Dallas Robinson had the opportunity to talk to up-and-coming artist Ashni Davé about her experience as a woman of color following her dreams, challenges she faces, empowerment and more. Read our exclusive interview here, and listen to a sneak peek from Ashni’s EP, to be released on January 29th.
Exclusive Release from Ashni's EP
I first saw Ashni perform last summer at the Bowery Electric in NYC. After playing her soundcloud tracks on repeat for a few days straight, I was excited to see what she could do live. I was not disappointed. Ashni’s passion was clear, and I was curious to learn how she decided to follow her dream, a bold move that not all of us take.
Everyday women of color are creating, singing, dancing and doing something they love. Everyday women of color are inspiring someone by acting on their passion. They have the potential to inspire, touch and move others. I invite you to meet Ashni.
Dallas: What is singing and songwriting about for you?
Ashni: Singing and songwriting is all about expression. In the same way that listening to music is about feeling what the artist is trying to convey, when I write a song, when I sing anything… it’s about expression. It’s an outlet and it’s a medium in which I can connect with other humans.
Dallas: As a woman of color doing what she loves, which is radical and resistant, what have been some obstacles that you’ve experienced?
Ashni: This is a really great question. As an Indian woman, the biggest challenge that I’ve faced and worked through is the cultural view of pursuing arts. In the South Asian community, we are often raised to pursue something that has less risk, something more stable, generally the maths and sciences.
Growing up, I always knew that it wouldn’t be a viable option in my parent’s eyes, and it scared me. Their fear of a risky and unstable life was instilled in me at a very young age. As a child, I always wanted to, but feared trying to pursue music; and for that reason I didn’t study it in college, or realize that my passion for it could be what I pursued as a career.
Dallas: What are some challenges that you anticipate moving forward?
Ashni: Challenges I anticipate coming across have a lot to do with assumptions people make about women of color, regardless of what we are pursuing. When you do what you love, you are going to come across people who will make assumptions, projections or stories that they want to create for you. You have to know yourself well enough and believe in yourself enough to work through that. They want to see you fill their idea of a certain character. Either our stories have been told via the media, or there are a lot of socialized beliefs that I assume I (as well as other women of color) will have to continue to face on the journey.
Dallas: What has been the most empowering experience or moment for you at this point in your career?
Ashni: I think my most empowering experiences have been my struggles. Any struggle that I’ve gone through or am going to go through will be an empowering learning experience. The biggest thing that I’ve done is quitting my stable full time job to pursue music. I’ve only been working at this full time since September of 2013. It’s been the biggest moment that I’ve had thus far.
My decision to move to New York to pursue music full time was a definite ‘aha’ moment for me.
My first gig here was terrifying; I didn’t eat all day, my stomach was in a knot. I was really terrified and pretty stiff on stage. I had great feedback from friends who came to see me, but it was a huge moment for me as an artist. I constantly feel as if I’m improving and learning with each show that I have.
Dallas: How does honesty play a role in your life as an artist?
Ashni: I remember in the first couple of months of being in NY, when I met new people, they would ask me what I did and I remember being like, “Oh my god, I get to tell them,” —like saying the words “I’m a musician” was really empowering, exciting and sort of nerve-wracking at the same time. This whole process is about being honest with myself and loving myself enough to go after what I really want. To be honest and loving enough that when I have my bi-weekly freak outs, I get back up, I get through it. To say that this is all a process of self-love is not at all accurate. I think anyone in their early 20’s is trying to figure their shit out. I think it feels like any one step in one direction is a step away from three other directions. I think it’s really hard to say “Yes, this is my tangible goal, and this is my 10 year plan, and this is where I’m going to end up.” Some people have that, and it's great, and they can constantly work towards it; but I think there is always doubt and confusion. We’re all going through that.
Dallas: What kind of growth have you seen in yourself and your music over the years?
Ashni: I would say the most progress I’ve seen is in vocal technique. For the last five years I’ve given my art whatever last 10-15% of my day that I had and now it’s a priority for me. Because of this, I’ve seen a lot of growth and I know what work I have left. I know where I eventually want to be and again, it’s always a learning curve. It all just comes from thinking about this differently... before when I was writing, it would be very personal and very much from me, but now there’s a different goal. I notice when I wake up in the mornings and the first thing on my mind is, “Where is my voice at?” I do warm ups in the shower. I am so lucky to be able to wake up and sing and work on what I love to do.
Dallas: Who is your biggest critic? Your biggest supporter?
Ashni: In a way, the answer to both is myself, because it has to be. I am the most invested in my own success, and we are often our own worst critics. Sometimes that means I write something, or I perform something, and I say, “Ah, that wasn’t good enough”. And sometimes it means that I’m confident and love something, then six months later I say, “What was I thinking? I could have done better.” I’m feeling very responsible for myself and very empowered. Outside of that my family has been wonderful. My sister is probably my biggest supporter after that.
Dallas: Is there any news on who you are collaborating with?
Ashni: No specific collaborations, but I'm always in the process of meeting and playing with different musicians, and to hopefully put a steady band together. Playing with other musicians is a necessary part of improving. It's part of getting to the next level, delivering a better sound.
Dallas: Your sound is soul, some blues, and, of course, Yoncé— are there any other genres you want to explore that you have not yet?
Ashni: Jazz is a whole other world, I’m studying under two jazz musicians right now and I love it. I was influenced by jazz singers from an early age, the stylistic elements, the way they scoop up to the note, where they choose to use vibrato. I’ve always been drawn to those things and I’m working on having a stronger foundation in the theory behind it. I love Amy Winehouse, she always talked about combining jazz and hip hop and that’s everything that I am drawn to, the soul from different parts coming in.
Dallas: What words would you speak to young girls of color that are hopeful of one day becoming artists, performing or creating for the world themselves?
Ashni: I think about that question in the practical, what you can do everyday, versus the emotional work you’re going to have to do. My parents forced me to practice piano everyday and I’m thankful. I would encourage any young girl just to practice. You’re young and you’ll develop, grow and learn really quickly. You have the time. Whatever your medium is, practice it, do it often, and explore!
It’s important not to feel like, “Oh, I can only do this one thing.” I think you need to find people who are going to support you as an artist. We discussed some of the challenges you’re going to face in the world as a woman of color. Try as hard as you can to be honest with yourself, and love yourself enough to keep working hard at what you want and what you love. I know it’s a cliché, but really believe in yourself. At the end of the day, as important as it is to have people who support you and give you feedback — positive and constructive—, you have to have a sense of self and confidence in your work. That’s a process, but work through it. Don’t search for validation from other people.
Interview by Dallas Robinson
Dallas Robinson writes as a means to turn rage into love. She is a Black lesbian who loves food, her family, sports and her cats. Dallas works as a Feminist youth mentor and believes WOC are the future.