Asa : "Parisian men don't look at women in the streets" (English ITW)
The moving and unclassifiable Asa returns with a third album, Bed of Stone. While the cd was ready to go out, she finally changed her mind and decided to start it all over, to the chagrin of her record label ... but not enough to shake this determined tiny woman, having found her audience in France by accident of fate, who looks back for us on her folk route.
(La version française de l'interview ici)
crédit photos : Sofia & Mauro
Ados.fr : Asa, you sing in English and Yoruba, what is your first language ?
Asa : My first language was Yoruba, it’s my mother tongue and then, English, which was the national language in Nigeria.
Ados.fr : Why did you come to France ?
Asa : I don’t know, it just happened. Honestly, I never thought I would come and have a carreer. I though I would go to America, to England, that’s the dream for every Anglophone country. But really, it is just destiny.
Ados.fr : Tell us a little bit about your arrival in France ?
Asa : I was a student. I didn’t speak the language, I didn’t wear the right clothes, I didn’t wear the right shoes, I didn’t know it was cold… ! I just came in my t.shirt from Legos, so it was a lot of emotions for me to accept the culture, and I didn’t eat for days ! Cause I kept buying the wrong things. In Legos, the food is all spiced and colored, when you come to France, I saw the “rouleau de printemps” with vegetables… can you imagine ? And I paid 2 euros for that ! And I bit it and was like : “What the fuck ? What is this food?” I bought it because I could see what was inside…It was the most tasteless food ever ! Not for a Nigerian girl ! I was so mad and frustrated. So I started to pick fruits like other people did, on the floor at the end of the markets ! Those journeys are very uncomfortable, but not hopeless.
Ados.fr : What do you think about that, 10 years after ?
Asa : I think it’s been great. The whole story is not finished, it’s still something that I’m puzzled by. I find myself asking : “why this place ?” “what is it ?” it’s just something you can’t control, I just let things happen and go as natural as it should.
Ados.fr : Do you write songs in Paris ?
Asa : I have found it hard to write songs in Paris, perhaps it’s just because of the perfection of the city. It’s just too perfect. I have been inspired to write on Paris, but not to write in Paris. When I’m outside, I get reflected with what I see, the mixture, the culture, the freedom… but in the city, no. But I have written in the south, a beautiful song for my mom in the south of France. I think I’m more inspired in a more quiet environment. For me, Paris is “work, work, work”. I get to write outside, in solitude, in space, where there’s no stress, where it’s easy, earthy.
Ados.fr : Do you remember when you wrote your first song ?
Asa : I remember I wrote my very first song in Legos, I was living with my grandparents there, they were muslims. And because I was cooking in the house…
Ados.fr : How many people in the house ?
Asa : Wow… we were about 12, and I was the only girl. So I hated being a girl, just because of that. But I had to cook, and when I got tired one day, I took a guitar, and with just two chords, I think the song was “Ya”. I was 18, just before going to university.
Ados.fr : When did you know you would be a singer ?
Asa : Since I was a little girl. I never changed my mind. Even if people would tell me to do something else. My father would tell me : “Why wouldn’t you be . But I knew, as a little girl, that music would be for me the ticket to freedom. First, I hated to be a child, I wasn’t listening the teachers in school, I had my own ideas, and I thought music was the only thing to take me away from all of this.
Ados.fr : How did you learn music ?
Asa : Well, my parents were musical, when I say "musical", it doesn’t mean they can hold a note… never ! But we had music at home all the time. My brothers and I would also make beats, but without instruments.
Ados.fr : What makes you the happiest : writing music, singing, being on stage, record an album... ?
Asa : I think to sing in public, it’s very exciting. And also writing, to me it’s like when you play on the piano with two hands and the brain is working, I can hear the machine thinking… then the music is out, and I’m in front of the people, that is my biggest joy. I’m a little girl then ! It’s my world, and my chance to actually do what I’ve always wanted to do. The studio, everything is edited, you have to sing it proper, and when you write, you also have to think about all the people.
Ados.fr : Do you think it has been thought to record an album and being known ?
Asa : As it goes, it gets tougher, challenging, now with the industry. It’s not aymore as it was before and I’m mad ! I face challenges, in making sure that the right songs are out, and are recorded. But I think that I’m lucky because I work with people who allow me to sing what I want to sing.
Ados.fr : You don’t have big constraints ?
Asa : Not as much as if I was on a big label. I have confronted that experience. My first career was in Legos and I was in jail with the people there. My hands were tied. It was the most horrible experience for me. Back home, they keep pirating my music, attack me, it’s just old school mafia, pimp, just because I sing I’m like a prostitute for them !
Ados.fr : You’re more confortable in Paris with Naïve ?
Asa : I am ! Coming from that situation where they told me “you can’t do this, you can’t do that”, it makes you doubt, as a child. The joy, the innocence, the reason why you wanted to do this, it was love. There is a lot of money there ! So you need to have a lot of love. Maybe if I have a child who wants to do this, I would be like “hum…”. You have to really love it !
With Naïve, I’m allowed to sing my songs in Yoruba, in English, in French, any language that I want.
Ados.fr : How did you meet Naïve, as an artist ?
Asa : I was performing in New Morning, and an A&R from Naïve saw me, I was just playing on my guitar, and she said : “oh, we would like to see you” and I was like “uhum…. Ok, whatever, I don’t know what you say” and I just wanted to go to London ! Never in Paris ! I was a student here, for a short exchange (Jazz Music School in Salon de Provence), and that night I was a guest with Les Nubians. So this woman came and said : “We like you, we like what you’re doing” and I was “I don’t know what you’re saying, but let’s give it a try". And two years later, I was with Naïve.
The most important thing is that they allow me to sing what I want.
I was 18, knowing nothing about the world, except the frustration of a hopeless situation. Writing about the politics of the country. On the second album, I was a different person saying "I don’t want to be sad, I just want to dance". On the last one, a much more mature woman, a female saying : “You know what ? I know a little bit now. I have been up, I have been down, I have been loved, hated, slapped…”
I like the pace of this label, this is getting slow, and letting the soup cook.
Ados.fr : You recorded your last album two times ?
Asa : Yeah. Well I was in L.A, the first time, we did it in L.A, and it wasn’t the right album. I wasn’t happy at all. It wasn’t me. It was quite frustruating cause the label did not agree, thinking it was amazing. But my ears didn’t tell me the same thing. So I was like : “We have to do it again. Please. I beg you”. And Patrick, the boss, said : “Asa, we listen to the artist, we give you another chance to do this album”. And finally I went back to a more simple setup, more organic. L.A was more hype. Even before going there, I was hype already ! But it just wasn’t sincere. Like someone else’s idea. So I started everything from scratched and did it again. I went to Hasting, worked with Blair MacKichan, Benjamin Constant. I had time to write new songs that would be a strong as I wanted them to be.
The first single of the album, "Dead again" :
Ados.fr : The song “Dead Again” is about a love story that turned bad ?
Asa : No really, it is not a love story. It could have been a love story but not a romance. It was a very good friend, a true friend, who hurt me when I realized our relationship wasn’t really what I thought it was. You know it’s like having a good friend, you share meals, you sleep together sometimes, it’s platonic. And you realize all of the sudden that the person was fake.
One day I was on the train to Hasting to see Blair (MacKichan), and received an email from this person telling me the most terrible things that the person had kept inside. So this person could eat with me and kill me at the same time. The shock was big. I had told this person the biggest secrets of my life, and it was not what it really is… you can imagine.
When I got out the train meeting Blair for the first time, he just saw an angry lady ! And then he said : “You know what ? Let’s write a song”, and before he said that, I had scribbled, cause I had to get it out. “Dead again” is not a song that I would write if I wasn’t truly angry. Straight to Blair’s house, he went straight to the piano and we composed the song in two hours. And I sang it. Once. I couldn’t sing it again with the same feeling. I wasn’t angry anymore, I just let it go. It was just one time, one moment, catch it song, and that was it.
Ados.fr : And how did the person concerned react ?
Asa : I don’t think the person knows and I really hope the person doesn’t know. I hope not. For me it’s giving the person glory. I was just cleaning my head. If it was the next day, I would not sing the song. It had to be done that time. It’s like talking to someone, you say something and it’s gone. You say songs to people all the time, except there is no instrumentation.
You thought it was for a man. It was for a friendship of five years. Even in my biggest relationship, I would never take a pen for a man!
But I do everything, going on Facebook, trying to see what he is doing... but never pick a pen!
Ados.fr : Why?
Asa : Because it did’nt come. It’s inspired, it has to come. “Dead again” is a strong song, you can interpret it as you want. It can be a love song. You give it a meaning, you give it a part. I washed my hands, and that’s it with that song.
Ados.fr : You end your last show with the very moving song "Ba mi dele", in Yoruba. Can you tell us what the song says ?
Asa : It is a comic song but with a very serious music. It’s a girl in Nigeria, from Yoruba culture saying to her man “you have to come home with me”. He’s educated, he’s a lawyer, he’s poshed and he doesn’t believe in marriage. And the girl tells him to come back home, meet her father and do the right thing. The guy spends his day with the girl, has great meals with her and say : “oh, you know, I don’t believe in tradition…”. So it’s a comical song, with a very sad music. I like that contrast. It is almost polarized. A bit of comic, then is music. If you don’t understand what I’m saying, you can enjoy where the music takes you.
Ados.fr : And how does it end ?
Asa : It doesn’t end. I keep calling him “Akiele… Akiele oh”… (Akiele is the name of the guy). But I don’t give morals. I don’t like to give and end. I just write it because it has to flow. It has to continually be opened to interpretations. I sing it in Yoruba and I refuse to translate it in English because the beauty of the song is lost. The music, arrangement has to say something while the lyrics are saying something totally different. I like mystery with the contrast between music and lyrics. Even if there is “fire on the mountain”, you can still smile. If you make a sad song with a sad music, it kills the purpose of what music is all about.
Ados.fr : “The one that never comes”, you’re talking about a man, I read that he finally came ?
Asa : He did. The one that never comes.. did. At the time I wrote it, he didn’t come. I was in LA. This album is very introverted, it’s very “Asa finding herself”, “Asa addressing things in her life”. I wrote a lot. And I had nobody and people told me : “you don’t have to search, they’re in the corner, or there’s always someone in front of you”. I was singing the song as if I had met the person, but I never met the person. It was way after the song was recorded that I met the person. So I took my bags and thought, I’m gonna go to cafes to meet someone... and anyone who would look at me, I was like : “Is that him ?”. Stupid!
Ados.fr : Where is he from?
Asa : My boyfriend is English, I met him in the UK. Parisian men… no! The Parisian men look at the sky when they’re walking, they don’t look down, and I’m small so it’s not easy! In Legos, not gonna work… cause people don’t really see you for who you are but for a singer and nothing else.
Ados.fr : What does he think about your music?
Asa : He likes it. He’s a musician. He’s proud. He’s someone who respects my work, he really does respect what I do, my craft. And he appreciates very much the songs.
-Ados.fr : Could you write a song in French ?
Asa : My vocabulary is too poor. I write in Yoruba and in English when I want to express a very universal message.
Ados.fr : How do you imagine yourself in 20 years ?
Asa : I imagine myself doing music. I don’t want anyone to take music away from me. It was my freedom, and when I say this, I mean it. When I was growing up, people didn’t want me to do music. I was living with my grandparents, and they were muslims. And you can’t sing, you can’t really sing in a muslim home, without them complaining, so that, and not doing what everyone else is doing, and not getting enough support is a constant battle, which is great, it makes you stronger. In 20 years, I don’t want to stop singing, because when I was doing this album in L.A, I wanted to stop. Finally, they take away the most precious thing for me. And rather than having a bad album, I would stop singing. Maybe teach or something. But for me, it is my baby. I don’t want to kill that dream I had as a little girl. When everything else is crazy around me, I just do music and travel in my mind. I don’t want to stop.
Interview by Philippe C. and Julia G.
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