Award winning Bukola Elemide, professionally known as Aṣa, is a Nigerian-French singer, songwriter and recording artist. She is one of Nigeria’s best music exports and is known for her unique sound. In a recent interview with Bounce Radio, the Paris-based singer talked about her childhood and how she had to drop out of school to pursue her career in music. FEMI OGUNTAYO brings excerpts.
Why are you around? And how much time do you spend here in Nigeria in a year?
Well, every December, I always like to be around my family. It is always great to be in Lagos in December. I share my time between Lagos and wherever.
How different is Lagos now compared to when you were here, growing up?
I think people are not really kind anymore, on the streets even young people have this idea of everyone being a salesman, I don’t understand, they aren’t just kind to each other anymore. When I was a child, we were all like neighbours, my parents didn’t bring me up alone, I was brought up by a village of people. So, I think people are just a little bit far away from each other. I think understand, I don’t just understand where we changed. I think it is just the economy or poverty. If you don’t have something to eat, you are going to get angry, inpatient and unkind, so I think as the economy just takes a dive, everybody just changed with it. We are not still as cold as the westerners, there is still the family spirit here, but I think people are just a little bit inpatient and not being kind anymore.
How come you were born in Paris? What were your parents doing there? Were they married in Lagos or got married in Paris?
Yes, they got married in Paris, they were dating here and my father went to Paris to study cinematography and my mum went to stay with him. My father was also a driver for the Nigerian Embassy in Paris, as a side job. My mum also studied cinematography and they had me and my brother.
So, did your parents do films?
Yes, when my father came back to Nigeria, he did films, I used to see these actors, the likes of Papiluwe, Oga Bello, come to him to hire his equipment. He also did events, he would film and edit events and while editing he always did this voiceover, add music to it and the likes. I think that was where my love for music came from.
What are your earliest memories of life?
That would be 1993, that was like the beginning of consciousness for me. In FESTAC, Lagos. I was in Primary school, I went to a school in Subuola – public school. My father decided to take us to a public school because he had this idea that we had too much and we should go to a public school because he went to a public school. I remembered that when my sandals got cut, I would walk bare-footed to school. I learnt how to be street-smart. After some time, I left Lagos to attend FGC Jos, where I had my secondary education.
When did you know you were going to do music?
Since I was a kid. I knew this was what I was going to do, I didn’t how why but I just knew this was what I loved to do. I told you about my father editing videos and with music, so I was listening to what my father was playing, it was a beautiful moment.
Did your father know you were listening?
I think he knew, because there were times he would catch me in my room listening to music and singing in front of my mirror and I would tell him I would like to be a musician and he would tell me I should be a lawyer.
When you left Jos after secondary school, you returned to Lagos and then what?
After secondary school, I left Jos and returned to Lagos and stayed with my grandparents, waiting for university. I got an admission to Lagos State University (LASU), but before that, while I was waiting for an admission, I got tired of staying at home, so I went to Alade Market to look for a job and I worked as a shop attendant for a woman who sold shoes at Alade Market. But I only worked there for four days, because I couldn’t cope. There was a day I got late to work and the woman was very angry and was hard on me. Before I left her place, I had seen just down the road an advertisement about an audition for singers, dancers for a TV show that was shown every Friday then, so I entered as a dancer.
So what course did you study at LASU?
I studied Theatre Arts, I was still shy to do music. I did Theater Arts because that was closer to what I wanted to do. So I discovered a music school in Badagry – Peter Kings College of Music in Badagry. It was very far away, they had boarding, they had bunks, and it was not expensive. I was in my second year in LASU then I dropped out and went to the music school for six months and then I was on the road – in Lagos.
When you say ‘on the road’, what do you mean?
I mean, I was performing. I was in competitions and I was doing vocals for people, then I went on tour with Tony Allen. All these while, I was just on the road. We were in Ghana, Port Harcourt, everywhere.
Did you see light in any of these? What was the motivation then, because music during this time in Nigeria wasn’t a big thing?
It wasn’t about the money for me. Money was just far away from my mind. For me I just felt I needed to train, I felt I wasn’t ready for the stage. I needed to learn, I was this solo kind of person, and I didn’t know how to work with a group or a band. So I needed to learn all of that. I didn’t also know about song-writing, it came later for me.