Nigeria’s eclectic Aṣa is not so new or experimental as we’d imagine on her recent album V. If there’s any indication of a stepaway from her signature style or a trial at being a little different, we can say that the influence of the Afrobeats renaissance has also reached her doorstep. “Mayana”—quite similar in sound and manner to Wizkid’s “Joro”—her single released last year as a prelude to the V album is complete in style and expression in its embodiment of the present, dominant Afrobeats performance.
It is joie de vivre, a spirit of the Afrobeats, to vibe, feel good, and cast all worries. In her second single “Ocean,” leading up to the album’s release, we are still not far away from what Aṣa started with Mayana; and eventually here is V. The singer, it seems, has us all roped in for how to accept the album. Since the manifesto on it is a call to celebrate life, to be free of any self-restraint, to flee society’s oppression and woes—especially in a country like ours, to have a good time, and fall in love, the expression here is arts for art’s sake, acceptable, Aṣa holding a paintbrush carefreely against canvas.
Thus declares Aṣa in “IDG,” third song on the album, “Live in the moment / Tomorrow belongs to God.” The song isn’t existential, but a song about how a lady chooses to fall in love, as she won’t go “where no love.” A melodious afro-reggae on a laid-back percussion with the vocals of Aṣa and Wizkid on a hypnotic groove, the song easily induces sleepiness. “Nike,” for the fine boy in the Nike (designers) is a great song for the right moment. It can’t be proclaimed a heartbreak song as Aṣa sings, “You say you love me / Still you break my heart”; for even if she goes on to say she can’t love another person because the boy has “plagued her heart,” the song is rather performed with more excitement than pain.
We can talk about all the songs and still arrive at one conclusion: that V is an album for the moment. The aesthetics are clean and straightforward, hardly with any nuance. The drum sets in “Show Me Off” sets in a gyration mood, something to inspire a lover to invite their shy partner to the dancefloor. “Morning Man” prides in no concern with lyrics, the singer almost relapses into an “I want to” repeat throughout the song. And on “Good Times,” The Cavemen, featured, bring in their rural character to a matter of agape love and brotherhood. It’s the kind of song a grandmother would dance to with her grandchild.
On “Believer,” Aṣa continues her joie de vivre; its lyrics daring, of a girl who’d follow love blindly (“If you tell me something ridiculous / Like I don’t deserve your love / I still will follow”); parts of its lilting verses go, “Papaya ku pa pa my baby.” Perhaps, where the album, or Aṣa herself, has the most enjoyable moments is in the last two songs “All I Ever Wanted” featuring Amaarae, and “Love Me Or Give Me Red Wine.” The former is Aṣa playing with trap delivered in a most sonorous rendition, Amaarae reinforcing the naughty mood of spoil and abandon Aṣa sets the song, in an electrifying, sensuous second verse. While on the latter, Aṣa brings on an Ampiano game. A satisfying end to a delightful album. But it urges you to listen again from the beginning for the continuum of groove we find at the album’s end, alive in the first two songs Mayana and Ocean.
This makes the case for me, that V would have rather been an EP with just the first two and last two songs. Then we’d really talk about Aṣa’s experimentation, not when we have a full album, giving us range to deal with. From her catalogue, Aṣa has nothing to prove, a freedom she pursues in this album. V is an example of the artist or writer who’s learnt all the rules and decidedly breaks them. Thus, we’d say she hasn’t strayed, as some would think, but has enriched the genre of Afrobeats with a definitive Afro-soul. It doesn’t take away the cry of her fans, however, that they want more. (And she has made great music, Aṣa the album and Bed Of Stone as her magnum opuses.) V has been finely accepted and excused. But there is now a burden: after V and after fifteen years of her music career, will we ever get to see Aṣa’s apotheosis? Nevertheless, this playful album, like Lucid which seemed like a let-down three years ago but which is now undeniably evergreen, will earn its place with time as a testimony to Aṣa’s artistic greatness.◙
Carl Terver is the founding editor of Afapinen. He is the author of the poetry chapbook For Girl at Rubicon.