As often as Asa has declaimed love, she’s never appeared to play on the active end of the spectrum. In LUCID, Asa’s understanding seems to have cleared up, she’s taking the controller and making her own combinations now.
Between the quietly assertive funk of “Soul” — the first song off Asa’s barely-credited 2005 album ‘The Captivator” — and the mellow rhetoric lull of “How Did Love Find Me?” from “Bed Of Stones” in 2014, there is a lot to break down about Asa’s wariness of love.
I don’t think that we should be together when you are breaking my heart all the time,” Asa admonishes in “Soul”.
Asa doesn’t care for a love that hurts. She doesn’t care for a romance that is incomplete and restrictive.
At other times, it’s her parents who have drummed the danger of love into her heart. Over a plaintive hum from “Subway” off her 2007 eponymous album, she gently tells off a persistent suitor —
“Now you ask me to trust you / Tell me how am I suppose to do when I know this love don’t last / My mama say baby be careful if anybody comes to say I love you.”
In 2013 over a lulling beat and a steady and earnest vocal profile on “How Did Love Find Me?” she brings us along into a confessional chamber.
“I always gave love / Never thought I deserve / To be the one to get love”
Asa had lived up till that point, believing in the futility of love. She claimed to have locked her heart away. She didn’t have any point holding on to it and that some things — like her falling in love — weren’t meant to be.
But it’ll be dishonest to say Asa never loved nor cared for it. In fact, in all the songs where Asa communicated her angst about love, she’d managed to leave with us a feeling that just after the studio session that birthed the songs, she’d have stepped into the Parisian sun in the arms of the lover she’d just chided.
In 2011 for example, the Beautiful Imperfection record that came off the press just as I was preparing to get off my teenage high-octane existence blessed us with “Be My Man”, Asa’s convivial anthem to love not held back.
In “Be My Man”, Asa was the girl next door who was ready to let it all go for this love in her life. This wasn’t a ruminative composition about competent and acceptable love. Asa seemed to have been knocked out by her Prince Charming.
Yet she abandoned that giddiness in her 2014 album with titles like “Dead Again” and “The One That Never Comes”.
With LUCID, Asa finally makes good on promises she’d been hinting at since the start of her career. As often as she’d declaimed love, she’s never appeared to play on the active end of the spectrum. In LUCID, Asa’s understanding seems to have cleared up, she’s taking the controller and making her own combinations now.
On the first single “The Beginning” — which slides firmly into the disconsolate sentiment of “Bibanke” from 2007, she painted a less innocent picture of her role in another broken relationship with her love. She’d been an equally angry partner in the relationship throwing around words like daggers, hurting each other. And the whole song is a non-apology. She isn’t about to ask for her love back, but helping him see why they both shouldn’t be assholes to each other in the first place — “None of us must have the last say / I’m writing you this letter / Hoping we can make things clearer.”
Although as far as LUCID is concerned, “The Beginning” was really the end. When the full record came out a few excruciating weeks later, it opened with “Murder In The USA.” In it, Asa had taken issues into her own hands; she’d shot this lover dead and high-tailed out of town.
“The Beginning;” the letter hoping to make things clearer was really to a love she already killed. It’s the same love that dumped her on the curb in “Femi Mo,” the same love that explored the streets of Lagos and New Delhi with her in “You and Me” but still managed to leave her at the altar in “My Dear”.
Men aren’t shit, to be honest, so I get her metamorphosis.
Tracing this musical story, we are left to wonder; how much of Asa’s history with love and her response is pure literary invention as opposed to a crack in her psyche? We are sure at least that she didn’t kill her lover — literally, but with Asa’s expressed history with love up until now, this sentiment is due and it’s welcome.
Like my young friends say, “I fux with that.”
“Happy People” is a wistful breakaway from the sentiment of the first five songs on the album. In a line-up that features “Torn” — where Asa was ready to reach into her lover’s torso and rip their heart into unrecognizable pieces — and “Makes No Sense” — where she questions her continued participation in an unhealthy relationship and announces her exit from said relationship — “Happy People” is a welcome respite transporting us to sunny birthday parties and backyard weddings in 80s southwest Nigeria.
Yet it’s a moody song, thanks mainly to its plaintive piano, a rueful delivery and a lyrics that speak of a verdant past we’ll never see again. Asa — most certainly aware of this — made us smile and cry with “Happy People”. As you listen to “Happy People” you can almost picture your mood change color; gradually moving from sunny innocence to the color of a dark stormbound sky.
This review is not about Asa’s aural profile in LUCID. But it’ll be nice to mention that for the first time perhaps, the progressive and complex instrumentation you get at Asa’s live performances have translated on to a record — seamlessly too.
On virtually every song, you can hear Asa’s preferred acoustic guitar taking the back seat to wisps of psychedelic strings, evocative piano, grinding synthesizers, and huge hollow vocal plinths. Asa’s recognizable lilting has stayed the same, but not in that cloying and repetitive way some artistes in the Nigerian alternative scene have fashioned themselves.
Maybe it’s because Asa had five agonizing years to work on LUCID that there is nothing to call out on this album. Some critics have argued the song arrangement is misaligned with the story Asa tried to tell. It’s true. One thing remains clear though, you couldn’t miss the story. As a writer and an individual, Asa has come full circle. She’s claimed her aching heart and her lost innocence. She sees clearly now and speaks just so. This album reveals a difficult journey to self and an ambitious road map for what’s to come.