, so either of them could slot into this list and find a place. 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 her debut that became an instant hit. Like many of her songs, this one has aged well. It's incredibly layered, the metaphor delieverd in ways that makes it open to reinterpretaion on every replay. Take any dynamic of power and slot this song into it and it fits just well.
4. Fire on the Mountain
On days when Nigeria defaults to it’s 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 was enchanting in many different ways and for different reasons, one of which is this hard to define song. It’s like a dirge sang 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 list is subjective, but this choice even more so. Nostalgia is often a useless emotion, but if there’s one thing can redeem it, it’s when nostalgia is 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. The chorus also seems to have been perfectly written for the concert crowd, hundreds of people singing along with their phone screens up in the air as they sway to the chorus.