Ashley Williams grew up poor in Manenberg, surrounded by drugs, gangs and crime, but today he’s singing soul on a Greek island because he stayed true to his musical muse.
Ashley and his sister, Tatum, lived with their grandmother, Yvonne Abrahams.
The children and their mother – who lived nearby – survived off Yvonne’s pension, and that often meant going to bed hungry.
To escape from the harsh realities around them, Ashley and Tatum listened to JAG, a local band, and sang together.
Ashley was was just 13 when Yvonne died of cancer. On the night she died, he decided to leave home and stay with a friend’s family to make it easier on his mom. The Kroutz family accepted him as their own.
There were drugs and crime on every corner in Manenberg and most boys his age were in a gang, but Ashley kept away from all of that, and, supported by his adoptive family, he matriculated from Phoenix High School in 2012.
“I was the first in my family to reach matric,” says Ashley.
He started singing in church and realised he could do more than simply hold a tune.
“I never knew I had such talent because everyone told me that I have a beautiful voice.”
After school, he worked at various shops to earn money to support his mother. Going to college or university was not an option at the time.
But he didn’t stop singing in church, and he was encouraged by his Sunday school teacher.
“I didn’t wanted to believe her. She said she would like to see me lead the worship team one day. Ever since I was 17, I went to practice and there is where I actually found out that I can sing.”
At the beginning of the year, Ashley, 24, landed a lucky break when a friend asked him to audition to sing in a band, Drifters, which is now performing at the Blue Domes resort on the island of Kos in Greece.
“I was shocked because this is my childhood dream. I went for the audition, and two weeks later, they said I made it. I spoke to my family and they were really happy and supportive.
“I went for some rehearsals and got my paperwork done. I was scared because I had never been on a plane before. Now I’m singing in a group called Drifters. We do the best of soul and Motown funk.”
Ashley’s adoptive father, Isaac Kroutz says Ashley was a talkative child who always liked music.
“He was well-mannered always, and I am very proud of him for making this trip. I’ve never had any problems with him, as he is a real worker, and he was very obedient. When he told me about this overseas trip, I said, ‘Go and follow your dreams, you are still young.’”
Ashley counsels other youth to stay true to their dreams and never let their circumstances define them.
“Don’t let your situation determine your destination. I am a proud member of Manenberg. Always have faith, your dreams are never too big to come true.”