The Shuffle: Asa’s “Bibanke” represents an era of romantic Nigerian music at it’s best

off her self-titled debut

Ask anyone who’s recently stumbled on a playlist from the 90’s or noughties, and they’re likely of the opinion that our generation’s musicians are just not speaking of love in the same way. Whether or not you think the music stars of R&B had no business dancing fully clothed under the rain, the truth remains that no one’s desperately begging for the others’ affection like they used to.  

In fact, we’ve grown accustomed to exactly the opposite. We have CKay who after shedding the scales of “Love Nwantiti” and all its accompanying remixes, proudly wore the armour of toxicity on “you cheated, i cheated too” and “WATAWI” for his debut LP, ‘Sad Romance.’ For the latter, a monster hit and admittedly catchy tune in its own right, enlists top crooners to reiterate his non-committal approach to relationships. The track’s intoxicating Amapiano-infused melodies almost distract from its message where the trio of CKay, Focalistic and Davido repeatedly tease a woman for asking the forbidden question, ‘what are we?’ CKay’s buttery chords set the pace for the track where he sings, “She wants to have my kids but I don’t want to have kids.” “She tell me watawi, she tell me watawi/I tell her we are what we are, I tell her baby, no reason am too fast,” he adds. And that’s fair enough: no one wants to be rushed into a relationship they aren’t ready for. 

On the extreme end, we have Ruger’s “Girlfriend,” garnering millions of streams and undoubtedly one of the artist’s biggest songs yet. For a song with such a title, you’d at least expect a declaration of love here and there but Ruger takes the Kukbeats-produced, drum-led instrumentals to do just the opposite. He starts off strong as he admits to his love interest, “Can’t seem to take my eyes off you,” but before we can fully bask in the journey we’re about to embark on, Ruger aptly changes course “Oh, lord. I want all the girls in the whole world/I know what I’m doing is so wrong.” While the situation is now far from ideal, we atleast have an acknowledgement of wrongdoing with possibly even guilt. That doesn’t last long though because Ruger follows up saying, “Since no man can focus, we definitely don’t give a fuck.” With all that behind, the most comical part and evidently the inspiration for the track’s title is revealed on the tuneful hook, “She know me got a girlfriend and so what?/What if I do?”

And these aren’t the only examples of the relationship and allegedly romance themed catalogue Nigerian musicians are putting out. To a great extent, they aren’t solely to blame. The new era of teenagers and young adults have adopted a largely nonchalant attitude to love, with terms like situationship or talking stage ruling the decisions on how we share affection. That isn’t to say that cheating or external lovers aren’t an age old phenomenon, Brick and Lace were right to soundtrack the early 2000s with “Love is Wicked,” but at least people were less keen on finding a thousand loopholes to justify their issues with commitment. Many believe that in order to move forward and grow, some reflection and digging into the past is necessary. That’s where we have songs like “Tungba,” off Boj and Ajebutter22’s joint debut, ‘Make E No Cause Fight’ or Davido’s classic “Aye,” the love song of this decade and likely decades to come. Of this sparse but rich collection, we have standout acts like Asa’s “Bibanke,” taking home gold as arguably one of the best love songs from Nigeria’s vast discography. 

Asa’s lush chords and slow guitar strums set the tone for dreamy violin notes to take over and warm up for the vocal’s arrival, a seamless blend delivered in Yoruba and English. She is heartbroken and this is instantly clear from the weighty tone the intro lines hold, “I wake up, I see you as you leave/I feel it, I see it as you leave.” The mood is further established shortly after with the all too familiar pre-hook “Bim ba n ke, bomi ban shan, fi mi si le, Bim ba n ke, bo’jo ba n ro, fi mi si le,”  which loosely translates to “if i’m in tears in the rain, leave me alone.” It instantly feels like an elegy is imminent, as she recaps the lover she used to know and the natural death their love has now undergone. Asa’s take is raw as she pedals back and forth between questioning the things she once believed and just how much she regrettably invested into the relationship. 

As many do while basking in the ruins of a former relationship, Asa reminisces on ecstatic feelings shared with a new found love, and how looking back, it might’ve been too good to be true, “He used to be my everything, treated me like I was a queen/What spell did you cast on me?, Or is it the make believe?”  She blames herself for believing the words, “Oh God, I was a fool” and she reprimands herself for sticking beside him, despite having an inkling that things could go south. The bridge’s arrival showcases an undeniably distraught Asa, who’s vocals peak octaves higher as she cries “Bi ba n ke o ko kun basia fi mi sile, Bim ba n ke o, ko kun ba si a, ko kun ba si a” which explains that even if her tears are enough to fill a basin, she wants to be left alone. 

She eventually resigns her faith to God with a deflated spirit characterised by solemn vocals and distant keys, “K’o so, k’o so wa” – “May He guard us,” but not before taking time to repeatedly express her desire, “Iwo, Iwo ni ko shosho”“It’s you and only you.” Granted, this love story is not a happy one but “Bibanke” undoubtedly encapsulates the familiar feeling of a love, shared or lost, and the uncertainty of what the future could hold. As the track’s keys fade away, the most refreshing aspect of Asa’s song is how honest and non-performative it felt. Over a decade down the line and Asa isn’t letting up from expanding her love-themed catalogue, housing potential classics in each new release. 

Listen to “Bibanke” here.

[Featured Image Credits/The NATIVE]