By Udochukwu Ikwuagwu
Album: Bed of Stone
Producers: Blair MacKichan, Benjamin Constant and Asa
The first time I heard Bukola Elemide aka Asa was on the televised Star Quest in 2002; the same music competition that featured eventually winner KC Presh, Ni**a Raw (now Mr. Raw Nwanne), Klint D Drunk, Samsong, and P-Square. She was noticeable among the crowd of up and coming artistes- bespectacled, petite, benign-looking and guitar-carrying. Her voice was soulful; her delivery, unconventional. Though she didn’t win, I looked forward to hearing more of her. Then, a couple years later, she performed at a Taiwo Taiwo event- her mien remained gloriously unchanged. It took a while before she broke into the Nigerian music industry. But when she did, with the Cobhams Asuquo-produced debut (Asa), she did real big. At a point when Folk and Soul genres took the backseat while Pop rode shotgun, Asa’s debut steered- defining how music should be done. She overcame the sophomore slump with Beautiful Imperfection (though not as brilliant as her debut, but didn’t pale much in comparison). Bed of Stone is therefore one to pique the interest of any music lover or critic.
The album opens with Dead Again– a dance for the broken-hearted, a call to throw hats (and hearts) in the air while feet tango with the earth. One is shocked at the transition of the artiste- the benign-looking Asa (an image sold by her cover art), known for her sonorous ting on folk and love songs, now spewing invective. The emotion-laden starter sees expletive fly “No more your freaking bullsh*t”. Who is the white boy (“deceptive blue eyes”) that hurt our dear songstress? Before the thought is allowed to pick steam, you find your legs already wobbling on the dance floor. The moodiness is quickly lost on the feel-good Eyo. The psychedelic nature of the song is bound to have its effect on listeners. Asa is in la-la land as she croons: “How long when they’re ready for takeoff/Tomorrow I could fly away/How she’s scared and small all the way up/You might have a sunny day”. On Satan Be Gone, she continues where she left off on Dead Again- “devil insane” takes centre stage as the target of her fiery words.
Asa performs the exorcism without a crucifix, prayer book or holy water, but with her words and her fears- “Esu beleke, mi o fe ri e mo nile mi/A fenu soro, a fara soro/Gbogbo e la fiba o wi”. The Blair MacKichan-produced alternative rock beat and the additional vocals do a wonderful job to drive out her ex and his bad karma. The Benjamin Constant-produced Folk song, Bed of Stone, is a beautiful title track. Asa’s storytelling is a wonder: She tells of two women- one with a reverie, despite the obvious hardship; the other, living her nightmare for that’s all she knows. The vicissitude of life is predominant- “Ibi aye yi n gbe mi lo mi o mo/O n yi lo o”.
Elements of J.R.R. Tolkien are present on Moving On: Not all those who wander are lost. The MacKichan & Asa-produced alternative record starts with the telling of an ‘abduction experience’. If you’re one to believe in abduction-by-unseen-strangers/abduction-by-aliens, this might send cold shivers down your spine. “Where do you go when you’re by yourself?/Who comes along when you cry for help?/I know I can’t change the past/But as the river keeps flowing/I’ll keep on moving on” gives raison d’être. Asa mounts the pulpit as she exhorts listeners to be Grateful no matter the circumstances life offers- Pe mo wa laye, mo wa laaye/Gbogbo ti moni/Ma fi yin o logo. She continues her sermon, telling that ‘we’ have no excuse to be ungrateful when even the beasts of the earth and sea offer God thanks. Society has that Nashville-Country/Folk feel. She dismisses one who bears a pouch of lies- this may represent the Nigerian political class. She continues poetically: “Water you drink/Air that we breathe/Sky above, ocean beneath/The oil you steal, the fire you burn/The lives you take will never return”.
The orchestra-inspired love ballad How Did Love Find Me should give a flicker of hope to those waiting by the door, with expectant eyes, for love to saunter in. If you believe in the butterfly-induced-stomach-rumbling emoticon on the screen of the ‘heart’, you should scroll down the lyrics of this, using Cupid’s arrow (perhaps). If you’ve got feelings for one who is emotionally unavailable, this should feed your faith fat. The MacKichan-production is arguably the best on this album. Ife, though produced by Constant, seems like a continuation from the previous track. “They try to tear us apart/Said we’re not made for each other/Tell you things about me so unflattering”, Asa sings though she’s unfazed “Won leri, won pejo/Oro mi lo n fi se eke/Ife ma foju mi so na”. The gospel-influenced Situation brings back the melancholic Asa seeking a supernatural presence to translate her ‘reality’ to Shangri-la, and give strength to swim through. “I can finally see the light/You always have to put up a fight/Don’t be crazy/It won’t break you/You have to know when it’s over (it’s over)/Halleluyah, it’s a new year”, Asa sings on the inspirational New Year. This is the perfect ‘bye bye to jatijati, bye bye to rederede’ song. Asa sinks into gloominess on The One That Never Comes as she tells of unrequited love. He wants her, she doesn’t want him. She wants him, he doesn’t want her; a love triangle of sort.
This album is definitely the best Nigerian album yet, this year. From songwriting to performance (vocal rendition and the additional vocals) to production (including arrangement, mixing and mastering), Bed of Stone is a near-masterpiece and a listening wonder, perhaps her best album to date. Though, on the tracklisting, the songs should have been arranged based on the album’s sub-themes.
Udochukwu writes from Ibadan. You can catch him listening to different genres of music on his iPod or buying CDs at your popular music store when he’s not working.
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