Saturday, 30 January 2010

With Asa, the big band rules the stage

Recently, news went round that the singer, and easily Nigeria’s currently most globally accepted young artiste, Asa, had been arrested abroad. The gist was everywhere, even on some gossip websites run by unknown reporters, that the Bibanke crooner had been nabbed by the London police in Heathrow Airport for allegedly being in possession of substance suspected to be marijuana. But in a swift reaction, Asa cleared the air from her Lagos home in a telephone conversation with a reporter with one of the growing online magazines. In case you are still nursing some kind of doubts, Asa was live on stage in Lagos just a few days after the rumour. As usual, she was at her best… as reported by ANOTE AJELUOROU

When last Friday put Asa, Nigeria’s music export to the world, on stage at Cora Reef in Ikoyi, Lagos, as part of stepping up its campaign for, an online business outfit, it thrilled the guests to an exciting time on a rare live musical performance.
Although miming to hooks and recorded beats has become standard practice of hiphop music live prersentation globally, the Nigerian variant is usually suspect. First, sound engineers are yet to master how to fine-tune the complex of musical instruments to give the desired sound output. So, what comes across is usually flat, distorted sound that generally undermines the prowess of an artist and the quality of his music.
Even at the show, such poor technical depth in sound engineering showed glaringly in the performance versions the audience was treated to. Dipo and Bez had opened the show with what appeared good showmanship and skills. But sound treatment or engineering, which should have heightened the musicality of their efforts fell short.
It was however rescued for Asa by her French crew that took over the stage management. No doubt, the audience was somewhat peeved that over a whooping hour was spent trying to piece together instruments that had just been used by fellow artistes. Indeed, Asa perhaps, ought to have advised her French crew to set up the instruments before the show started proper rather than having to break the proceeding, and subject the audience to such tedious wait. She would also have greatly enriched the performance of Dipo and Bez, who were to herald her.
Musical instruments (the sort used in modern shows) are foreign contraptions; it would take those who made them that extra input to set right.
By the time the French were through with their weird sound-testing mechanics -- the wide difference in mastery of technicality of sound production between local and imported professionals, was glaring.

Before Asa took the stage, two promising talents had thrilled the audience. Specialising in the R&B and soul genres of music, Dipo and Bez brought a certain spice of their own that was altogether compelling. When first act Dipo stepped up to the microphone spotting a black jacket, he came across as some sort of uninspiring preacher or comedian who would grope around for his jokes.
But when he started with ‘Waka waka’, then followed by ‘Love divine’, and having to explain the reasons behind his lyrics, it was clear Asa already has a musical clone. Dipo’s lyrical delivery was superb but it was also an extension of the Asa mould of soul music, which he was trying to give his own interpretation. This is not to deny him a measure of originality or good measure of talent.
‘Malo’, which is a fusion of local dialect with English is quintessentially Dipo’s. If he were to make it his signature song, Dipo would just have announced himself as a soul singer worth listening to. Of credit to him also just like Asa is the big band essemble, which he jointly shares with Bez, who was to later introduce the band members to the audience. So, Dipo also rocked on the Green Carpet at the Cora Reef.
Bez, too, showed his stuff, which was not unlike America’s soul singer John Legend. While Legend is a dexterous pianist, Bez seems an immensely gifted guitarist. And, he’s got lots of stage theatrics too, which are enhanced by his hat and rimmed glasses, which he intermittently adjusts as he strums away at his guitar. ‘More you’, ‘Jazz for Mary’, ‘Stop pretending’ and ‘Crazy’ are a few of his lyrics he soulfully vocal delivery for the audience’s enjoyment that night.

When Asa started her performance well into the night, the irritation of having to wait for over an hour for mere instruments to be reset for thinned out. The sound quality was so great there was no difference between it and having to listen to Asa’s CD on a home theatre music system.
Asa’s stagecraft showed the depth of an artiste’s commitment to her art and reverence to her its audience -- not just in her singing but also the quality of instrumentation. And, art is art only when meticulousness and thoroughness meet. In Asa, these virtues were not wanting as she rocked in the Green Carpet at the open garden. The small stage, however, restricted the artistes’ movement. Diasppointingly, though the ‘big men and women’ that was the audience did not feel moved enough by Asa’s superb delivery to stand to their feet and dance!
It was clear from her show, that Asa had also missed the Lagos audience for whom she duly apologised and promised frequent appearances in future. She also alluded to a drug-related rumour about her; assuring that it was all false. In fact, her presence at the show, was a confirmation of the fallacy of the report possibly designed to tarnish her image.
Asa did all the usual stuffs and more. She performed ‘Iya, a song she said she first tried on her guitar when she first got one to work with. It talks about pain and suffering stressing that the two are part of human experiences. Already a soulful singer, the vocal timbre she gave to the song emotionally taxed her audience.
In spite of her huge talent and success as a solo artiste, Asa is also a believer in other talents or acts. She was to invite two female soul singers -- Omolara and Ibiyemi -- to share stage with her on the ‘Iya’ song; their drawn out adlibbing roused interest of the audience powerfully. In the duo resides a prodigious vocal power, which would yet find anchor as they mature in their performances.
Jeremiah Gyang, in spite of the sectarian crisis in his Jos home state, still found inner strength to perform along Asa, perhaps as a form of defiance to those who seek to destroy the human spirit consumed as they are in beastly rage!

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