BLUE CRUSH: "As an artiste, I take my image really seriously."
On a postcard-perfect Tuesday afternoon, Ishawna Smith saunters into the Kingston-based Downsound Records looking like a million bucks in a form-fitting blue dress, jet-black long hair, and a pair of six-inch heels that promptly elevate her to a statuesque 5-feet-11. There is so much to talk about, and we waste little time in getting down to business in charting her gradual and continuing rise in the ranks of contemporary female reggae-dancehall stars. "Right now I just feel very blessed," she admits as we take our seats on a plush black sofa. "Last year, was a really great year for me. And since 2013 started, it's just been getting better and better."
Indeed. On the merit of two compelling new singles -- the chart-topping hit "Do For Love" (with Specialist) and the new heatseeker "Murderer", produced by Skatta Burrell -- Ishawna has seen her profile boosted from relative obscurity to emerging dancehall it girl, thanks to her lovely singing voice and an attention-grabbing image that mixes the sultry and the spicy. "The feedback has been amazing," she tells me of the singles. "I can't complain."
Ishawna wrote her very first song at age six (a ditty about the colours of the rainbow) while growing up in Seaview Gardens. And by the time she graduated from Meadowbrook High a decade later, music was an inescapable element of her life. Now at 25, this proud mother of one, doesn't mind taking a little trip down memory lane. "I knew what I wanted to do from a very early age. So I couldn't wait to finish school to do what I needed to do," says the singer, who has already recorded collabos with the likes of Demarco, Busy Signal, Elephant Man, and Voicemail since breaking into the biz in 2007.
"Singing has always been a part of my life, because I grew up in a household that was a part of music. My dad Don Angelo is a singer, who used to work with King Jammy's Sound and my uncle Paul Elliott is also very involved with music. So, for me, it was just a natural thing to get involved in the music industry, as well."
Today, sitting pretty across from me, Ishawna is radiating fervour and intelligence and is intent on doing her part in pushing the Downsound name to greater heights. "It's a family here at Downsound. I've been in the industry for a few years now, and I don't think any other company is like this. It's a blessing," she explains. "There's a studio here, we do rehearsals, there are talented producers. Everybody is here cheering on everybody and giving great advice."
Ishawna starts blushing when I congratulate her on her recent engagement to well-known sound-system maverick Foota Hype. "I'm feeling really, really great. Feeling butterflies and all that," she gushes, while flaunting the gorgeous diamond-and-gold rock adorning that special finger. "My mommy is planning the wedding, it's going to be my fairy-tale wedding, so a lot of planning has to go into it. There are people from overseas that will be coming over because most of my family are [in the States]. And everybody is excited. My mom is very excited, and it's just another chapter in my life that I'm excited about."
As you can clearly tell, family is paramount to Ishawna, who's been with her fiance for the last eight years. "He has very good taste, and he knows me very well," she says. Their union produced six-year-old O'Neil Thomas Jr. ("He's just a great and loving child.") For the record, she is not pregnant at the moment, contrary to the word on the street.
Ishawna buzzes with passionate enthusiasm whether she's talking about her new music, exciting future plans, or the process of maintaining her uberglamorous look. "Lots of gym and eating right," she quips, laughing. "Of course, I take my image really seriously. I think that as an artiste I have to represent myself as such. And I love fashion, naturally."
Looking ahead to what's next and the endless possibilities that await her, Ishawna observes, "Everything is just falling into place. You've been working and now you're reaping. And in my personal life, I'm reaping as well. So right now I'm just enjoying life and continuing to do the work." She also has a quick cautionary reminder for her colleagues. "In the industry, we just need to come together because our culture is big and we are so blessed, and we don't realize it," she notes. "We need to embrace that. Everybody will not be the best of friends but unity is strength."