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In Conversation: Derrick Ashong (Part 2)

On Monday, I posted the first of my two-part series with Derrick Abaka Ashong, a social entrepreneur, artist, radio host and leader, who is passionate about empowering others to become leaders.  In today’s interview, Ashong, also known as DNA, tells us about his music and the online video which went viral, after he was recorded responding to questions on  the ‘then Senator Obama,’ from a journalist in an engaging manner, went viral. The New York Times  would later described him as the ‘YouTube Phenomenon.’ In his won words, Derrick Abaka Ashong.

DNABelinda: You do different things, radio host, music, motivational speaker…how do you balance these different aspects of your life?

DNA: I have a lot of amazing people helping me and I try to stay disciplined, I don’t hand out that much. I do things that I love and I am able to commit a lot of time and energy to them and I have a lot of great support.

Belinda: Let’s talk about your music how would you describe the type of music that you make with your band?

DNA: I call it Afrodiasporic, Groovalicious funkadociousness music. Basically we create Afropolitan music and when people ask, what is the song is like? I say, it’s like Bob Marley jamming with the Fugees on a street corner in West Africa. When we debuted our record earlier this year in the US, it was in the top 10 Jambands nationwide. Our music is well received and we are really blessed for that. It is a bridge between the Diaspora – it is hip-hop, reggae, high-life and it’s played live, and it has a bit of a rock attitude to it and it’s a lot of fun.

Belinda: What inspires your music and what inspires you about life?

DNA: My experiences, living and travelling, it is just seeing what’s in the world. I try to interpret things through the lens of my music, so that other people can see it. For example, I wrote a song, What would you give to be free? And that idea of what would you give to be free; this is based on things that I do and work on all the time. It’s just a way of interpreting it that enables other people to engage with it

Belinda: Is the message to teach people to be free, be who they are and achieve what they want regardless of where they are in the world?

DNA: In a way, there are many messages in the music that are really and usually not very obvious. They are metaphorical, for example, we have a song called, fight for all the people. I wrote a song called fight for all the people who fight on in a world that does not see them.  The idea is really to inspire people and to talk about our experiences and we don’t really sing about stuff that we don’t believe in. So, when we speak or perform, there is honesty to it, no matter what the topic is, whether it is a love song or it’s talking about an issue. We want to inspire other people to just see and be in the world, and be their very best in whatever aspect.

Belinda: The YouTube video, (before Obama’s election) were you surprised by the response you got?

DNA: I was shocked. This guy is asking me questions, I answered it and then I was at event in Costa Rica, came back and I had been interviewed by the New York times while away and I came home…in New York, a guy looks at me and says, are you Derrick Ashong, I was like yeah. I leave town for two weeks and it’s like wow!  I got positive feedback and I have met a lot of really cool people through that. And I was t was happy that I could kind of be a voice for my generation in that aspect when people were thinking that we were voting for Obama because he is just a pretty shell and he  has got a good word but no substance. But it was about saying, hang on, we know what we are talking about and we are not going to be patronised. We are going to affect this election and we did.

Belinda: What’s  your take on the different kind of women we have in society today, from the educated to leaders to entrepreneurs and what is it that gets your attention about the different type of women that you come across?

DNA: I think that it is amazing, funny that you ask this because I just had a meeting with a group of extremely influential and powerful women, who are doing some incredible work and I feel like we are in a position in society where women are able to have a better access to education and more professional opportunities as well. I think we still have more work to do with equal pay and work, and in Africa, giving more women access to education and it’s not just in Africa. I think about it a lot when I go home. But I do believe that in my life, in my experience, I have met a lot of very, very, brilliant and talented women who are doing impressive things and I hope that more young girls can see that and not feel that they need to have the approbation of a man in order to feel good about themselves and they don’t need to be in conflict with a man in order to fully express their womanhood. We can all be the best we can and work together. My mum is and was a very, very influential person in my life and I love her very much. She is always such a strong figure but also gentle, and one of the challenges I see with a lot of my female friends now is that they are trying to compete with guys that they neglect some of their personal interest and I know friends who want to have children and have amazing careers and they are in their mid 40s and are not able to have kids anymore. I think that we need to cultivate a society where it’s okay to be a professional and its okay to have a family and that is the same for men and women. Of course, there will be differences because of our physiological differences but I do think women should not be forced to choose between a career and a family, and I tend to spend a lot of time with women who are ambitious and very educated but who also are in touch with their femininity as well as with their potential for impacting society.

Image: B Quinto

Watch out for some reviews of the Afrodiasporic, Groovalicious  funkadociousness music made by DNA and his band Soulfège.


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