interview with MICHAEL ASHANTI
1. So tell me about the evolution of Michael Ashanti. How did you get here? Wow! Nathan, you don’t waste any time do you?(LOL) How much time do you have? (LOL)
Well, I believe that the most important factors that have shaped me into the person and artist that you see now are spending the earliest parts of my life constantly traveling as an Army-brat, discovering my ancestral roots and really just having a thirst for seeking out ways to constantly nurture the mind and spirit. In one way or another, those things show up in my music.
I remember leaving New York right before my 7th birthday and moving around with my family every 1 to 3 years to different parts of the world. It’s really hard to keep long-term friendships like that but it did heighten my ability to adapt quickly to diverse environments and cultures. All of the traveling that I’ve done right up to this very moment helped me to appreciate different styles of music from around the world. And let me tell you, it also opened my eyes to how powerful the influence of R&B, jazz, and hip-hop is around the world. And all of this “we are the world” talk is in addition to the fact that my parents are originally from Jamaica. Another major part of my evolution was being able to trace my African heritage, like that of many Jamaicans, to the Ashanti tribe which still exists to this day in Ghana, West Africa. A few of my cousins that live in London have been keeping track of my family history by compiling a family tree. A year after that discovery, I dropped my middle and last name and legally changed my name to Michael Kunin Ashanti. I kept the first name Michael because it is a sacred name. After the name change, I went to Ghana to re-connect with my roots and seek out the Ashanti people. That was such an emotional event. Right there, I remember making a promise to myself and my ancestors, who have recently welcomed my Mother, to give meaning to their sufferings and sacrifices by using my Divine-given gifts in ways that would bring them pride.
Of course, there are many other things. But, right now, these things pretty much stand out in my mind as the inspiration behind working so hard and sacrificing so much to complete my CD debut All Of Me. The CD title is just a simple statement of what I’ve experienced and learned over time about living your dreams and the importance of knowing yourself.
2. When did the singing bug first hit you? Oh, that’s easy. It started in church when I was only 5 years old. That is so typical of many soul, blues, and gospel singers’ right? (LOL) But it’s true. The first time I performed a solo was in church. Someone in the church overheard me playing the piano by ear and quickly told my family. The rest, as they say, is history.
3. Where have you traveled with this melodic voice of yours? (Smile) Hey, thanks for the compliment. Well…let’s see…starting at home in NYC, I’ve been able to perform at the coolest spots like B.B. Kings, SOBs, and the Apollo Theater. I’ve also done quite a few gigs throughout Miami and the South Florida region. I’ve even performed quite a few times at the Mar-a-lago, which is Donald Trumps estate in Palm Beach, Florida. That was an eye-opening experience. I have also performed in London, Grand Caymans Islands, Toronto, and in San Juan, Puerto Rico where I also spend a great deal of time.
Even now….as I gear up to promote my new CD, I’m finishing out the summer by performing in St. Louis on July 21st, the 4th Annual White Party Moonlight Cruise in New York City on August 4th and I’ve got a really serious performance in Toronto, Canada on August 25th. I’m hoping to add a couple more August dates in New York since it is my home city.
What’s really cool right now is that I am getting airplay from a radio station over in Switzerland and I just received interest from a radio station in the Netherlands. This is really hot for me because I have my eyes set primarily on the international markets.
As an independent artist just starting out, I am so thankful that all of this has happened. But, Nathan, I have tell you that all of this is hard work. I’m reaching that point where I need to compile a team of honest and competent people to help me see my vision through. Right now, I’m searching for and also speaking with managers, consultants, talent booking agents and publicists. But, I am still leaving the field of communication open for others to contact me until I truly feel the chemistry is right.
4. Tell me 3 singers (past or present) that you would like to perform with? Ah man!! I get only three? Okay...let’s see….Stevie Wonder because, in my eyes, he defines musical genius. Need we say more?
Luther Vandross. I hate it that I never had the chance to perform with him because he is the single greatest influence on my desire to write songs and arrange melodic background vocals. But, I am glad I had the chance to meet him.
I know this makes four, but either Mariah Carey or Beyoncé Knowles. This is because, on a contemporary level, these two ladies are truly talented and I think our voices would blend really well on a duet.
But can we really talk about the possibility of a Whitney Houston comeback? My God…don’t you remember that voice on “I Have Nothing” or “All At Once”? Pure magic. Now, that is one leading lady that would be on my collaboration wish list. I pray for her to get better and return back to the scene really soon in a strong way.
Okay, that was 5. Sue me! (LOL). Rachelle Farelle, Prince. Now that’s 7. Get it? I can’t stop!! (LOL)
5. Thus far, what has been your most rewarding performance? Believe it or not…. performing the National Anthem at the Madison Square Garden a few years ago for a NBA game. I’ll never forget it. When I was working at a major label, I was called upon to sing in place of the labels former artist who was not able to make the flight to New York on time. So, I was called upon at the last moment to do the National Anthem. Talk about a really cool situation! Right?! It was confirmation for me that I was on the right track. But it was also a strong sign that I needed to stop hiding in the shadows as some corporate administrator and make a greater commitment to the completion of my own CD project.
6. Are you currently in a relationship? If so, how has that affected your singing career? If not, would you like to be in a relationship and what would that need to look like for you? Nah, I’m single. Between my focus on the CD over the past few years and recently losing my mother, my emotions were elsewhere. But, now, a loving relationship would be nice. The most important thing for me is that a person views themselves as a whole individual rather than as half of a whole. In general, I think people are screwed up by “the fantasy” versus seeking after those things that really help build a strong relationship. Yes, I do believe mutual, physical attraction is very important. But if having a pretty face and a beautiful body are attributes that are not matched with a personal relationship with the Creator, honesty, kindness, purity of spirit, a sound mind, and the abilities to listen and communicate, then it holds no weight with me. I have learned to move slowly, so it would be nice to find someone who enjoys the art of romance and just taking time to really get to know each other. It would also be nice to find someone who can be comfortable with silence or just giving each other space when needed. I am a person with flaws like anyone else. So it is important that Michael the person is what is really appreciated as opposed to just the recording artist. And, of course, they should enjoy traveling just as much as I do. And, liking “outdoorsy” things like hiking, mountain repelling, rollerblading, going to the beach, parasailing or cross country driving wouldn’t hurt either (LOL).
7. What inspired your current single? “With You I’m Born Again/Contigo Yo Naci” has a few inspirations. The first inspiration is the song itself. It is a well written song and it was made a hit back in 1980 by Billy Preston and Syreeta. I was way too young to appreciate it back then. But when the song kept popping into my head several months ago, I knew that if I decided to do a cover on the CD that it had be this song.
But what’s really interesting is that I kept hearing this whole new version with a dancehall beat fused with a reggaeton vibe. That’s when the “Contigo Yo Naci” part of the song was born. I spend a lot of time in Puerto Rico so I thought it would be cool to display the relationship between musical forms throughout the Caribbean. While in production, I decided to add flamenco guitar and castanets because Spain is one of my favorite countries in the world. We then laced the track with a rap segment from a wonderful Latina artist who goes by the stage name of SooSo. She is originally from Ecuador but bred right in the NYC area. And, of course, we’ve got soulful vocals all over the place.
I’m very excited about the emerging attention that this track is receiving because it covers different radio and DJ formats such as dancehall, reggaeton, latin, urban, R&B-crossover, and pop. I’m speaking with a very talented video director right now about doing a video on location in New York and Puerto Rico. Hey! You wanna be one of the video dancers? (LOL).
I have to say that I’m most proud of this first track release because (1) it represents the fusion of culture that has become a part of who I am over the years and (2) with the recent passing of Billy Preston, I am hoping that it serves as a worthy tribute in remembrance of what he contributed to the world through music.