In what may fast be becoming an annual tradition, superstar songstress Asa brought her high wire live act to Lagos, Nigeria for the second straight year running. Performing nonstop for about two hours, Asa returned to Lagos with her dependable five man band. For added flourish, there was also the enveloping presence of the 30 piece Lagos based, Vesta Violins orchestra, an ensemble billed as Nigeria’s first independent chamber orchestra.
The event started late, well over two hours past the advertised 6pm, Asa herself wouldn’t hit the stage until about 9:50pm,- with returning host Olisa Adibua introducing the lineup of opening acts carefully curated by Asa to complement her vision.
Acoustic seemed to be the theme of the night as the fast rising alternative/soul torch bearers, Nonso Bassey, Aramide, Funbi, Omolara and Lindsay Abudei, gifted musicians all of them, proceeded to give stellar accounts of themselves. Abuja based Tay Iwar was the standout though as he powered through a set big on confidence and glistening with intensity.
The crowded stage suggested a night of intimacy, and the opening chords of the slow burning Awe, from Asa’s eponymous debut disc, released ten years ago seemed to concur. But the gears swiftly shifted as Asa wasted no time at all elevating the mood with the boundless demented energy of Satan Be Gone and the nostalgia tinged sing along of Eyo.
Other tracks like Society and Dead Again followed from the Bed of Stone album and as Asa made some assured changes to the arrangements to accommodate the orchestra, the audience, considerably larger than last year’s demonstrated clearly via their line for line responses and unprompted singalongs, that every Asa song is more than just a piece of music, but a slice of personal life, to be singularly internalized and memorized forever. And to be regurgitated on demand.
One of the finest things about Asa’s artistry is that while she is capable of churning out hit singles, music videos and booming, infectious choruses with the best of them, all of her studio albums remain encompassing musical experiences where attention is dispatched to the tiniest detail. Every sound, note and click falls into place. She could make a career dishing out hit singles by the numbers but that would be too easy. The music matters, as it should.
Asa’s albums demand to be consumed in their entirety and the most popular songs are not necessarily those that were promoted on radio.
Asa powered through some of Beautiful Imperfection’s quiet storms (The One Who Never Came, The Way I Feel before unleashing oodles of rock star greatness with Bimpe (that clash of instruments interlude that comes up about 1:50 minutes is even more glorious when processed live.)
In between all that sonic overdose, there were moments when Asa tried to relate with the crowd. She made jokes and narrated brief snippets from her ten year old sojourn around the world. Omo baba olowo himself, Davido, was fair game for her humor attempts, so was a lucky male member of the Vesta Violins orchestra.
She disembarked from her perch as Nigeria’s biggest musical export and came down to mingle with the overwhelmed mortals who by that point, would have eaten cow dung out of her hands, had she deemed it worthy of service.
In between two Maki Oh costume changes, plus displays of her deftness with musical instruments (the guitar and the trumpet,) Asa gave the audience value for money and an experience to last a lifetime.
Her debut album remains her most popular record and the audience sang their hearts out to the beating drums of the conscious, Fire on the Mountain, and prayed fervently as Asa led spiritual adorations with Bibanke and So Beautiful. Her physically expressive, yet stirring demonstration of Bamidele, backed by the 30 man orchestra was a lesson in elevated artistry and when she closed the show in spectacular style with Why Can’t We, there was no legitimate argument against the greatness of her legacy.
Asa Live in Concert Encore is after all said and done, an experience that is better lived through, even if for only two hours of a lifetime. While saluting her band, collaborators and supporters at the end of the show, Asa teased out the possibility of staging yet another show same time, next year. Splendid, as there really should be no rest for Asa and her team, until every single Nigerian that is able to, familiarizes themselves with the majesty of her near perfection. ‘Tis the burden of excellence.