People of Afrikan descent in the UK have a long history of homegrown Reggae music.
Regardless of mainstream notoriety, Reggae is strongly embedded in the expression of all Black Music art forms developed on these shores and in every era, there are those inspired to remain true its foundations. In this spirit we introduce you to Askala Selassie, the rising Princess of UK Roots Reggae set to take the world by storm. Since the release of her debut EP, she has been an unstoppable force, touring throughout Europe and opening shows for the likes of Beres Hammond, Tarrus Riley and Queen Ifrica to name but a few. On behalf of TBB, I caught up with the songstress for a closer look at her journey and her progression as an artist.
Askala Selassie defines herself according to the meaning of her name, “Fruit of the Holy Trinity”. She received her name upon being baptized into Rastafari livity at the young age of 14, dedicating herself to the path she had chosen. As she affirms; “I am the offspring of the Most High and ultimately I am here as a vessel to do his works”.
Well guided by a spiritual foundation, music has been her aspiration since childhood. She developed songwriting ability from a very young age in a variety of music styles. As a young woman, she emerged into the industry as a backing vocalist, working with groups such as Colour Red and the Right Vibes Band. Opportunity arose during The Original Wailers UK tour of 2005 when a position opened in their backing vocalist line up. Askala remembers, “I went home and I prayed. ‘Please help me out, I would love to tour with them’ and making promises like ‘I’ll sing every day’ (laughs). The next day they called and said they had a show in Spain and asked could I come. So I said yes obviously.”
Developing a lasting reputation as the youngest Wailing Sister, she toured for months, lapping up all the experience and discipline that comes from working legends of such stature. Being wary of becoming lost as a backing singer, the 21-year-old made the decision to invest in her solo development, beginning by recording her first song, “Faith”. Slowly taking the time to learn the industry, Askala began working on a number of compilations. This journey of creativity led to the release of the EP “Put Jah First” on Bizzarri Records in 2011.
Such an ascendency could have been daunting for someone so young, but Askala was kept grounded by a close a knit family, lead by her Mother, who then took on the role of becoming her Manager. “Mumma Management” has a great impact on Askala’s business & creative process. While many fervently advise that family and business don’t mix. This ‘Rastafari Empress’ firmly disagrees, “the person who helped me the most to define what a manager is, was Maxi Priest. He told me that a manager is the person who makes decisions with you or on your behalf. My mum definitely knows what I want. If she is speaking to a promoter or a producer I don’t have worry if she looking out for my best interest. I know she knows what I want.”
Her story is a testament to the importance of independent enterprise. Askala regularly accompanied her Mother’s “Jah Works” culture shop to reggae festivals through Britain & Europe. It was through these stalls that Mumma Management was able to develop the right network in order to propel her daughter’s music career. Today Askala is clear that without her mother, her career simply would not have happened.
Now a mother in her own right, Askala Selassie has toured Europe numerous times, not only as a support act but a headliner. And while particular about who she works with creatively, the rising Princess views the stage as a place to let loose and be free. This is a performer who not only loves what she does but is seasoned within it. Askala delivers passionately and confidently in a manner that is undeniably expert, “I do love to perform. It’s a way of expressing yourself. And the thing about performing is the only way to improve your performance is to perform. So for me, the stage is like school. I study my performance and see what I can do better”.
In truth, however, Askala’s stage presence is the perfect accompaniment to her offstage persona. With not a hint of ‘diva’, she emits an aura as warm and as bright as the smile she uses to greet you. Her humility is an endearing feature for someone who has accomplished so much in an industry that is generally not catering to Reggae music.
It is long established that avenues for promotion are often far greater for UK artist in Europe and Asia. Askala joins many in suggesting that reggae in the UK has a long way to go in fulfilling its potential. Many would also suggest that “music with a message”, presents certain challenges that otherwise would not exist. The ‘Fruit of the Trinity’ however, remains undaunted by the prospect, “Jah came and we are overcomers. So I see myself as an over comer. People have their opinions but because I know who I am and the whole point of my music all that doesn’t really phase me.”
As well as resolute in her purpose, Askala is proud of her accomplishments. Having reached many goals in her career she now wishes “broaden her horizons” to Afrika and the Caribbean. Her horizons may also see her delve into the different genres as she states; “As a songwriter, I write all different kinds of music. I even have some songs where I MC!”
Whatever the future holds, it can be said with surety that Askala Selassie, The Rising Princess of Reggae, is certainly one to watch.