Nigerian singer Asa opens up on prejudice: “In Paris, it’s a question of race, in Nigeria, it’s a question of gender”

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“In Paris, I don’t think about gender,” she told CNN’s Zain Asher at Access Bank’s International Women’s Day conference in Lagos earlier this month. “I have to fight to be from Nigeria, to be from Africa…gender is not a problem. In Nigeria, I have to fight (for my) gender.”

The multi-award-winning artist, whose fifth studio album, ‘V’, was released in February, said her gender had a profound effect on her behavior early in her career.

“I was very aware of my femininity, so when I entered the studios I had to wear baggy clothes, because I didn’t want to emphasize the fact that I was a woman,” she said. “I didn’t want to draw attention to myself, I wanted to go out there and get the job done.”

Aṣa said these choices caused men to question her sexuality. “I would ask men to say, ‘Are you even a woman? What’s wrong with you?'” She says she’s also had to wrestle with the perception that as an artist feminine, she had to “sleep to the top”. “People think if you’re a female artist you sleep, so I had to prove it to my family,” she told CNN.

In her youth, Aṣa said she was mostly inspired by male musicians. “When I was growing up, my influences were men – strong men, Bob Marley, Fela Kuti; and when I saw what they were doing, I said I wanted to do the same thing. I saw the how they affected people with their words, they made the government react, people liked it, people laughed, and I felt like doing the same.”

Equality and respect

But the famously private singer also said she struggled with her parents’ attitude towards her upbringing, especially her disciplinarian father. “It was boot camp at home – he fed us beans for a year and insisted the housekeeper put the weevils in, sprinkling them as protein!”

She says she was raised “prepared to be a wife”. “You have to learn how to cook for your husband, you have to be nice to your husband, and I was like, ‘Am I going to do all this for one person? And I don’t even know who that person is!’ “

The star said she now takes a relaxed approach to relationships. “Believe me, at one point, when I was, I think, 28, every man that walked past me, I was always looking — ‘Is that him?’ ‘Is that him?’ It didn’t work, and I let God do his job, you know?”

Now, with five hit albums behind her, Aṣa believes women are still not given equal opportunities. “I want to see women selling whisky, being brand ambassadors for whisky. I enjoy an occasional whiskey — why shouldn’t I be a brand ambassador for that? Why should it always be masculine? No, women love those things.”

The most important thing for the 39-year-old is that men and women are on an equal footing. “I think we can strike a balance,” she said. “Nobody is saying that with the new wave of feminism, we have to be on top, above; I’m just saying that we could be equal and respect each other.”

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