Rabat-born singer launches her career as an international artist in Spain by combining her business degree with her passion and talent in music.
Rabat – From singing the Barbie song as a toddler to songwriting some of Spotify’s top 10 global hits, Morocco’s Hajar Sbihi, otherwise known as ASHA, is realizing her childhood dreams and making a name for herself as an entrepreneurial singer.
The 23-year-old artist from Rabat said she knew she wanted to be a singer when she was eight years old. Inspired by Disney channel stars like Hilary Duff and Hannah Montana, ASHA grew up practicing in the local choir and imagining a life as an international star.
After years of attempting to convince herself that singing was not a stable career choice, ASHA has taken the stage once more, leaving behind all ideas that discouraged pursuing work as an artist.
“There is this ranking of importance in subjects and careers. It’s not true at all. You cannot expect everyone to be doctors or engineers. You need people to write books and to sing. If you go to a party and nobody is making music, what are you going to listen to? If nobody is writing, what are you going to read?” ASHA said.
At the start of her studies, ASHA convinced herself that pursuing a career in business was the right thing to do. In an attempt to appease the status quo, she left her dreams behind and immersed herself in business administration studies.
“I thought I couldn’t be a singer since I was studying business. It’s always been my passion, but for my parents, singing wasn’t a conservative choice.”
Composing for artists worldwide while studying business in Spain
After ASHA negotiated with her parents to allow her to attend IE Business School in Spain when she was 18 years old, she busied herself with garnering the tools for her success.
While focused on her studies, ASHA did not leave the world of singing behind completely. Throughout her time at university, she was president of the music club and connected herself to music by learning the art songwriting.
Eventually, after her second year at university, the Moroccan business school student in Spain began writing for more established artists.
At the age of 20, ASHA claimed her first songwriting success with Lola Indigo’s “Ya No Quiero Na” song, which went viral and ranked in 9th place on Spotify’s Global Viral Top 50.
Months later, she composed Becky G and C. Tanagana’s song “Booty,” going 3x platinum in the US and 2x platinum in Spain. Shortly after, she saw success with another 3x platinum song in Mexico, “Oye Pablo” by Danna Paola.
ASHA began developing close connections with artists and publishing companies. She traveled to other countries to attend songwriting camps and improve her skills. Meanwhile, the singer songwriter’s family gained trust in her independent decisions and noticed her ability to balance academics and arts.
“I thought that writing for other artists was going to fulfill me but I realized it wasn’t enough.”
After ASHA graduated from business school, she dreaded the idea of sitting in an office or continuing to write songs that other people would sing. She wanted to perform herself. While her talents in songwriting were not going to waste, the nature of the industry was challenging and unsteady.
“Songwriting is not a secure job and it is highly competitive,” said ASHA. “It’s very painful. You’re writing so many songs. From a hundred, maybe they [publishers] will take 2 or 3.”
Even with close connections in the industry and talent, songwriters like ASHA struggle to see many of their carefully crafted lyrics leave a computer.
“I wanted to take control over the situation. I know how to write, I know how to sing. I wanted to be in control over every step of the process.”
ASHA took hold of her lifelong aspirations and recently released her first official music video to her song, “Besame,” meaning kiss me in Spanish.
Multilinguist inspiration rooted in Morocco’s boundless musical ear
The advancing singer describes her songs as “sheek” and “elegant,” with fresh sounds that depend on her culturally diverse background and multi-linguistic skills. Growing up in Morocco, ASHA said she first learned how to sing in French.
“These [French songs] were the songs I grew up hearing in school and inside my household,” she explained. “I love Arabic music, but I honestly never felt as connected to it.” ASHA praised Arabic singers saying, “I would love to explore Arabic music. It is very difficult and it would be an incredible experience. For me, singing in Arabic is another level.”
While she may not be singing in Arabic yet, ASHA’s songs are inspired by her country’s rhythms and beats. Noting the importance of sharing her culture, the young singer hopes to film upcoming music videos in Morocco.
ASHA attributed her wide variety of musical comprehension and inspiration to Morocco’s multicultural music scene. “Morocco accepts songs from all over the world as if they are their own. We have a vast ear.” She added, “I think this is one of my most important attributes as an artist.”
“Depending on where you’re from, you’ll compose in one way or another. Thanks to fluently speaking Arabic, French, Spanish, and English,” ASHA said she can give her songs a unique touch.
The business of singing and strategizing her own success
Although a lot of people have made it in the music world without a degree, ASHA said her education has proved invaluable and empowered her to control her success.
“I am using my business degree every day. As an independent artist, I need to promote myself and know how to brand myself, how to have partnerships, which offers to accept, marketing strategies, and negotiate contracts. Everything would have been impossible without having a business degree.”
ASHA stressed not the importance of not being obliged to do work assigned by a label company and said she is very proud to be part of this generation of artists that have an “extra pulse in the industry.”
“Before, the artist was just the beautiful face of the team. Now, the artist can be a businessman or businesswoman, and I think it’s very important.”
“I would advise anyone who wants to pursue music, to strategize their passion.”
Although ASHA assumed her success wouldn’t reach Morocco, she said her sister recently called her and told her that family and friends are reaching out to their parents and congratulating them. “It’s as if I am getting married,” ASHA laughed. “People are happy for me. Many say ‘we have seen you singing since you were small, it’s amazing what you’re doing now.’”