MATTHEW ASHRAF // Former HBCU student talks about performing with Beyoncé, School and making music.

Matthew Ashraf had no idea that he would participate in 2018’s most talked about concert. He was just doing his job.

Ashraf, 26, is a member of Drumline Live, an international touring company modeled after the aesthetic of Historically Black Colleges and University marching bands. At some point, the music director of a then anonymous singer approached CEO Don P Roberts, seeking performers for an undisclosed event. Accustomed to the hustle and bustle of things, Ashraf didn’t think anything of it. A job was  a job.

“It was kind of [a] ‘ Hey, you’re musicians, show up and take care of the gig like professionals like we always do’”, Ashraf explained.

The mystery artist? Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter. The undisclosed location? Indio, California.

Last April, the 36-year-old made history as the first black woman to headline the Coachella Music Festival. Initially scheduled to perform the two-weekend hurrah in 2017, she dropped out after announcing that she was pregnant with twins.

Days prior to the concert, close sources reported that the singer hired over 100 performers for her historic set, leaving fans to wonder what she had up her sleeve. The multi-Grammy winner didn’t disappoint, bringing out husband Jay Z, sister Solange and a brief reunion of Destiny’s Child. The first of the two performances were streamed on YouTube for those unable to afford the steep ticket and airfare to the Golden State.

It’s one thing to watch it from the comfort of your couch. Heck, it’s even one thing to have been in the audience. But, how does it feel when you get perform onstage alongside Queen Bey?

“It doesn’t hit you until see the artist playing the music,” said Ashraf. “It doesn’t really hit you there. Somebody can tell you that, but you don’t start feeling it until you [actually] see or meet the artist or start playing the music. Seeing the show come together, that’s when it really hits you.”

The two-hour performance, which fans cleverly dubbed Beychella, featured a full-blown homage to the rich culture of HBCUs. Backed by a marching band, the performance was filled with everything from an energetic dance line to an onstage neophyte presentation. For Ashraf, the historical set hit a soft spot.

It brought back memories from his days at Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University, where he performed in the school’s Maroon and White marching band. But he wasn’t alone. The performance featured droves of students from Florida A&M, North Carolina A&T, Prairie View A&M and other prominent HBCUs. “A lot of the things that we’ve done before were part of the show and we even had some input on some things,” Ashraf said. “It was very authentic, because we are all from HBCUs. We all came together and collectively created the show.”

Growing up in a religious household of singers, the Georgia native discovered his love of music through song. However, it was joining the school band that exposed him to some of his favorite genres of music, including jazz.

“Being in the marching band was great,” Ashraf said of his time at the HBCU. “When I joined the marching band in high school, I wasn’t ever really planning on going to college in marching, so it was like going into a marching band with 200 plus people and constantly traveling weekly, getting to see the country and then as a younger kid. It was amazing experience.”

Now a student at Georgia State, the multi-faceted artist isn’t in any rush to walk across the stage. Instead, Ashraf admitted that he’s enjoying the college experience in conjunction with his tenure with Drumline Live.

Outside of touring, the 26-year-old works in Atlanta as singer, songwriter and producer under the moniker Mayday Muse. After leaving AAMU, he used the ample free time to hone his craft making music. A jack-of-all-trades, Ashraf said he finds joy in not just creating music, but helping others. He hopes to one day open a studio for creatives to thrive.

As an artist, he’s still making music with a few secret projects in the works. Like many, working with Queen Bey had an after effect on his work ethic. Despite the “reported” 11-hour rehearsals, Ashraf has nothing but respect for the “Crazy in Love” artist’s hustle. He even said that he could take a note or two from her level of hard work.

“Her work ethic is amazing,” Ashraf explained. “I learned a lot from just being around her team. Her work ethic is amazing, it’s so involved and very, very inspiring to see how much detail goes into these productions. Just be very thorough with your work and it’ll show. This show to me, not because I was in or even if I wasn’t in it, was her best show and I think most of the world agrees, so it shows you just how hard her and her team actually works.”

For the aspiring singer, he’s only looking up. The once-in-a-lifetime experience is just a cultivation of his work, and he’s hoping that there’s more to come.

“It’s all levels and moving up upwards. It started with me singing as a kid to performing with Beyoncé.”

 

 

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