If you’re a regular visitor to the Jhohadli blog, you may be aware of two things. I am a music lover and I once fell down a musical hole of Joss Stone love. In particular, in my post Joss in Africa. I celebrated her collaborative spirit, her generosity of spirit by sharing her sizeable platform with regional artists, her spirit of engaging with and sharing the music – and by extension the culture – of every stop on her tour. Well, it’s Antigua and Barbuda’s turn. Here you go.
The vocalist now sharing in Joss’ spotlight (and Joss in hers) is Asher Otto, an artist I first fanned out about when I discovered her collaboration with local rapping favourite Logic.
This track, All 4 Love, found its way on to the playlist of Zahara, the main character from my book Musical Youth. I loved that it was Antiguan-Barbudan to the bone and yet with a broad appeal, that it was about those heart things like dreaming and creating and the sufferation and triumph that accompany the journey. Logic was, as ever, “a truthteller/visine for your eyeballs” and Asher was giving me Lauryn Hill vibes with her look, vocals, and conviction as she affirmed “I do it all for the love”. I’ve been rooting for her ever since. And the both of them, in that video, doing their thing were Nas and Lauryn ‘If I ruled the World’ goals – aspirational with their feet firmly planted in Antigua from the skit at the outset with the mother in the local vernacular to the skit playing out throughout with the character Asher going to the standpipe for water; the visuals very specific, the lyrics and music straddling that line of here and there. I suppose I also loved it because in the land of soca and reggae, producers of soul and hip hop, rock, or anything outside of the Caribbean mainstream are forever fighting for a space. To be accepted as loooocal, and for their global potential not to be denied.
It was perhaps with an eye on the global, the crossover, that Asher, lead vocalist for Itchyfeet, did several covers of Western pop hits rather than going the Carnival route as most local popular artistes do – even when their vocal stylings suggest jazz, rnb, gospel, or something less Caribbean mainstream.
I didn’t pay much attention to Asher’s covers but, she was very much on my radar, and I peeped the scope of her ambition with the debut single from her first album; a debut that proved that she was more than just a stellar impressionist but an original in her own right. The artist has said that she wants her music to be different and that she wants to make people happy. Come for Me, the debut track and video, hit those notes.
Well, perhaps not so much happy as yearning though it made me happy to see the dreamlike quality of the visuals – dancers, masqueraders, hordes of travelers, a classroom (childhood), production values high, taking over the airport (aiming for different with a capital D). The haunting lyrics though suggested someone who felt confined by circumstances, someone restless and eager to take flight.
“Everytime I see a plane passing by/I just got to hold my head up to the sky/And everytime I see a plane, I say come for me/are you going my way…/I feel so strange in this place”
Though the video’s last pull back strategically positions the Yorks native under the sign ‘Homegrown’, a reminder that ah yah she come from.
It was in a sense like watching the tug of war that we as artists, hungry for success, can feel between place and dreams.
Her track Home, which has more of a Caribbean feel and an accompanying video, likely a product of being on the road and missing home, underscores her island cred even as her music and more suggest worldwide ambitions.
Here’s hoping the Joss Stone collaboration brings her the international exposure she deserves and clearly yearns for as she continues to experiment and fine-tune her musical identity.
Joss isn’t as pop as, say, Grande and Gaga but she is a known quantity on the music scene – and given her bluesy soulrock vibe her comfort playing in different musical playgrounds, especially African and African diasporic playgrounds, not taking from but amplifying voices from those spaces, is not a big surprise. It is a welcome reminder though of the magic that can be sparked when one open artistic spirit meets another in sweet harmony.