As the five-piece backing band strikes up the first few notes of Ashani’s new single “Unbreakable”, the singer decides to do a bit of improv, sharing the inspiration behind the R&B-influenced reggae tune that bears the title of his freshly debuted EP. He owns the moment, and by the time he wraps the vocal performance with his pair of competent backup singers, the crowd is clamouring for more and an encore soon follows.
To those who know Ashani best, this confident, take-charge singer-songwriter we see basking in the spotlight, on the occasion of his first EP launch at the Redbones Blues Café, is a far cry from the timid boy raised by his grandparents in Newport, Manchester and brought up in the church, while attending Cross Keys High. “He was very, very shy, even to talk to somebody he was afraid,” remembers his mom Anita Smith, who joined the hundred-strong, standing-room only audience at the launch on Thursday night. “He’s still a shy person, but not like when he was younger.”
Born Renaldo Asheen Miller, Ashani credits his humble beginnings, his grandfolks in particular, for instilling in him an abiding appreciation for life’s simple pleasures and the age-old importance of choosing humility. For the record, Ashani believes there’s hardly anything more glorious than a weekend away in the country, especially rural Manchester, which will always be home, sweet home. “It’s very quiet there. I love the coolness of the country,” he tells TALLAWAH. “It’s the best place to really catch up on life and just relax and take it easy.”
But Ashani is a city man now, and has been ever since he took up a scholarship courtesy of Red Stripe, to pursue four months of studies in vocals and music at the Edna Manley College’s School of Music. Fast-forward a couple of years and he’s linked up with The Solid Agency’s Sharon Burke, who currently manages him, and the team at Big 12 Records, who helped him craft and co-produce the songs that comprise the six-track EP.
Unbreakable is a labour-of-love project he describes as a first sampling of the artistic journey he’s making. “I want to do songs that have crossover potential. Songs that will really get people’s attention,” says the 23-year-old, who fuses reggae, soul and R&B, and has recorded his own sprightly version of “One and Only Girl” by John Legend, of whom he’s a big fan. The track also appears on the EP.
When asked to reflect on what he’s bringing to the music scene as his star begins to ascend, Ashani pauses to gather his thoughts. What he knows for sure is that the last thing he wants is to come off as a one-dimensional artiste.
“I feel that my greatest challenge is doing the kind of music that more than one group of listeners will like and not just the people who know me and support me, but people everywhere who hear the music,” he admits. “I want to write and sing about different topics, not just about finding love and losing it. I want to give my fans an experience.”
> ASHANI’S TOP FIVE: Getting to know the rising star
Book he recommends: I enjoy reading books like The Secret that teach you about the laws of attraction.
Favourite reggae musicians: I like Tessanne Chin and Tarrus Riley. I want to emulate his career.
His taste in movies: From I was a boy I’ve liked action movies, so I’m a fan of Transformers and Fast and Furious.
Mentor of the Moment: Shaggy. I’m around him a lot and he’s been helping me.
Definition of success: Being in that place where I’m at peace with myself; I can see where I’ve reached on my journey and what I need to do next.