asherAsher’s ambition

Itchyfeet’s rising star is making global waves

A shaft of light casts its beam over a young girl, supine in a bedroom, eyes closed, earphones eliminating the needling of an irked mother. It’s a familiar scene, mirrored by tenebrous teens and long-suffering parents the world over. Except that this is not the story of your average youngster. And Asher Otto is far from ordinary.

When the music video to ‘All 4 Love’ went viral earlier this year, it drew gasps of breath from audiences moved by Asher’s euphonic voice, the haunting rap it accompanies, and the poignant depiction of life in Antigua’s back streets away from the bright lights of our five-star resorts. The video itself is a work of art, showcasing not just the remarkable talent of this unassuming girl from Yorks, but that of rapper LogiQ Price - her compatriot, collaborator and friend – and its local directors and producers.

Stark cinematography takes us on a journey through the muddy alleys of Point, and the austere reality of a home with no running water, as LogiQ gives us an impassioned glimpse into his humble roots. And then Asher’s voice cuts in. Unforced. Raw. As rich and resonant as an oboe. She has the sweet solemnity of Lauryn Hill with a compelling flavour that is entirely her own.

It’s her intriguing presence and harmonious vocals which never fail to draw an audience, regardless of the venue or day of week. And which have propelled ubiquitous live act Itchyfeet from unobtrusive ‘pub band’, as manager and guitarist Paddy Prendergast modestly dubs it, to something quite special. In person, an hour before Itchyfeet are due to perform at Jolly Harbour eatery Al Porto, she’s unfeigned, younger and shyer than the on-stage persona would imply. Pizza arrives mid-interview and is redirected to an adjacent empty table to be eaten later. If she’s hungry it plays second fiddle to impeccable manners.

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At 20 Asher has a worldly wisdom about her eyes, offset by the guileless resolution of one aware of the obstacles on the rocky road to international success but eminently focussed nonetheless. Music’s in her soul. She grew up listening to international staples like The Beatles, she imparts, thanks to her mother’s US upbringing. In fact it was precisely her broad musical knowledge that first impressed Paddy on the fateful day they met in November 2011. Now, more than two years later, he’s adopted something of a fatherly role towards his protégé from the vantage point of one fully au fait with the whims and quirks of the minefield-laden industry.

A keen songstress from childhood, Asher enjoyed sporadic appearances on ABS TV after graduating from Antigua Girls’ High School. “One day they called me in to perform and Itchyfeet were playing too. I sat and watched them, and they sat and watched me,” she recalls. “We got chatting and Paddy asked me if I wanted to sing a few songs with the band. I’d never had that kind of experience before so of course I did. He asked me to join after that.”  It’s now nine years since Ireland-born Paddy made Antigua his home. Prior to that, with both a music degree and a post-grad qualification in recording and production under his belt, he founded his own record company in London which he ran for 20 years. Itchyfeet was born in 2008 out of a shared enthusiasm by a group of expats.

“I was very happy to be playing in a pub band,” he says. “I mean I’m 50 and someone pays me to strap on a guitar and play for three hours and pretend I’m 17 again. What’s not to enjoy? And then I met Asher and I thought, ‘wow, this is someone who really deserves to be here’. We were very lucky to have the combination of my experience and her talent. From the first time I heard her sing I thought she had a good voice and potential – but that wasn’t what impressed me,” he continues.

“What impressed me was that she came over and started talking to me, she knew our set and had a broader range of musical knowledge than anyone else I had met here.” Asher’s musical tastes depend largely on her mood, she says. “I like all kinds of music – R&B, rap, soul, hip hop, a bit of everything. Growing up, my mom played a lot of different music. I love Beyonce, Amy Winehouse, the Fugees. But I’m just trying to be myself and make my own style.”
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If there’s one thing she wants people to know, it’s that she writes all her own songs. “I get inspiration from everything I see and do. For example, when LogiQ came to me with his rap, he really wanted people to see the struggle he’d been through. I knew him anyway and the words just flowed.” The artistic collaboration garnered additional exposure through pan-Caribbean TV channel Tempo.

“My mom cried when she saw the video,” Asher smiles. “She watches Tempo all the time. In fact if you call my mom and ask her when it’s likely to be on, you will get a list of the exact times because she watches it non-stop.” Coupled with her recent hosting of Tempo programme Caribbean Countdown, the appearances have had a dramatic effect on her erstwhile relative anonymity.

“A few months ago I could walk into town and perhaps see a couple of people I knew. Now people are saying, ‘hi Asher, you’re the one that has that video out’. I feel really lucky and blessed to be here,” she continues. “It’s all I wanted, just to reach people and touch people with my writing. To hear that people love my original music is the best reward I could have.”

Work is now well advanced on a number of tracks set to form her debut album. Meanwhile, the hunt for a suitable record deal continues, one ‘bad fit’ having already been turned down. “It’s about finding a relationship and finding people you can trust, who want what you want, someone who recognises in Asher a real opportunity and a real artist,” Paddy says. “It was always felt from word go that Asher will have a career in music, no ifs or buts about that. The only question is, at what level? Like any talent it all comes down to luck and a lot of hard work. And much of that is putting yourself in the way of opportunity.” Doing so from a small island is a double-edged sword. “She has done 200 gigs in two years and been paid to do so,” he continues. “If she lived in New York, the chance of that would be nil. Social media means we can reach beyond Antigua relatively quickly and cheaply but we really need to be going to big cities and playing before big tough audiences, wooing them and the critics.”

Asher admits it’s stressful balancing almost nightly gigs with rehearsals, and still finding time to write songs. But this, Paddy states, is all good training for later on. “You have to go on stage looking your best and being your best, you get home between midnight and 2am, and then, after four hours sleep, it’s time to get up for a TV appearance. Even though you’re enjoying it it’s hard work. That’s when you dig deep inside and ask yourself how much you really want to do this.”

To Itchyfeet’s adoring crowds however, there’s little sign of the exertion taking its toll on its rising star. Paddy adds with a laugh: “People come up to me all the time and say, ‘you know what, she’s really special’. And sometimes they say, ‘you’d better do right by that girl or there’ll be trouble’.” Whatever lies ahead for Asher, one thing is for sure. Her rare talent is one that resonates long after the show’s over, the punters have left and the lights turned out. Until then it’s time to leave them to take to the stage once more. After some pizza.

by Gemma Handy