Did they want to send you back to Burundi?
The government of Tanzania need to send refugees somewhere so they asked us if we wanted to go back or not. We said you may as well kill us here. I remember from there, we were accepted to go to Australia which we knew nothing about. I used to smoke in Burundi and the matches I would use had a kangaroo on them and said Australia, so I would always be confused thinking “What is this Australia?”. I had no idea! We just hoped it was somewhere protected and safe. The other crazy thing is that when you get accepted the people there could be jealous of you and do things like witchcraft. Man, I’ve seen a dog wearing thongs and smoking! It was crazy.
That is crazy! It must have been a relief to be accepted though.
I remember the first time getting on the plane, it was a miracle to me! I was 14 at the time, and the experience of getting on a jumbo jet, with a toilet in the sky and people serving me food! I felt like I was a president, it was really a miracle happening to me. When I got here I started school in a language centre and I spent about half a year learning English, then I started in year 7 at school. I just finished VCE in 2011 and started a course at RMIT in International Business and just finished that. And I was really excited to get an opportunity to work at Multi-Cultural Arts Victoria as a youth officer.
I hear you’re working on a lot of projects here now?
It’s given me an opportunity to do what I love, because I always wanted to do music, especially after the death of my parents because I needed the world to hear that there are people crying while some laughing, that there are people dying from no freedom or from hunger while people here complain about their phone’s brightness.
And I do a lot of talks in schools about this.
Do you enjoy doing those talks?
I do, I love it. We do workshops, I get to tell them stories and do some music things as well. It’s good because some of them don’t know what’s going on out there, they see ads on TV about people dying but they don’t know what’s really happening. That’s what my ambition is, to try and change the world in some way. You know, we are human beings who all live under the same sun. I read the Bible a lot and one of the conclusions I’ve come to is don’t hurt anyone how you don’t want to get hurt. It’s a shame to know that there are people who are controlling us in the wrong way.
Music is obviously very important to you now but what role did it have in your early life? What’s music like in Burundi culture?
Well, I had a tough life then, where I couldn’t even buy thongs. To be a musician in Burundi you’ve got to have cash so for me it wasn’t even in my mind as something I could do. Sometimes I would make drums and play them together.
Even here part of the Burundian community is the drums and I remember back home I used to want to join the drumming team because I love the sound and history of it.
So you had a bit of exposure to music at a young age?
Well, I really wanted to learn it (the drumming) but you needed a lot of financial support and I didn’t have that so I was just mucking around with it. But I was always creative in my childhood, I used to make cars out of wire, that’s how I survived when I was young, I used to sell them and I would make drums out of anything really.
What was your first exposure to hip hop and rap music then? When you arrived in Australia?
I was young! Even when I was 10 or 11 in Burundi there were cinemas where you could pay 50 franc and go in a watch music videos of 50 Cent or Ja Rule doing their thing. I would think “Man! There’s a paradise out there we just don’t know how to get there”.
And this was before you could even understand the words right!?
Yeah, even now there are people there (in Burundi) jamming that stuff and they have no idea what they are talking about!
Do those artists influence the music you make now?
Yeah, in terms of the beats. And also reggae as well.
But I’m the kind of guy who does everything really, I’m passionate about doing anything that can make my voice be heard. I’ve just done a song with Paul Kelly, it’s a song called ‘Child Soldier’ and it’s more of a reggae thing.
So communicating you’re message is the most important thing to you?
I want to do something positive. There are many heroes in the world, like Bob Marley or Nelson Mandela who did things to make human rights heard and that’s what I want to do. There are different ways people will see things or understand things. Look at people talk about asylum seekers now. But do these people come here because they don’t want to live in their country? They just want to survive, like everyone else.
People here might think it’s a good idea if we reject them, but we need to listen to them and hear the reason why they are running away because it’s hard to be killed by your own people, it’s crazy. For all these people who think letting in asylum seekers is the wrong thing, if they could go for one day and see how it is, they might not judge so much.
That’s very true! And because of the political stance of the Australian government on a lot of these issues, it seems to me that there is a growing opinion overseas that Australia is a racist country. Have you experienced any racism in your time here?
I don’t know, but I’ve always been someone who doesn’t care what people think about me, I don’t take it on.
I mean, I’ve seen my brothers and sisters being killed, why would I care about someone saying something to me? That is not going to break me, they are just words.
You’ve been through more than that. Speaking of words, when you first started writing rap lyrics, did you do it in English or Burundi?
I started writing in Burundi and I was trying to translate it into English because I wanted people to hear it who can help us. But it was really hard. It’s been hard but at the end of the day you just have to keep pushing. Chase your dream because your dream will never chase you.