This musician is no stranger to controversy; from his first single “Give me blow” through to his latest album, titled “Solid Ground”, his music career has been dogged by controversies.
Maybe, he would never cease giving blows to lovers and critics in the showbiz industry, as everything he says, sings about or does publicly is “news”.
In 2009, though his first single was scrapped out of the Ghana Music Award for being too “sexually explicit”, it was one of the most popular songs among the youth. I understand that some nursery schools added it to their rhymes as most kids in school could sing along easier than most of their popular nursery rhymes.
Born Nana Wiafe Asante-Mensah, ASEM entered the music scene at a time when most people felt the industry needed something fresh and dynamic. Most of his songs were hits even long before they were officially released.
While others see “issues” or controversies as stumbling block, the trained journalist turned rapper says he is still practicing journalism as he writes different lyrics almost every time. “I’m still disseminating news with my music; I am a journalist every time.”
He adds, “sometimes as an artiste, your name fades out if nothing is heard about you; though most people raise certain issues to tarnish your image, it turns out to benefit you depending on how you carry yourself and handle those issues.”
Leaving his “first love” Lynx Entertainment and its accompanying “Glo-money tussle” was another issue every showbiz enthusiast followed with keen interest.
Wondering how an individual can be involved in so many issues at a point in time and still keep his head high in what he loves doing best, Times Weekend (TW) tracked down the 2010 winner of the World Bank-supported Music for Development Award and below is the full text of the interview.
TW: Welcome to our office, hope there is no “asem” as in trouble this afternoon.
Asem: (Smiles) Thank you. Asem actually does not mean trouble as most people think. It simply means message, so I guess there is no trouble.
TW: I hear you. How was last year?
Asem: Last year was good. Last year, I worked on getting exposure outside while recording my current album. I was in Nigeria and South Africa promoting my music. We wanted to promote the songs which were popular in Ghana but not popular outside, and the response was good.
TW: Was it good for you down here, I mean in Ghana?
Asem: I was recording my album so I was a little silent. Most of the time, I was out of the country and when I was around, I was in the studio recording my album.
TW: There were a number of shows in town last year; did you play any of them?
Asem: ..erm…not really, but I remember there was a show out of Accra in Tamale in which I had to perform but it was cancelled, so I didn’t. Most of the shows were supported by telecommunication companies and I am signed to Globacom, so there was no way I could perform on such shows.
TW: But not all the shows were organized by telecommunication companies?
Asem: ( interrupts).. Yes, some of the monies they were offering the artistes to perform on shows didn’t go down well with me. I wouldn’t go on any stage just for any amount.
TW: I know the ones supported by other telecommunication companies were well paid, did Glo slow you down?
Asem: No, not at all…I believe as an artiste, there are some decisions you must take in order to be successful and most of these decisions have their merit and demerits; all you have to do is weigh the two, if the merits are more than the demerits, then you know what to do. Glo hasn’t slowed me down in any way.
TW: Are you happy with Glo?
Asem: Yes, I am! Glo is a multi-million telecommunications giant and it’s good to be associated with them.
TW: From the way you are talking, it seems you got a lot of money from them?
Asem: I got paid.
TW: Then you are rich.
Asem: Yes…I would say… I am blessed. Riches for me is for men, and blessings are for children of God.
TW: How blessed are you?
TW: You are signed to ‘Wobedantem Records’ now, is that your personal recording label?
Asem: No, it’s not my personal label; I am a partner to the company, or should I say a shareholder. We chose that name because it was something the public knew already, and we didn’t have to create a new name; we only used that as a company name. There is a CEO who runs the company, I am just a partner.
TW: Are there other artistes signed to the record label?
Asem: As of now, what we are doing is building a strong brand for the company not just locally, but out of Ghana as well; so now it’s just me. After that we will look for new talents and start recording them, but for now it’s just me.
TW: Apart from recording and producing artistes is there any other thing ‘Wobedantem’ looks forward to doing?
Asem: It’s not just a music production and distribution outlet; it’s also a music and artistes management company; we are looking forward to managing different people, not just musicians.
TW: So are you scouting for new talents now?
Asem: There are a couple of guys, but they are not formally signed to the company yet. My management is working on them, so with time they will be signed on officially and they will be outdoored. Hopefully, by the end of the year others will be signed to the label.
TW: Ok…Let’s get back to your career. Two weeks ago you were seen on Afia Schwarzenegger TV Series, are you an actor now?
Asem: No, am not. Delay is a good friend of mine and she’s been very supportive of my career. Last year, she invited me to play a role on her programme but I couldn’t make it. So this year, I decided to do it; it’s just a cameo role that I played; I just played myself.
TW: How is your current album doing?
Asem: Just like the title, its solid. A lot of music lovers have listened to the album; the idea was to make the music heard before making the CDs available. In all, its doing good now. Usually musicians say people don’t buy CDs, but I have defied that; the album is selling both online and in stores and patronage is high. Some of the songs are receiving good airplay and people are loving it, so in all is good.
TW: Why the title, “Solid Ground”?
Asem: Its self-explanatory. What it basically means is that I am solid now; I’m on a good foundation. For a every building, the foundation is the most important part and I believe I am on the right track.
TW: Why do you have to tell us you are solid? We all know Asem, is there a reason to emphasize that you are solid?
Asem: I am not talking about myself; I am talking about the album as a strong one. Even about me, in as much as my fans and the people know that I am solid, at every point in time I have to be able to remind them of that.
TW: Is that a public relations tool?
Asem: No, it’s not something I planned of, or a special communication tool; for instance, when I was recording my first album, I didn’t choose a title, but upon completion I got a title for it. For this album, I started recording it two years ago through out the period, there have been many trials and tribulations, and I felt a certain way. After recording it, I got this new feeling too, and I realized that though I went through a lot during the recording, I am still on solid grounds.
TW: I hear the album title is to inform your former label that with or without them you are OK.
Asem: No! why does this Lynx issue pop up everything? I know most people still don’t understand why I left Lynx. My departure from Lynx was not influenced by anything bad as people still believe happened. It was just a career direction, at a point in time, I felt Lynx was being a comfort zone for me as an artiste, and so I needed to move on to a different challenge. Together with Lynx, we made it there, but I needed to move onto a different level, and I felt too comfortable with Lynx.
TW: Is it that you felt you had gotten to a stage where Lynx was too small for you?
Asem: No, I always see myself as a new artiste, so I am still learning; leaving Lynx was not about how big I felt, it was just about moving to new challenges.
TW: Have you succeeded in this your new field?
Asem: Yes, I am on solid grounds.
TW: What’s the relationship between you and Richie?
Asem: The last time we met was somewhere last year; I think it was a documentary or something. We don’t talk on phone as we used to, because he is handling his business and I am also doing same. I am sure at the right time we will hook up and talk, but for now we are all busy.
TW: Are you sure there is no problem between you two? If you are still friends, at least you should have time for talking and even hanging out?
Asem: One thing most people don’t know is that Richie and I were more of work friends than normal friends; anytime we were together we were discussing work; aside work we were not seen in town. Those who knew us personally know we had different kinds of friends and it was work that kept us close most of the time. So now that there is no work to do together, we are not seen together.
TW: You left Lynx a few weeks after the rape allegations; is that allegation part of the reasons you left?
Asem: It was just a coincidence; when the allegations came I was already discussing leaving Lynx. We were in talks already, even at that time I was under a different management; we were still doing paper work and preparing on saying it publicly; so the allegations just coincided with it.
TW: Did the allegations affect your career?
Asem: No. Rather it taught me a lot, it was a stumbling block, but it also helped draw people closer to me, especially my fans.
TW: How about family?
Asem: As usual, you will have a lot of people calling to ask how true it was and all that, but there are people who know me personally, and so most people defended me even when I was not around.
TW: How true was that allegation?
Asem: I would prefer we don’t talk about it, because it’s dead and gone; and moreover it’s an issue I will like to pursue in court in the near future, so whatever I say can affect it. The only thing I would say is, it was an attempt to defame my character, and by God’s grace it didn’t work out.
TW: How did you feel in those times?
Asem: Well, I entered the industry prepared for both good and bad; a lot will happen but it’s up to you to handle it well. Also, if you are an artiste and you are not talked about, you become non-existent, so it’s all good.
TW: Two years ago, you won the World Bank Award for Music with a Purpose at the Ghana music Awards, how was it?
Asem: It was a good feeling; when you decide to do something for society and you are rewarded unexpectedly, it’s good. I remember that at that time the award was not very popular and so most of us were not even thinking about it.
TW: Are you sure you didn’t do that song with that award in mind? The money was big.
Asem: Never! When I started “School dey be”, it was just something I wanted to do for my fans at the junior and senior high school levels because I realized they helped in making me who I am. They loved my songs and supported me, so I just wanted to do something for them, and fortunately I was noticed and rewarded.
TW: After the award what did you do?
Asem: The “School dey be” project is a life-time project which I am still working on. Currently, I am working with other organizations. Last year for instance, I worked with the Goethe Institute on the Accra Read campaign; under this, we picked books which were written by young people and encouraged school children to read. Now, we are working with the Ghana Library Board to help us register 1,000 children freely to read. But as you know, most of our media ride on negative news. We don’t publicize most of these things because we are not focused on getting publicity or letting people know what we are doing; all we want is to impact the society.
TW: We are in an era where almost everyone in showbiz has a project or foundation that does one thing or the other. Usually after a year or two, nothing is heard of this again….
Asem: (interrupts)…most of these foundations and projects don’t succeed because most people just want popularity. But I believe it’s a personal thing; something you are doing on your own to help the society and not for the media. If the media thinks it’s something good and so they should publicize it, fine; if not, I am not bothered.
TW: In order words, yours will last forever?
Asem: Yes. Just as I said earlier, it’s not an obligation; it’s something I am doing out of love and it’s a life-long project.
TW: Ok…..let’s move away to some personal stuff; there is this perception that our celebrity males always have ladies clinging on to them. What has been your experience with female fans?
Asem: Well, every man who is successful at what he does has ladies around him. Clearly, women like fame, though not all of them; but personally I don’t pay too much attention to the women because we are in a society where different meanings are read into what you do.
TW: How do you treat your female fans?
Asem: I treat them just as I treat my male fans; I respect them a lot. For instance, if I receive a message on twitter, I don’t care if it’s a male or female, I reply. I do songs for everybody; children, males, females and everybody. I don’t discriminate.
TW: I hear you are ‘too known’?
Asem: No. I am not. I am just a principled person. I am difficult when it comes to doing things right at the right time; I believe in doing the right thing always. Aside of that, I am ok.
TW: Finally, before you go, your last words to your fans.
Asem: My new album is out and it’s in stores; soon we will launch it and they will see me perform as it’s been a long time since they saw me on stage. They can listen to bits of the song on www.asemmusic.com and buy it online too.
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