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“Yoga”: Asake Picks Up New Enemies and New Rhythms

By Michael Aromolaran 
06 February 2023   |   9:00 am
Hearing the first few lines of Asake's new song, "Yoga," one senses a shift in the singer since he rose to prominence last September. But it is not a very obvious change; in fact, you would miss it if you had not been paying attention to his lyrics. Listening to all twelve songs in his…

Hearing the first few lines of Asake’s new song, “Yoga,” one senses a shift in the singer since he rose to prominence last September. But it is not a very obvious change; in fact, you would miss it if you had not been paying attention to his lyrics.

Listening to all twelve songs in his debut album, Mr Money With The Vibe, I had observed that, unlike many Nigerian pop artistes are wont to have, Asake did not have any lines aimed at supposed enemies, real or fictitious. His song Nzaza had one such divertissement, but it is a muted one and so barely counts.

By contrast we know how it is nearly impossible to listen to a Burna Boy song without hearing a line or two that betrays a persecution complex. Yet it makes perfect sense that Asake did not at the time imbibe that Nigerian pop music cliché: he was but a newcomer when his album was released, and presumably the lesser a man’s fame and fortune, the fewer his enemies.

Now that he has way more star power than he did last September, he naturally has acquired more enemies. Or at least that seems to be his thinking. Naturally this new-found attitude has wormed into his music: the first line of the only verse in Yoga says, “enemies, I get them too much.” But he seems to not mind it; in fact he wants triple the number of his haters: “it is better to get dem surplus,” he sings.

Perhaps the singer has earned for himself a few more enemies. Perhaps we are witnessing the paranoia that so often attends fame and success. Or perhaps the enemies he refers to are the many who criticised his less-than-perfect concerts last December. We will never know for sure. What we can say with all certainty is that the singer won’t be letting any naysaying derail his peace, or as he phrases it, his “yoga.”

The singer’s success with Amapiano, which suffused his album, came at the price of many wondering if he could thrive outside the genre, or if he were a one-genre pony. But with Yoga he removes all doubts about his pliability. He ably trades Amapiano for Séga, a genre native to Mauritius and Réunion Island. Thus his protest against those who would perturb his inner peace is sweetly emphasised by the ravanne and the triangle, two instruments central to the genre.

But the singer remains familiar, for he fills his newly acquired skin with old wine. Yoga is imbued with qualities found in Asake’s previous works, such as the polyphonal chorus and religious ambiance. He even retains his favoured producer, Magicsticks, whose production lends this song the soulful sobriety the singer aims for.

But Asake is not only showing that he is beyond Amapiano (and Fuji and Afrobeats), he is also showing he is beyond Nigeria—an understandable hubris, given his album’s transatlantic commercial success. He shows this by appropriating Mauritian culture; but perhaps his wanderlust is more emphasised by the song’s music video, which is directed by TG Omori.

That the video comes with subtitles suggests the singer’s willingness to make his message, which is worded in Nigerian pidgin English, more accessible to non-Nigerians. And by setting the video in Dakar, Senegal, he is perhaps advertising his intention to colonise the continent, with his music, of course.

While Omori’s direction of the video is sometimes suspect—it is often guilty of a raucous excess that undercuts the song’s serene feel—it, deliberately or not, provides some satisfying allusions. Séga is said to have originated from African slaves in the form of protest music—recall Asake too is preoccupied with a protest of sorts.

So it is apt then that the video shows the singer meditating in a lotus position by the seaside, a visage perhaps alluding not only to the watery route by which the transatlantic slave trade was conducted, but also to Séga’s ghastly origins. And when we consider that Gorée Island, a former major slave port, is only a few miles from Dakar, it starts to feel less like a coincidence. But for all we know, neither Omori nor Asake might have had any of these in mind.

It could also be that the video is paying homage to the one of Mo Capitaine, the Michel Legris song which Asake samples in Yoga. That song’s music video was also backdropped by a body of water. But while Legris had danced in a yacht, Asake settles for a humble canoe. This asceticism is also replicated with the sound, for Asake uproots the heavy percussion and pace from the original song, stripping it down. And by doing so he, perhaps unwittingly, enacts the essence of yoga: the ridding of the soul, or the beat, of fluff.

Although the year Asake found success with South African house has barely ended, he—who now seems to have been changed by either criticism or celebrity—is already telling us he is capable of new themes and rhythms. Even better, he is telling us this from a lotus position.