Derrick Ashong was outside the Hollywood Centre milling with other democrats as the third debate between Senator Barack Obama and Senator Hilary Clinton looked to kick off. Dressed casually with a baseball cap, an uber-trendy neck chain and chewing nonchalantly on gum, he seemed like just another Obama groupie. There he was when he was confronted by a camera wielding journalist who later introduced himself as Mike. The interview that followed has become an internet sensation with over half a million hits on YouTube as Derek gave a passionate, articulate and detailed defence of Obama’s policies ignoring the initial goading of the interviewer.
What the interviewer probably hadn’t realised is that Derrick Ashong is no ordinary Obama supporter but an honours Phd student at Havard, who has cut his teeth in the entertainment industry and is an active member of several socio-economic Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) as well as a known public speaker, as a summary of his career below shows:
Derrick N. Ashong (aka DNA) was born in Accra, Ghana in 1975 and raised in New York, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and New Jersey. A member of the Harvard Class of 1997 , he graduated with high honors in Afro-American Studies and received a “Hoopes Prize” for his senior thesis – a musical exploring issues of identity for Africans & African-Americans.
While a student he starred in Steven Spielberg’s “Amistad,” and has performed with such renowned artists as Janet Jackson, Bobby McFerrin, and Debby Allen. He has spoken on the influence of popular culture on youth identity at universities throughout the U.S., in Ghana and the Caribbean.
Derrick is a co-founder and CEO of ASAFO Media LLC, a boutique music management company pioneering innovative approaches to the promotion and distribution of entertainment products, and a co-founder of the Sweet Mother Tour (SMT) a pioneering ASAFO project that harnesses the power of popular culture to present empowering images of African & Diasporan peoples. He is the author of “FREE THIS CD!!! – The FAM Manifesto,” a text outlining the revolutionary potential of “open-source” music for the World of Music. Derrick was a guest speaker at WOMEX 2003 in Sevilla, Spain, addressing issues of global music licensing and distribution, and will be a guest speaker at WOMEX 2005 , addressing the potential of music as a tool in African development.
A musician and producer, he recently released his 3 rd independent record, featuring music recorded in the US and West Africa. In addition to his work in the arts, Derrick has had a long involvement in political activism. He sits on the board of directors of the Fannie Lou Hamer project, national non-profit addressing issues of Campaign Finance and Civil Rights and recently joined the board of Africa Action, the nation’s oldest organization working on African affairs.
He is a founding member of the Harvard Black Alumni Society. Currently Derrick is pursuing a PhD in African and African-American Studies and Ethnomusicology at Harvard. His research looks at the intersection of art, commerce and society in the global Music Industry. He is a recipient of a Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowship for New Americans.
His pedigree notwithstanding, it is his passion and articulation that has made him the poster child for the movement Obama’s presidency has inspired that cuts across America’s races, ethnic groups, sexes, economic and social classes. Like Obama, Ashong is a firm believer that everyone has the ability to make the America dream a reality as he pointed out in his response to the waves his first interview was creating,
Any discussion of Ashong will not be complete without mentioning his band the Soulfege, and I leave you with their interpretation of one of Africa’s greatest classics – Sweet Mother