A couple of hours from Asa’s concert late Saturday afternoon and there were enough quick soft footsteps on the Eko Hotels floor to hint of something big about to happen. Event organisers strutted around in swift and precise steps, tapping or talking into their phones; doing something, going somewhere.
This busyness is the woodwork anyone expects of Asa’s debut concert in Lagos, and her crew was only ticking all the items on the checklist including pre-show emotional flares and sudden last minute logistics. The French-Nigerian singer, Asa has been on the tour of her album for the past two years and despite being Nigerian by descent, even coming home to Lagos is merely another stop on her calendar. So when Olisa Adibua opened the show, we immediately had reservations about the concert’s organisers.
Agreed, Pa Adibua is not the worst choice of host for a show of such magnitude, but his spot appeared more like a promoter/sponsor gimmick, one that Asa’s crew simply went along with, rather than a carefully thought out organisational decision, which made his stage presence tedious.
For most of the night, Adibua was a bullet, mindlessly ricocheting down an empty hallway. He bounced haphazardly from elitist comments decrying the tastes of people who enjoy mainstream Afropop music to unfunny misogynist musings, prodding his audience to marry a female act. At the bottom of this whirlpool of ignorance and shallowness, Adibua yelled at some point, “Let the Oyinbo know that we too we have a superstar.” A racist attempt to hype the crowd by asking them to impress the white people in attendance if we ever heard one.
Thankfully opening act Isaac Gerald was an impressive acoustic starter. With a lifted chorus off his recently released original song, “Fall In Love” he improvised succinctly, singing about the hypocrisy of love without money.
Coming on after Gerald’s, Kaline’s set was one of the most ambivalent of the night. Her back up artistes had been standing for a couple of seconds before she trotted onto the stage with a divaesque swagge, lurching into the first song “Koye Mi”. Her opener is a modern day Sade Adu meets Whitney Houston number with high notes only synonymous with greats. But with the fans desperation to see Asa starting to build, she tried valiantly to find comfort on stage with her second song, Ololufemi.
Things went further downhill from here as backup vocals temporarily lost synchrony and Ololufemi stumbled to a dull conclusion. Her next song was the rhythmic Konga infused Kilofe, a sexy pop song, bogged down by trite lyrics from every alternative love song ever. How does anyone say “I am lost in your eyes/ you got me wishing on the stars in the sky” with a straight face? Nonetheless, the crowd was quite accepting as her set closed.
Singer, Falana came on stage with her signature box. Staring into oblivion for a moment, she started tapping the box rhythmically as she delivered a cover of Favourite Things sung by Mary Martin & Patricia Neway in 1959 but popularised by Julie Andrews in 1965 for The Sound of Music.
Her hands soon stopped beating on the wooden box as she began her second song, Falana Gbo Tie. Lyrics about telling people to keep their opinions to themselves and subsequently crying to God for intervention are everyday Nigerian realities but the awe factor here is how Falana slipped into the chorus belting “Oh God, My God, please come and work your magic again” with an adrenaline rush that sailed into a calm almost immediately only to start all over again.
Olisa Adibua came back briefly with more elitist annoyances to introduce Bez’ one man army performance. The award winning singer started with a slow and mellow number, Stop Pretending off his 2011 Super Sun album. Short wispy chords strummed on forever with elegance, but inadvertently it was the wrong song to throw on an audience already jolted by Adibua’s announcement that Asa wouldn’t be coming on until the big boys at the N2Million worth VVIP tables were all seated.
Lucky for him, Zuciya Daya’s crowd pleasing effect could be counted on anytime and after gaining the audience attention with that, Stupid Song was sped up to make for a more energetic set. He wove the original lyrics around other melodious nursery rhymes that fit into the song’s theme, and this is where the magic of his performance happened.
Another intermission helmed by British singer Racheal Kerr, came up just before the lights were dimmed for Asa to finally come on stage.
Asa’s entrance was indeed magical and she opened with blue lights and an electric guitar rendition of Awe. Satan be Gone followed alongside other tracks from her Bed Of Stone album. But nobody could stay in their seats anymore when Fire on the Mountain started. This set Asa back to performing songs from her self-titled debut album. Bibanke the song she strummed up next was a personal moment between Asa and fans that started supporting her when nobody else was listening. The song closed with Asa showing her support for strong women.
Cobhams Asuquo was unveiled as the promised special guest. After making flirty comments to her creative collaborator about being single and open to mingle, both Asa and Asuquo delivered a haunting cover of Beyoncé’s Halo dedicated to Toolz Demuren. Then slinked into a near-spiritual rendition of 360 degrees . An electric So Beautiful opens after Cohbams exits the stage to a rousing applaud. As a reward for the acceptance of her mentor, Asa enchanted them with dance moves during an instrumental break. She burst across the stage like a happy child on a sugar high just in time for electronic guitars and lights to break in again with Bimpe and Preacher man.
Asa continued to enjoy herself, displaying great stage management with random energy bursts. She danced swiftly, sashayed around her instrumentalists and knocked her knees hard into the ground like a rock star. Her movement was so fluild that when No One Knows Tomorrow came up, she’d already owned the audience. Audience exhaustion set in at some point, still, Asa brought tired bones along for a Brother Ole rendered with an Aretha Franklin inspired soulful bliss.
Just before Jailer came on, Asa and her backup singer, Janet displayed some brilliant chemistry. Janet had her back turned to Asa and sultrily threw her waist in the direction of the obviously memerised singer who followed her every rhythmic sway. The footwork between them appeared so smooth it felt rehearsed – or at least practised across countless cities and stages.
Jailer closed as the phrase “Be good oo” is chorused into a fade but Asa throws in a quick dab for effect and the fans go nuts again.
Be My Man came on and Asa had gained the full trust of her own act now. Her rhymes are accentuated and the stage lights went off temporarily for Asa to don a cape for a dramatic performance of Bamidele off her sophomore Beautiful Imperfection album. Asa displayed more dance moves and the night closed with Why Can’t We.
Asa Live in Lagos had a lot of high points that trickled down everywhere else. From Isaac Gerald’s crowd control to Kaline’s vocal power and Falana’s eclecticism, it was indeed a night for the weird kids. But save for Isaac Geralds’ Project Fame run, all the other performers possess broad portfolios that were built outside Nigeria.
This tiny observation did not make their performances bland or songs unrelatable, it just managed to show off a set list of artistes skewered together from a small sample space of artistes with personal wealth, an international appeal and borrowed Africaness.
The A & R team that did the research for the performing acts either set up fans to be entertained by a pre-meditated set list for promotional purposes or have a poor understanding of the “alternative” music scene in Nigeria. Either way, there was a disconnect that had fans looking out for something extra in every artiste. Consequently acts had to be innovative or be able to hit high notes to impress the audience. Observations that would be unnecessary if the line-up had been slightly more diverse.
Nonetheless, while Asa delivered a stellar stage performance, the indication that even her international exposure could not bring an international standard event to Nigeria was evident. Between logistical issues and poor timing, Asa’s team brought back all the same Nigerianisms that cause many vanity concerts to be ignored, including hiring a tepid host with a foreign accent.
The sectionalised seating arrangement was also problematic for the event. Asa’s music is supposed to be for everybody, putting in barricades based on ticket privileges set economic class boundaries that took a lot of character out of what should have been a personal encounter between Asa and the people whose pain and struggles she pens lyrics for.
Not everybody can relate to Wizkid’s Champagne popping because not everyone has done it. But when Asa makes loves ballads or sings about social justice, we know where the music has come from, and this is why she is amazing.
Her performance did not even deserve to have sitting fans, but the ostentatious premise to the event did not only ensure that certain pompous persons would remain seated, but would also leave empty seats that would have been occupied by loyal fans if zeros did not sell tickets.
Nobody necessarily demands a free concert, but there is a difference between a show and a concert and like many Nigerian events we have seen, Asa’s was simply another “show” where fans are only left wanting the real concert experience at a later date.
Sadly, In this case, it looks like that later date is still many years away.