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How I left LASU to pursue music —Asa

Award-winning Bukola Elemide, professionally known as Aṣa, is a Franco-Nigerian singer, songwriter and entertainer. She is one of Nigeria’s top music exports and is known for her unique sound. In a recent interview with Bounce Radio, the Paris-based singer opened up 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 here ? And how long do you spend here in Nigeria in a year?

Well, every December, I always like to be with my family. It’s always nice to be in Lagos in December. I split my time between Lagos and anywhere.

How different is Lagos now compared to when you were here growing up?

I think people aren’t really nice anymore, even young people in the street have this idea that everyone is a salesman, I don’t understand, they aren’t just nice to each other anymore. When I was a child, we were all like neighbors, my parents didn’t raise me alone, I was raised by a village of people. So I think people are just a little far apart. I think I understand, I just don’t understand where we’ve changed. I think it’s just the economy or poverty. If you don’t have anything to eat, you’re going to get angry and patient and mean, so I think the economy is going down, everyone’s changed with it. We are not yet as cold as Westerners, there is still a family spirit here, but I think people are just a little patient and not nice anymore.

How come you were born in Paris? What were your parents doing there? Did they get married in Lagos or did they get married in Paris?

Yes, they got married in Paris, they were dating here and my father went to Paris to study cinema and my mother stayed with him. My father was also a driver for the Nigerian embassy in Paris, at the same time. My mother also studied cinema and they had me with my brother.

So, did your parents make films?

Yes, when my father came back to Nigeria, he was making films, I saw these actors, like Papiluwe, Oga Bello, coming to rent his equipment to him. He also did events, he was filming and editing events and during editing he was always doing this voiceover, adding music to it and stuff. I think that’s where my love for music comes from.

What are your earliest life memories?

It would be 1993, it was like the beginning of the realization for me. At FESTAC, Lagos. I was in primary school, I went to a school in Subuola – public school. My dad decided to take us to a public school because he had this idea that we had too much and that we should go to a public school because he was in a public school. I remembered that when my sandals were cut off, I walked barefoot to school. I learned to be smart on the streets. After some time I left Lagos to attend FGC Jos where I did my secondary education.

When did you know you were going to make music?

Since I was a child. I knew it was what I was going to do, I didn’t know why but I just knew it was what I loved doing. I told you about my father who edited videos and with music, so I listened to what my father played, it was a beautiful moment.

Did your father know you were listening?

I think he knew it, because there were times when he would catch me in my room listening to music and singing in front of my mirror and I would tell him that I would like to be a musician and he would said I should be a lawyer.

When you left Jos after high school, you went back to Lagos and then what?

After high school, I left Jos and moved back to Lagos and stayed with my grandparents while waiting for college. I got admitted into Lagos State University (LASU) but before that while I was waiting for admission I was tired of staying at home so I went to Alade market to look for a job and I worked as a salesman for a woman who sold shoes at the Alade market. But I only worked there for four days, because I couldn’t get by. There was a day when I arrived late for work and the woman was very angry and was harsh on me. Before leaving his house, I had seen an ad just down the street about an audition for singers, dancers for a TV show that aired every Friday at the time, so I walked in as dancer.

So, what course did you study at LASU?

I studied theater arts, I was still shy to make music. I did theater because it 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, they had a boarding school, they had bunks, and it wasn’t expensive. I was in my second year at LASU, then I dropped out and went to music school for six months, then I was on the road – in Lagos.

When you say “on the road”, what do you mean?

I mean, I was playing. I was in competitions and singing for people, then I went on tour with Tony Allen. All this time, I was just on the road. We were in Ghana, in Port Harcourt, everywhere.

Did you see light in any of them? What was the motivation then, because music during this period in Nigeria was not a big thing?

It was not a question of money for me. The money was just far from my mind. For me, I just felt like I needed to practice, I felt like I wasn’t ready for the stage. I needed to learn, I was that kind of solo person and didn’t know how to work with a band or a group. So I needed to learn all that. I didn’t know songwriting either, that came later for me.

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