Close-up: Asa

The Franco-Nigerian singer explains why Lagos has got the funk
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The Independent Online

One of the biggest stars in Nigeria right now is a masked singer known as Lagbaja, a Yoruban word that roughly translates as "somebody, nobody, anybody, everybody". Asa, who was born in Paris but grew up from the age of two in the Nigerian capital of Lagos, thinks Lagbaja might be on to something. "I love his music and his costumes are a smart move," she says. "That way, no one knows who you are."

A craving for anonymity might seem odd coming from Asa, a hugely promising singer-songwriter, who has just returned to Paris after a spell in London to launch her debut album and perform a stripped-back, funky-acoustic version of her single, "Fire on the Mountain", on the BBC's Later... With Jools Holland. But then Asa (pronounced as in "Brimful of...") is a compelling mix of such contradictory influences. While her father, a cameraman, was working in Lagos, his daughter grew up dipping into his "rich collection" of records and discovering traditional Yoruban music, pan-African artists (Miriam Makeba was a favourite) and Western superstars such as Marvin Gaye and Bob Marley.

All of which has given the 25-year-old's music a Starbucks-friendly quality that, with the backing of Mike (Katie Melua) Batt, could shift like coffee beans. But Asa is all too aware that it is from Nigeria's capital that she draws her strength. "I need to get back to Lagos soon," she says. "I need that energy, that struggle. I need more information to feed into my music. In many ways, all major cities are the same, everyone striving to be noticed. But Lagos is crazy, with many problems – from the abuse of children to the fact that it is a very strict, very religious society."

Given her strong affinity for Nigeria, what does Asa make of life as lived in Paris and London? "It's cool that everything is free and legal," she says, "but sometimes things seem to get a bit overdone."

Asa plays the Carling Academy Islington, London N1 (tel: 0844 477 2000), on 12 May, and the Club Academy, Manchester (tel: 0161 832 1111), on 13 May. Her eponymous debut album is out now on Dramatico