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

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“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 to get out of Nigeria, to get out of 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 went to studios I had to wear baggy clothes because I didn’t want to emphasize that I was a woman,” she said. “I didn’t want to draw attention to myself, I wanted to go there and do the work.”

Aṣa said these choices led men to question her sexuality. “I’d like men to say, ‘Are you even a woman? What’s wrong with you?'” She says she also had to fight the perception that, as a female artist, she must have “slept her way to the top.” “People think if you’re a female performer you’re sleeping, so I had to prove that to my family,” she told CNN.

In her youth, Aṣa said, she was mainly inspired by male musicians. “Growing up, my influences were men – strongmen, Bob Marley, Fela Kuti; and when I saw what they did, I said I wanted to do the same. I saw how they influenced people with their words, she made the government responded, people loved, people laughed, and I wanted to do the same.”

Equality and respect

But the famous private singer also said she struggled with her parents’ attitudes towards her upbringing, especially her disciplinary father. “It was a boot camp at home – he made us eat beans for a year, and insisted on help from the house to put the weevils, and sprinkled them like egg whites!”

She says she was raised “groomed to be a woman.” “You have to learn to cook for your husband, you have to be nice to your husband, and I thought, ‘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, once, when I was, I think 28, every guy that passed me, I was always looking – ‘Is he the one?’ “Is it him?” It hasn’t worked, and I’m letting God do his job, you know?”

Now, with five hit albums behind her, Aṣa believes that women are still not given equal opportunities. “I want women to sell whiskey, be brand ambassadors for whiskey. I do enjoy the occasional whiskey – why not be a brand ambassador for that? Why does it always have to be male? No, women enjoy those things.”

The most important thing for the 39-year-old is that men and women are on a level playing field. “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, I’m just saying that we can be equal and respect each other.”

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