In this third part of the interview, Asha and I discuss gender issues in music and life, and where inspiration for her music comes from…
Ben: Which artists inspire you?
Asha: A lot of my inspiration comes from Marvin Gaye, Earth Wind & Fire, Stevie Wonder, Tank, Tresongs, Chris Brown, Floetry, Jill Scott, Erykah Badu, Hiatus Coyote I love—
A: They’re amazing.
B: I just started checking them out.
A: Alex Isley, Laura Mvula. There’s a lot of different inspirations out there—Robert Glasper, Miles Davis—
B: Yes! All day!
A: Brandi, her background vocals. Erykah Badu from a performing standpoint—
B: I finally got to see her a few years ago—
B: I got to see her AND Lauryn Hill at the same concert festival—that was like TWO big bucket list items at once. You know, about the Marvin Gaye thing, I’m a huge fan, and I recently read his biography. You don’t have to read his biography to know that he was kind of a tortured soul. HE was all about love, but there was a dark side, like he couldn’t ever seem to clearly reconcile the overlapping of sex and love. Is that struggle also there in your art?
A: Yeah, I mean, it’s what it is. I can show you the interpretation of love, sex, feeling emotion through my keys, I can do it through some of my drumming, with how I feel about playing the drums—
B: Well, sure—drums are about rhythm, and you know, there’s other things that… that involve rhythm.
A: [laughs] —that we apply to the drums! And also a lot of my music is real cinematic—so it allows you to just SEE it, and feel it, and hear it at the same time.
B: You know, Miles was all about that, too, that synaesthesia thing, hearing colors and—
A: Yeah! That’s crazy that you say that—maybe that’s where I get it from. Anyway, I think a lot of the music that I listen to is all in this huge subconscious mind, where it’s just all kind of—it’s like a collage and it’s all tangled, and I don’t really understand why I do some of the things the way I do them—
B: Don’t you feel like you’re not supposed to? It’s the untangling.
B: The art is the untangling.
Watch Asha play live with the Huda Asfour Quartet:
I recently wrote a blog post called “Girls DO play drums,” about some of my experiences as a teacher whose students encounter prejudice—mostly about gender roles. I was really excited to ask Asha, who also teaches, how she deals with these issues with her students, and if any of her own experiences with prejudice had fueled her.
Ben: One of the reasons I was looking forward to this interview was that although you and I obviously have some things common, you have grown up with a decidedly different perspective, because of who you are—a female drummer, an african american woman who dates women. Have you experienced prejudice in the music world, and how has that shaped you?
Asha: I know that the prejudice exists in the music world. I will honestly say that I have—I wouldn’t even call it being fortunate, because I think it’s good to have different experiences, even if they’re negative ones, to some degree—but all that I’ve ever gotten was “you play better than most of these dudes out here.” You know? I have gotten compliments from folks, and words from people who are just like “It just looks so easy to you, AND you’re a woman.”
B: How do you respond to that?
A: You know I kinda just shake my head and say “Yeah, I’m glad that you recognize that.” But I don’t really get too deep into it, because I’m so strong within myself—who I am as a drummer, who I am as a woman in music. It’s just a natural thing that I do. You are going to feel this music before you recognize that I’m a woman playing the drums.
B: Wow. That’s some truth. But I’ve had female students who don’t have that same support system that you’ve had, and that same core of confidence, who can become discouraged about being drummers when they meet with prejudice, and I think the music suffers.
A: Yeah, that’s why I like to teach—especially when I get—at one point I had four women, aged 23 to 30, that I was teaching. The first thing that they said was “I’ve always wanted to play drums, but my parents wouldn’t let me, because they said it was for boys.”
B: Ugh. It still happens.
A: Oh yeah! Oh yeah.
B: It’s terrible.
A: And you know, it’s harder to teach an older person, because that’s just what’s in their mind. It’s easier to do that with a kid because they’re more malleable.
B: Yeah, absolutely. Well, they’re sponges, they just kinda soak everything up.
A: It’s easier to give them that confidence. I did a workshop with Javier Starks—an amazing rapper. He raps positive rap, goes to different schools, teaches hip hop and stuff like that. I did a session with him and when I had my little speech, I talked to the girls first and I said “I’m gonna say this, and I don’t care, don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t play the drums because you’re a girl. You can play the drums, and you can hit just as hard.” And you know, to see the girls come up afterwards, and slowly get on the drumset and then immediately I teach them a beat, they run up to a boy and say “Look what I can do!” I always teach that first, because I realized that that’s what happens. It’s a confidence killer, in other areas of life—
B: What do you mean?
A: If you say “girls can’t do this, girls can’t do that,” it can affect their confidence in other areas of life, outside of just wanting to play the drums. “Can I be a boss of a company? Can I run a company, can I drive a truck?” —My mom told me I couldn’t drive a truck!
A: Trucks are for boys! You know, I wanted a Dodge Ram when I was like sixteen, and she was like “I’m not getting you a truck!”
B: [laughs]—and I never wanted to drive a truck, but I have to, because I have drums I gotta take everywhere—
A: —Me too! But you know, it all works out. I was definitely the only girl in my percussion class when I first started playing in middle school. So I made sure that I held down first chair—second chair maybe… twice. But it was always me and Terence Allison—who’s an amazing drummer.
A: It was always me and him, just going back and forth and competing doing paradiddles and who could get that first chair, you know? Yeah, now that I think about it, it’s been a pretty positive experience for me, because I’ve been about the music first—not about showing off because I’m girl and I want you to feel less of a man, because you just got beat!
Check back in next week for the last part of our interview with Asha!