ASA: from outcast to international superstar (the true story)

Popularly known as Asa, soul and pop singer/songwriter Bukola Elemide was born on the 17th of September 1982 in Paris, France to her Nigerian parents. Her family returned to live in Nigeria when she was two. Asa grew up in Alagbole, a border town in Ogun state near Lagos, in the south-western part of Nigeria. Twenty years later, Asa returned to Paris where her life as an artist took off.


Asa was the only female child in the family and had three brothers. At a tender age she began to look after the house during her parents’ frequent absences. This was when she started to sing. Over the years, her father had built up a fine collection of records featuring soul classics and indigenous music by artistes such as Marvin Gaye, Fela Kuti, Bob Marley, Aretha Franklin, King Sunny Adé, Ebenezer Obey and Langbank, and Asa went on to draw inspiration from them.


Asa was a lonely child. She found it difficult fitting in and was often sad, feeling out of place during her childhood, even more so in the world of adolescence. She was different, and music became an escape route as well as a daydream. Asa would sometimes go to the park with her bothers to sing and dance, but more often took refuge in an imaginary universe that was hers alone. Decked in a wig borrowed from the maternal treasure chest, a tube of cream serving as her mic, reveling in the freedom of no one watching her, she sang Michael Jackson and Bob Marley hits and greeted an imaginary crowd. She was a tomboy and was very shy because people made fun of her, but that way, she was already attracting attention. She got in the habit of never doing anything like everyone else. People didn’t understand her low-pitched deep voice, and choirs didn’t want anything to do with her. Yet, she knew she had to get to church first if she was to have any chance of getting near the mic.


Asa fought back. Against rejection, against the ups and downs of a life where, to achieve what people call happiness, she had to sacrifice everything. She was twelve when her mother sent her to one of the best schools in the country. But educational excellence had a bitter taste: five years of studies and hardship. When she came home, she discovered Erika Badu, D’Angelo, Rafaël Saadiq, Lauryn Hill, Femi Kuti and Angélique Kidjo, in whose footprints she dreamt of following. At 18, Asa was very familiar with frustration. Once, when the university was on strike, and choirs were snubbing her, she managed to get her voice heard on a few radio talent shows and her first applause brought her boundless pleasure. She then signed up, in secret, for the Peter King’s School of Music and learnt to play the guitar in 6 months.


In 2004, Asa met her manager and friend, Janet, who introduced her to Cobhams Emmanuel Asuquo, who in turn became her musical partner and producer. Asa finally returned to Paris. This was her chance to test out her talent on the French musical scene, playing with artists such as the Nubians, Manu Dibango, Doctor L and Tony Allen. In the meantime, back in Nigeria, her first set of singles, Eyé Adaba and Jailer, were beginning to get airplay. MTV chose her as the ambassador for South Africa, her popularity kept growing and when she went back, she did openings for Akon, John Legend, Beyoncé and Snoop Dogg amongst others.


Asa soon signed to the Naïve label, partnered with Cobhams, and with the new involvement of Christophe Dupouy, she produced a magnificent eponymous album.

Her second album, Beautiful Imperfection, was released on 25 October 2010. The lead single from Beautiful Imperfection is titled “Be My Man” and was released in late September. A video for the song was released in mid-October. She also performed with Féfé at the Sydney Festival in 2011. Asa spends more time in Paris than in her country of origin, Nigeria.


In 2014, Asa released a new album titled “Bed of Stone”. She has done really well for herself, receiving several awards, nominations and endorsements, one of which includes a multimillion naira deal with GTBank.


We chose Asa as our feature for this week on ‘Stories that touch’ because she, as a loner, turned her escape route (music) into her passion. She didn’t get discouraged, despite being made jest of, but instead, used it as her stepping stone by drawing attention to herself. Instead of struggling to fit in, she stood out. She believed in herself and in her uniqueness, and her determination never waxed cold. Asa is excelling in her field which means you can turn that ‘shy’ aspect of your life into something spectacular. See you at the top!




Let us know how Asa’s story touched you in the comment’s section below.

Published by Ogunbowale Olugbenga

Ogunbowale Olugbenga is a multiple award winning social entrepreneur & digital skills expert. An alumnus of the Leadership in Business Institute of Kellogg School of Management (USA), He has a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology from Obafemi Awolowo University (Nigeria). Inspired by the plight of millions of unemployed youths, Olugbenga founded, a digital agency passionately growing businesses & accelerating the application of digital skills for economic prosperity across Africa. To help institutions prevent scandals & promote performance, Gbenga founded Polivoice.Work, an anonymous employee feedback tool that captures & analyses feedback anonymously in real time to detect, predict & improve work place conditions. A Mandela Washington Fellow, Tony Elumelu Fellow, Royal Common wealth society fellow, YALI star of business & YALI network influencer, Olugbenga is the founder of Africa’s biggest orphanage outreach, The Orphan Empowerment Society, with a 5,000 strong volunteer force and a presence in 19 African countries empowering thousands of orphans with free vocational skills, medical care, & food. He is also the co-founder of the communication & leadership organization, Pacesetters Leadership Club.

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