Nigerian singer Asa opens up about prejudice: ‘In Paris it’s about race, in Nigeria it’s about gender’

“In Paris I don’t think about gender,” she told CNN’s Zain Asher at the Access Bank International Women’s Day conference in Lagos earlier this month. “I have to fight being from Nigeria, being 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 at the outset of her career.

“I was very aware of my femininity, so when I went into studios, I had to wear baggy clothing, because I didn’t want to accentuate the fact that I was female,” she said. “I didn’t want to bring attention to myself, I wanted to go there and do the job.”

Aṣa said that these choices led men to question her sexuality. “I’d have men comment, ‘Are you even a woman? What’s wrong with you?'” She says that she also had to battle the perception that, as a female artist, she must have “slept her way to the top.” “People think if you’re a female artist you’re sleeping around, so I had to prove that to 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 did, I said I want to do the same. I saw the way they affected people with their words, they made the government react, people loved, people laughed, and I wanted to do the same thing.”

Equality and respect

But the famously private singer also said she struggled with her parents’ attitude to her upbringing, particularly her disciplinarian father. “It was a bootcamp at home — he made us eat beans for a year, and insisted on the house help putting the weevils (on), sprinkling them as protein!”

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

The star said she now takes a relaxed approach to relationships. “Trust me, at one time, when I was, I think 28, every male that went past me, I was always looking — ‘Is he the one?’ ‘Is he the one?’ It hasn’t worked, and I’m letting God do his job, you know?”

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

Most important to the 39-year-old is for men and women to be on a level playing field. “I think we can find a balance,” she said. “No one is saying with the new wave of feminism we have to be on top, above; I’m just saying we could be equal and respect each other.”

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