Asha Santee has always had a creative spirit, but becoming a full-time artist was never her plan. She landed here by accident.
After growing up in California and then Houston, she came to Washington, D.C. to attend Howard University on a basketball scholarship. Her goal was to play professional basketball and she even tried out for the Washington Mystics, but that dream ended when she broke her leg.
“If I wouldn’t have broken my leg, I would have still been in pursuit of a basketball career,” Santee says.
Looking back, she doesn’t regret what happened since it made her pivot to where she happily ended up. While studying at Howard, she founded her own company, Note 2 Self, to house all of her artistic endeavors from music to apparel. She’s been a full-time artist since 2010 after graduating in 2008.
After her injury, she was confined to her bed for two months before she could walk again. “Some of the peace that I was able to get during that hard time was making music,” she says.
“I was making music lying flat in my bed with my little piano on my stomach,” she remembers. “After I started healing a little bit, I listened to some of the music that I was making and I was like, ‘Wow, this is really good […], maybe this is what I’m supposed to be doing’ because I’ve always just been doing it on the side and didn’t really have any direction with it, didn’t really have any aspirations with it, I just knew it made me feel good.”
Santee started playing the drums at age 6, exposed to the instrument by her dad who also played. She played drums in churches and on drum line in high school and after that began teaching herself how to play piano. She studied audio production but says most of what she’s learned has been on her own.
Now she is a multi-disciplinary artist as a musician, visual artist, product designer and more. She plays in two bands—BOOMscat and The CooLots—and tours with Grammy-winning R&B artist Mýa. Each collaboration feeds a different energy for Santee, who says her 10-year-old duo BOOMscat is “one of the most magical things I do in my artistry.”
“I do consider everything that I do magical but like there’s something very special about BOOMscat and our ability to connect musically and create this ethereal and healing vibe. That is not only so necessary for us, but we’ve seen how necessary it is for our queer community, especially the Black queer community.”
She uses her art for healing, self-reflection and community-building. She began painting when her journals couldn’t contain the emotion on the page, and now when someone buys a painting and takes it home, her healing continues out in the world.
As a Black, queer, nonbinary artist, Santee has faced impostor syndrome with the confidence to put her work out there.
“I’m realizing more and more how important it is to be more vocal to put myself out there,” Santee says. “To release it from my body, but also just to give it a chance for somebody else to come across it because my story isn’t the same as somebody else’s and my music isn’t the same, my artwork isn’t the same. As an artist, it’s my job to just release it.”
This story is made possible with support from Comcast Corporation.