is, quite simply, a beautiful record. First single "Be My Man", is a fine slice of irresistible soul-snapping retro groove that recalls Osibisa and a rock tinge inspired by The Clash, all marshalled by an astonishingly self-assured vocal turn. Born in Paris, Asa returned to her family’s home in Lagos, Nigeria at the age of two. As the only girl in a family of four, living in an African city that was both vibrant and turbulent, young Asa often sought solace in her thoughts. Music was a prominent aspect of her childhood life with Michael Jackson, Bob Marley, Lauryn Hill, Fela Kuti and the music of her homeland all playing a part in shaping Asa’s inimitable sound. With a vivid imagination and dreams of musical stardom, she would often take to an imaginary stage with her imaginary microphone and perform to her imaginary audience. Hence the new track "Dreamer Girl". “When you catch yourself dreaming, you can sometimes sense that people nearby could hear you, and suddenly, you might feel like it’s a crime. But I’m actually the dreamer girl in that song,” Asa laughs.
Full of ambition and tenacity, Asa signed herself up to a music school when she was 18, learned to play the guitar and shaped her sound: songs delivered in both English and Yoruba, with a winning fusion of contemporary soul, pop, reggae and funk, complete with strong vocals and soul-stirring melodies.
Some albums bark; some whinny. Some bray and some howl. This album purrs. There may be lyrical turmoil in places, there may be dark clouds overhead; but sonically this is a cat in your lap, on a comfy sofa, on a quiet weekend afternoon. All Asa demands is that you give in to her sensual massage while she talks about what’s going on in her mind.
And it’s a very sumptuous back-rub indeed: glockenspiels twinkle, organs stretch out and yawn on a carpet of deep-pile bass. Over in the corner, beach-buskers scrub guitars and ukuleles and Asa swans guilelessly about, singing pretty, sunny songs in a soft, carefree burble.
Carefree, that is, until you listen to what she is saying, which is effectively: "wouldn’t it be nice if everything was better?"
Lead single Be My Man, an urgent, chuntery soul strut, is effectively a desperate plea for love, for someone to hang around and finish the thing they started. Oh sure, it sounds like happy on toast; but unless that special someone capitulates to Asa’s demands, it’s going to be a serving for one.
Her political thoughts are similarly idealistic, always couched in a kind of simplistic, head-scratching naivety which does nothing more than openly wonder why things are bad – as she does on Questions – and if maybe the people who made it bad could, y’know, stop. "This world is full of pain / Can someone tell me who’s to blame?" is a thought so woolly and unformed that even Sting might consider a revision or two before committing it to tape.
For non-Yorùbá-speakers who are bothered by this kind of thing, the three songs recorded in Asa’s native West African tongue provide some relief. Bimpé is perky and rocky; Oré is a rubbery blues number, given pretty stadium atmospherics; and Broda Olé is a country-tinged boot-scooter. All three showcase the voice and the music free (to these ears at least) of lyrical baggage, and are all the better for it.
So yes, it’s imperfect, and it’s frequently beautiful, much like the world itself, yeah? Do you see? Oh, too relaxed to care? Righto.