Lex Ash… Soothing Love Sounds From Zen Master
When he first picked up a camera nine years ago, Alexander Ashimole, professionally known as Lex Ash, had only one formula for his future… to live passionately and curiously.
After nearly a decade, the young lad has become one of Nigeria’s most respected photographers. Yet, for the 29-year-old, his dreams remain broader than the scope of his photo lenses, so much that it culminated in the recent release of his musical debut, a 6-track Extended Playlist (EP) dubbed, Truth.
Wading into his expansive compound that sunny afternoon, one was greeted with an aura of calmness that combined with the vintage feel of the red-bricked building that became a perfect preview of Lexash’s personality.
“I didn’t even have to look elsewhere; on seeing this house, I just knew it must be the type of place Lexash lives,” Ben, another photographer on the premises noted, as we both wondered if we were at the right address in that serene Surulere neighbourhood.
While Lex Ash’s tranquil lifestyle remains intriguing, one cannot ignore that his debut EP is equally lush with those same features. From the first song titled, All Night Long, to the closing track, By My Side (featuring Boma), the entire playlist is an emotional travelogue down a story of a “love lost and love regained,” as he describes it.
The messages on the EP appear very straightforward, shining as honest memoirs of a rather classical romantic. From confessing that he misses his ex-lover, in All Night Long, saying he wants to “Show you that I miss you/(Though) I know you got a new man, so I don’t want no issue,” to beg for her forgiveness in the Afro Pop-fusion, Right My Wrongs (featuring Zoro), to eventually winning her back and offering a litany of promises like “I give you my word/ I give you this promise/ You’d be by my side,” in the closing track, By My Side, the EP is a well mapped-out plot that glows with the warmth of Lexash’s storytelling.
Lex Ash’s musical exploits started from his childhood while growing up in the Surulere and Ijegun suburb of the city. Sitting comfortably in his large studio space, dressed in a matching black tee and shorts, he explains how his mother was his first-ever cheerleader.
“I grew up in Ijegun, but I was born in Surulere. When I was five, we moved to Ijegun. I went to boarding school for my secondary schooling and I was in the choir even as at then. My mother was always pushing me to hone my talent. That, to a certain extent, put me on the path that I am on now. I started realizing that I could sing,” he said, adjusting his gold-plated glasses frequently. He revealed that he wears them to cope with his myopia and astigmatism.
Nonetheless, it wasn’t until 2019 that Lex Ash first recorded music professionally. Before then, he had explored singing as a Chorister in both his secondary school and university but had not taken the craft as seriously as his photography. All the while, he silently cursed his ambitions.
“The funny thing is that I was in the Choir at the University. In 2014, I did my first-ever actual recording; because I did my youth service in a radio station at Abuja called We FM. The studio manager there knew that I had a good voice and I could write and sing. So, he asked me to come around and try some things. That was the first time that I actually recorded my voice professionally. Then, I also had a friend – who is late now – and he used to ask me to come around the studio when he was recording and ask me to help him with directing and all that. It wasn’t till 2019 that I actually started recording,” he noted.
Prior to his musical baptism, Lex Ash had already made a lot of friends within the music circle, while photographing them for several projects. His earlier releases included some singles such as Mood, Something Different (Adekunle Gold Cover), among others. Combined with his collaboration with the popular Electronic Dance Music singer, Sigag Lauren, titled, We’ll Dance Again, he had begun to garner attention in the music scene. Yet, at this time, he had no serious plans towards dropping any musical project until one night when he couldn’t sleep.
“I started recording the EP in 2020, although I wrote Sleep, which is the third song of the EP, in 2019. That song was written because I was actually finding it difficult to sleep; not for romantic reasons, but it was just what I was feeling at that time. The romantic attraction in the song of maybe trying to reach out to someone you love, but the person is asleep, just kind of flow when I was writing the song. I continued writing with other songs and then the EP happened,” he said, as the reporter’s eyes fall on the beautiful painting of a Nubian Princess placed in a corner of the room, which his producer’s brother, Sorple Sheed, created for him.
For the Estate Management graduate, with over five years of experience in Branding and Design, working for brands like Unilever and Andela, he admits to being deliberate about the type of music that he creates. For him, his strategy is guided by yearnings for pure expression and creating impact.
“Typically, I have always been very self-aware; I have always known the type of vibe that I wanted. If you check, there are no swearing words; the hardest part was even writing in Pidgin. The other parts were just easy; the stories were real and they were easy to come out of me. I write poetry. If you check my photography too, you would find something soft and poetic about them as well; it is just my style of expression. It is not that I had a plan to do this; it was just me trying to bring out what was in my head,” he said.
Having listened to songs from Michael Bublé, Neyo, Beyonce, John Legend and others, Lex Ash picked RnB as his forte, because it is apt for his personality. Luckily, as the Afro-pop and Afro Alternative RnB scene keeps attracting the global spotlight, more artists like him get an easier shot at expanding their audience and penetrating new markets.
“So, I have always loved the music of different kinds; I have playlists of sounds that are very diverse. I listen to classical, country and Jazz, Blues music, respectively, but I always lean more towards RnB. I like music that you can listen to when you want to be calm because I am a Zen person; I like peace and tranquillity. I just want to reflect and enjoy music without too much excitement, although I also enjoy the typical Afro Pop, I just like to be calm and chill.
There are elements of Soul and RnB across my discography. I am hopeful that Nigerians begin to explore this sound more. I am hopeful that, across the world, people don’t see us as a monolith – yes, we do Afrobeats, but I am hopeful that we aren’t only winning world awards; I want it to be Best Music, period,” he said.
Staring at an empty miniature kernel in the room, one began to embrace the depth of Lex Ash’s minimalism. Unlike most people, he prefers a quiet house with an even quieter pet dog, with a personal assistant and student who also seem to share in his love for solitude. And when one looks closely, it is this same tranquillity that beautifies the worth of his work in his EP.
For music lovers, the EP is a buffet of therapeutic melodies composed with a blend of drowning piano chords, slow kicks, and chopped bass lines, among other beautiful sounds. The entire record – solely produced by the emerging, but talented sound engineer and producer, Kordys Sheed – spins with rhythms of relaxation. The highlights of the EP are in the trio, Truth, By My Side, and Right My Wrongs, where Lex Ash stretches his limits in either use of Pidgin English or strong command of his falsetto.
For his debut, Lex Ash presents a very mature body of work that slightly contrasts with his shy personality.
“I feel apprehensive to a certain extent,” he said, as he adjusted his glasses again. “I am still hopeful that it does well. I just want people to hear it.”
As the conversation ensued into the vision for his career, one couldn’t help but reflect on his actual eye vision. As a photographer coping with astigmatism and myopia, Lex Ash has lived by a system that involves circumventing his difficulties.
“Right now, I only shoot my pictures in Black and White, because the colours will mess up with my eyes. I don’t compose with colour, but I make sure I get my shots focused and sharp because it is easier for me to edit it in the post,” he noted.
For him, this ‘Lex Ash lifestyle’ is central to the maturation of his sound, which he is set to continue exploring. “The plan is to keep growing,” he said with smiles.
Away from the music, Lex Ash finds joy in a mix of mundane and adventurous hobbies, such as buying several tech gadgets, like a $500 Vintage Marshall speaker, and so on, and exploring other cities across Africa. He keeps a close-knit circle of people he shares his inspirations with, like his collaborators on the playlist, Boma and Zoro, who had cheered him on and “even sent in their verses within minutes of hearing the ideas” for their respective features.
For Lex Ash, he finds more comfort in creating art that he describes as “Zen”. For him, to be Zen is to prioritise peace and tranquillity in every situation – a feeling that overwhelms every second of his EP.
Cohesively, Lex Ash’s Truth is more of an artistic voyage than just a random love playlist; it is a combination of his ‘Zen’ personality, artistic versatility, as well as his quest for genuine expression.
“If I were to describe myself as an artist, I will say I am a learner; I am always trying to improve and grow,” he concluded.