WAM INTERVIEWS: Song Of The Year Grand Prize winner Beni Bjah
After taking home the Grand Prize at the 2015/16 WAM Song Of The Year awards party with his song Survivor, we tackled some big issues with the man of the moment, Beni Bjah. In an interview with WAM’s Sophie Fielding and Aarom Wilson, Bjah talked casual racism amidst the Adam Goodes saga, the Perth hip hop family, his top five WA artists to watch, his work with Indigenous youth and more.
Now you’ve had some time to let your Song Of The Year win sink in, how are you feeling about it and what opportunities has it been presenting for you?
It’s been an amazing last couple of weeks! At first I was a bit overwhelmed and may have even held back in the first few media interviews, (of my life, mind you!), but I feel I’ve redeemed myself since. And opportunities aplenty man – I went from begging peeps to help me the day before the WAM awards to every Tom, Dick and Harry wanting to help, but I’m loving all the extra attention, just ask my wife [laughs].
Was there a particular moment you realized this song had to be written, or was it a combination of experiences or events?
I’d say a combination of both but the pivotal point was definitely after the “Adam Goodes saga” (or whatever you want to call it) and the amount of silent and casual racism (mainly on social media) and every white Tom Dick calling the shots on what is and isn’t racism, but overall it’s been a lifetime coming. When you have a country founded on white policy, with systematic racism everywhere, I turned when I finally put pen to paper.
The lyrics are very direct, heavy hitting and ultimately powerful – tell us about the message and delivery of the song, and the effect you were hoping for.
The delivery of the song is nothing out of the ordinary from the style that I usually write, but once Cortext had shaped the beat around the first verse (which I had wrote to it while he was making it), the formula was there for something special. Even after the song was finished, I was worried about showing it to my friends and family, let alone the general public. But once I got the confidence from performing it live for the first time at Cortext’s album release, I was exposed to the effect that a song that deep can have on people hearing it. Now performing the song live with the dancers and didge playing with us, it has really taken my live performance to where I always wanted to take it.
(interview continues below)
LISTEN TO ALL 16 CATEGORY WINNERS HERE ►
To many, you came out of nowhere with the SOTY win, but you have a long history as an artist. Please fill us in.
I’m on my 13th summer baby [laughs]! Nah, I been around the block a few times, but I used to rock it in a crew called Life Kwest back in the day with my homies Knowledge Bones, Xzakt and the mad man Chile. Knowledge at the time won Word War 1 back in 2003 and won a banging beat from Downsyde’s Disaster aka Charlie Chimp (another Belmont boy who I went to school with, must be the water!). Along with a set at Grand Master Flash, we kicked it off from there.
You’ve just released your LP, Survivor, which features a heap of great guests and collabs. Tell us how you went about creating the record with such a range of other artists.
I really wanted to keep it in-house as possible and I wanted to also give some shine to my talented friends like Nate Deezy and Omac and to my Life Kwest rhyme partners Knowledge Bones, Xzakt and Chile Chillz, who helped give me the confidence to get this project out after all these years. They were all definite lock ins for the project. The track Downunder Boys really just features the MCs who I’ve met over the last 24 months during my return to the studios of Perth and some people who I really respect in the scene; otherwise the track wouldn’t have been as long as it is, and I think it brings three different Perth rap collectives together for the first time. I was so blessed to have Vanessa Hopes and Jeremiah Morgan lay down vocals exactly how I wanted, and having Rob Shaker help me find and lay down cuts which helped blend my verses together and really give the album the classic hip hop sound I wanted it to have in ShakeDown Studios.
The Survivor video has had a massive response, with over 25,000 views and viral-like social media traction. How did the concept come about, and why do you think it’s connected so much with people.
It was funny when we met the director, DVS, and he blew us away with his idea (because we had a couple ourselves). He wanted to show the metaphors in the film clip… These days you really have to have something shockingly visual to separate yourself from the endless videos on people’s social media feeds etc, so we went for shock and awe. I think in the end that’s what has resonated with people, because they can see how passionate I was to get this message out the right way.
In no particular order, five WA artists you’re digging on right now, and why.
- Cortext – dropped a killer album Righteous Turnup and production and the wordplay on this is next level!
- Bitter Belief– the Perth vet dropped Horizon Haze about a month ago at Jimmy’s Den and it went bonkers! His new album is a tribute to the all the work he has laid down in the last few years.
- Omac – this bloke has gotta be the biggest work horse in Perth hip hop and he’s got another album dropping soon, Day Vs Night, also produced by Cortext
- Downsyde – man, the boys are back after god knows how long? But if ya know your Perth hip hop or music then there’s no doubt you’ve heard of the fellas.
- Ziggy – I don’t know this fella personally but came across his music online at triple j unearthed, and he’s just dropped an the Black Thoughts EP and instantly connected with me – check it out!
You’re currently studying in youth work, and are clearly passionate on making a difference. What do you want to see achieved in the community?
I want indigenous youth to have avenues to make something out of their life, other than music or sport, so I want to try to provide an environment where they can start to see that they can make a difference in the community without being the best player on the ground, or without being a talented songwriter or knowing how to pick up an instrument and make something for themselves. We live in a world where indigenous youth in this state, let alone this country, are more likely to be incarcerated by age 18 than enrolled in university. Hopefully I can incorporate some of my successes into some of the youth development work, and with some like-minded friends we can provide some sort of steps for indigenous youth to find a pathway to finding jobs in everyday society, and start to make a change in the identity of some of our indigenous role models. That’s not to say our sports stars and musicians don’t do important work – I’m inspired everyday by the stances of artists like Briggs and Thelma Plum, and footballers like Adam Goodes and Greg Inglis, who definitely have taken major stands to break down barriers for our people in this country.
What’s on the horizon for you?
The album was a bucket list project that I needed to get out to validate all the years I’ve put in to making music, so to see the response I’ve got has almost given me a second lease on my musical life (and especially with all these new cool prizes!) so who knows as to what opportunities I can make out of what’s been put in front of me. Personally I really want to take it to the next level and really prove more to myself than anything that there’s more to me than just the song Survivor and establish myself as successful artist in the Australian scene.