The first thing that goes through your mind when you’re unable to reach Janet Nwose, Asa’s manager on the phone or by email, is that she is distant, inaccessible and completely arrogant. You’re wrong on all counts. She’s not any of that – she is busy. Asa gets all kinds of requests and this young woman needs to handle all of them wisely.
I first saw Asa perform at Oceanview Restaurant at the NLNG Prize for Literature Party, in 2004. She sang “Runaway.” I was there. Before that, I had met her at Jazzville in Onike in Iwaya suburb of Yaba. A closer encounter again, years later, was when she had become very famous and successful, at Protea Hotel in Ikeja. While all my friends were shy to go and say hello to Asa, I went. I have no shame – more so when this famous person is someone I love. I went, and Asa left what she was reading on her tab to talk to me. Janet also was very very nice with me and chatted for long, even as they were about to take off to the airport to fly to Paris.
I told Asa I would come to Paris and that I would love to meet them again. I left.
Back to Paris, I tried and tried to contact Asa and got no response. I kept trying; I’m relentless like that. I had started work on Hip-Hop is Only for Children, which just got released. I needed to reach her desperately. It did not work. I found another way. I got tired of trying to get to Janet. I was stupid enough to think, in my head, that Janet would be lounging somewhere on the bank of a Swiss lake, wasting her time, waiting to take calls from Onyeka Nwelue. She was busy, facing her challenges and her own life. These things we don’t know about. We just sit and cloud our minds with all sorts of preconceived notions. However, I never give up easily. I kept trying. Boom! Asa was going to have a concert at La Cigale. I checked online and the tickets were sold out. A friend of mine, Morgane Portier, a die-hard fan of Asa and Nneka, who works at the South African Tourism Office had two tickets and she said, “Onyeka, I have tickets for you. Let us go and see our love!” I went for that concert and I was blown away. I did not want to disturb Janet again.
A week after that, Angelique Kidjo was performing and her special guest was Asa. I decided to go again. Maybe this time, try to speak to Janet. After the concert, I did not see Janet and Asa. I stood there until everyone was gone. I gave my business card to a great guy, Manu who promised to give it to Janet. By the time I got home, I received an SMS: “Hi, Onyeka, Janet here! Manu gave me your contact, he said you wanted to see me, sorry he could not find me. I was on the phone at the rooftop! I hope you’re doing great!’ I showed the message to my friend, Nicolas. It made me sleep well that night after I replied. Too bad, I was travelling to Mexico. I travelled back to Mexico, half heartbroken, because I had wanted to meet Asa again before I could release the book.
Mexico, months gone.
I returned to Paris for a few days and spent some hours with Nneka, at Gare du Nord and she spent time, talking me through life and encouraging me. What is my obsession with celebrities? Not all of them. I know the ones who have been through rough times and come out strong. They are the ones I align myself with. They are the ones who make my life easy. She spent time with me and saw me off to the airport.
I went off to India where I had surgery. Also, Hip-Hop is Only for Children was launched at the Hyderabad Literary Festival by Professor Amrijit Singh, a Hughes Langston Professor at University of Ohio, who praised the book so much I thought it’s time to start moving upwards. I flew back to Paris, spent a few days there before travelling to Berlin for the Berlinale, where on the street, I saw a poster that was advertising an Asa concert for the 18th of February.
I got back to Paris and emailed Janet again. No reply. Then, I sent an SMS as a last resort and she replied immediately: “Hello Onyeka! I hope you are fine. Back in Paris, in Bondy at the moment. How long are you in town for?” The conversation began to flow.
I reply. She replies. She says, “We should be able to meet, we are rehearsing in Bondy tomorrow and Sunday. Will you like to come?”
Will I like to come? Would you like to come? Would I like to come?
Who would not like to go where Asa is performing? Does Janet know what I want?
My reply was: “Of course, I would love to. If I have the address and time.”
I am very expressive. To a fault. I know this, because I know myself. My friend, Hiroshi Ando, from Tokyo wanted to come with me, as Asa had performed several times in Japan, but he was going to tour Paris as this was his first visit here. And really, I wanted to go alone. I really wanted to. I needed to have all that space for myself. I slept and it was morning, the morning of Valentine’s Day. While everyone was busy going out with their lovers, I was walking to the metro, excitedly, to go and spend the day with Asa.
In my head again, I thought I would be forced to spend 30 minutes with them, but I ended up staying with them for 6 hours, having a long conversation and watching Asa read what I wrote and even asking me to sign a copy of the book for her. One part of my dream came true. Janet made this happen!
I am not going to start using these words HUMILITY and DOWN-TO-EARTH now. No, Asa is an epitome of love. She listens. She doesn’t talk much. She listens. Her heart is pure. She is not judgmental. She lives in her own world, where there is good in every man. For the most part, Janet makes the whole scene extremely lively, because what Asa does is to listen and gets surprised at everything, with her eyes wide open. Whatever that is going on in Nigeria, she doesn’t seem to be aware; that is all the fakeness and envy existing in the popular culture world. Asa lives and breathes music. She is not interested in anything else.
When I walk into Planet Live where she was rehearsing, she was on the microphone and waved at me and once Janet saw me, she actually came to hug me. I shook my head, because sometimes, we spend time hating people we don’t know. We spend time hating people who are living their lives. I sat down and watched Asa rehearse and I was blown away.
Janet Nwose is one who understands the human predicament. Now I know why she is good at what she does; she manages people’s sensibility and understands the structure properly. Spending hours with her and Asa, she perhaps, understands that it was my dream. Why my dream? I have lived a life full of pain and anguish and I hate to acknowledge this, but I always feel that each time I spend time with people whom I am better off than, no inspiration burns into my life. I needed that energy from Asa and Janet gave it to me. She made it happen.
From Bondy to Paris, I drove in the same car with these two humans: Asa and Janet. I had thought they were ghosts. They are just as human and humane as many people I’ve met. What is special about them is how they appreciate people and how they also do not judge people.
I got home, happy and kept staring at my phone, going through my pictures with Asa and Janet.
Am I really obsessed with celebrities? No. I just worked hard to make a dream of spending time with Asa come true. We are not all going to use Asa to climb the ladder of success.
But, Asa is reading a signed copy of Hip-Hop is Only for Children; what are you reading?
Onyeka Nwelue is a Visiting Lecturer of African Studies at The University of Hong Kong and Manipur University, India. He won a Prince Claus Ticket Grant in 2013. He lives in Puebla and Paris.
Hip-Hop is Only for Children is available at TerraKulture, Tiamiyu Savage, Victoria Island, Lagos and Salamander Cafe in Abuja.