Having spent the last four years traveling between his home in the United States and South Africa, American hip-hop artist, educator and youth activist Asheru shares his music with the people of this beautiful country, and his experience as a son of the Motherland, “just living in another part of the world”.
CHEKA Digital: It’s no secret that you have an attachment of sort to South Africa – there was No Edge Ups in South Africa back in ’03 and your most recent LP, Sleepless in Soweto. What about this country culminated with hip-hop has left an imprint with you?
Asheru: No Edge Ups was a mixtape that my former label, Seven Heads Entertainment released, and was a sort of foreshadowing of what I’m doing now, but at the time it was just a title that my boy made up from his trip to SA… Sleepless in Soweto is inspired by the people, food, music, places, culture and friendships that I have experienced here in SA over the past 4 years of my traveling back and forth between here and my home in the States. This is why I dedicated the album to Mzansi. I am one of your sons, just living in another part of the world…
CHEKA Digital: You have spent your latter years as a teacher of life; both in and out of the classroom. What similarities did you encounter between the creative process of your music-making and teaching?
Asheru: Teaching and working with youth is all about engaging your audience, similar to a performer. You have to know how to read the room, work the crowd, and make adjustments or modifications as needed. Teaching is like performing: It’s about call and response, checking in, and entertaining. Both fields are my passion, I’ve been a hip hop educator for 17 years, and one constantly feeds the other.
CHEKA Digital: What has almost two decades in the industry taught you 1.) about yourself and 2.) the industry.
Asheru: It has taught me that I am creatively on the right path, although I may be on the road less traveled as an independent (underground) artist. It has taught me that the industry as we know it has an agenda that may not always be in tune with my own – but there is always an audience who wants to hear what I have to say.
CHEKA Digital: You have pioneered the Hip Hop Education movement through your organization, Guerilla Arts Ink, and the Hip Hop Educational Literacy Program (H.E.L.P.). Do you have plans to work with South Africans through your organization and possibly introduce the H.E.L.P. program over here?
Asheru: Absolutely. I have twelve titles of the book that feature artists such as Rakim, Common, Mos Def, Lauryn Hill and others, and I have even made on the song “Keledimo” by HHP Feat. Nas. I would love to work with schools and youth organizations in South Africa to make that happen very soon.
CHEKA Digital: Having listened to South African hip-hop, how would you describe the sound as opposed to what’s being produced in the U.S. right now?
Asheru: The percussion and the rhythms are a little different, with music such as House and Kwaito, the dances, and the language/slang being used. Hip-hop in SA also reflects what the people are doing, and I love listening to different and new artists that I have been exposed to in my travels around the country.
CHEKA Digital: Are there any South African musicians you’re keen to work with?
Asheru: I’ve worked with HHP, KG of Morafe, TeePee, Pro’Verb, A singer named Lungi Naidoo, Tumi, Thasman (who produced “So Amazing” on the new album). I have been building with other artists about making music like Teargas, Spikiri, DJ Kenzhero, and some others. There’s a pretty long list, I’m sure we will do it in time.
CHEKA Digital: Sleepless in Soweto is said to be something special. What was your inspiration behind this project?
Asheru: I have visited SA 8 times in the last 4 years, and with every visit, I was able to meet artists, record, perform, and engage with the SA hip-hop audiences in a unique and real way. Songs like “Gauteng”, “Simphiwe’s Theme”, “Life After the Show” and “Do You”started as conversations or running themes throughout my visits to SA, which I consider my second home now. “No Matter Where You Go” deals with being a Black Man in America and my relationship to the continent of Africa and the Diaspora as whole…“So Amazing” is my journey into house music and is the only track produced by a South African producer, and most of the rest of the album was produced Omar Hunter El who also made many of the trips with me and is instrumental to producing a lot of the songs on Motswafrika album by HHP as well. So being immersed in SA culture and creating like this is what inspired the album. It is my love letter to the whole of South Africa.
CHEKA Digital: How are you hoping to impact the SA hip hop industry and fans with this project?
Asheru: I’m hoping that the SA industry gets on board and supports my efforts to build this bridge and bring our communities together through music. I want to make meaningful, dope music for this audience while at the same time sharing my experience with US audiences and having them respect my creative decisions to expand my art and my worldview. I want to be a Hip-Hop cultural ambassador between the US and South Africa through a concept that HHP, myself and other artists have created– to build a platform for full cultural exchange that we call the Underground Railroad. Look out for it.
CHEKA Digital: You’re widely known for performing the opening theme for the popular TV series, The Boondocks. Tell me one thing that no one really knows about you
Asheru: I did the theme song, as well as a few songs for the Season 1 of the show. I am featured and can be heard on other episodes like “Guess Hoes Coming To Dinner” (with A Pimp Named Slickback), “The Itis”, and the now infamous, award winning “Return of the King” episode on MLK. Those that don’t know me outside of the Boondocks need to know that I have an extensive discography, and have released 3 EPs and 3 albums between my group the Unspoken Heard and solo. Check out my bandcamp page at www.bandcamp.com/Asheru and catch up!
CHEKA Digital: Halfway into the year, what can we look forward to for the rest of 2014.
Asheru: The feedback I’ve been getting on the album so far has been incredible! I’ll be back to officially launch the album here with a special SA release with remixes featuring more SA artists and producers. I will be back sooner than you think.
Compiled And Written By: Myrna Burgess (@MsTaboo)