Ghetto Ruff record label owner Lance Stehr once described RJ Benjamin as “the best composer/singer/musician this country [South Africa] has ever produced”.
Apart from being an award-winning vocalist with five studio albums under the belt, Benjamin has been the vocal coach of some of South Africa’s hottest artists, such as Idols SA season 10 winner Vincent Bones, Vusi Nova, Naaq Musiq and Anatii.
Most recently, he has done the vocal production for iscathamiya group Thee Legacy, Chantal Stanfield and Sho Madjozi of John Cena fame, as well as being one of the headline performers at the 2019 Standard Bank Joy of Jazz. Benjamin also produced the DHL Stormers and Friends Project in March 2020.
He is currently a keynote speaker at the 10th anniversary edition of the 2020 Music Exchange (#MEX20) conference having spoken to Neil Johnson regarding the state of radio in South Africa, as well as Capasso COO Wiseman Ngubo and music executive Lance Stehr.
Music Exchange 2020 is being held until 30 September on the Ticketpro digital platform.
Rapid-fire Q&A with RJ Benjamin
Where do you see the industry going post-COVID?
I think live-streamed performances will be a much larger factor for the foreseeable future, but finding a model that makes it a viable income source will be a challenge.
The relationship though between an audience and a performer cannot be replaced and no doubt innovations will be made possible for live performance. For now, that will clearly be for smaller, exclusive audiences.
This is not a bad thing because it will drive up tickets prices to be able to view an artist or band in-person while there is limited seating, etc.
What challenges do you see?
I think particularly with music performers, lockdown has brought some awareness with regards to earning passive income.
If you exclusively earned your living doing corporates and live shows, you have definitely been hit harder during lockdown. Musicians who have released content on radio streaming platforms have still been able to have their music earn them money despite being trapped indoors.
Session musicians have been able to claim money for sessions they played on through Sampra [South African Music Performance Rights Association}.
Radio has been a constant in South Africa and so if you had a catalogue of music or new music spinning on SA radio, you most likely earned some royalty income.
I think lockdown has forced some awareness on the need to be diverse and make sure as artist you have multiple income streams.
What does music mean to you?
I live my life through music. It drives me every day because I am always looking for something in the world and in my life to inspire the next creation.
What is the most enjoyable aspect of your work?
Pulling a new creation out of thin air and taking that idea from nothing to a complete piece of art.
Prince and Stevie Wonder is top of the list. Almost all other music I listen, branches out from these two artists.
Which living person do you admire most and why?
This probably changes daily, but consistently the answer would be my mom. She’s a cancer survivor, she endured a lot of pain with regards to how my dad eventually lost his life almost 20 years ago. She’s small of stature but stronger than anyone else I’ve met in my life.
Dream gig to do?
The Montreux Jazz Festival.
What makes you stand out?
I’m actually a bit of an introvert and try to avoid standing out.
I’ve lived by a few rules in my career: Try to create timeless music; try to create honest music; try to focus on my musical strengths and let all of that speak for me.
If you were not a musician what would you do?
I would not exist.
Five favourite SA albums of all time?
Hanging Gardens of Beatenberg by Beatenberg
Burn Out by Sipho “Hotstix” Mabuse
Desire by Nakhane Touré
House of Exile by Lucky Dube
Zandisile by Simphiwe Dana
Greatest movie ever made?
2001: A Space Odyssey
What song changed your life?
Man in the Mirror by Michael Jackson
Who do you love?
A lot of people — but I probably hate more people than I love.
What is your favourite word?
Inderdaad. (Afrikaans for “indeed”.)
Your greatest achievement?
Surviving almost 20 years in the music industry and following my passion.
What do you complain about most often?
What is your fear?
Dying without seeing my child grow up.
Seeing my daughter’s happiness on a daily basis.
On stage I tend to?
Talk a lot of sh*t!
The best life lesson you have been taught?
Never stop writing.
Do you get worked up while watching a sports game on TV?
Of course, I’m tennis mad. A huge Roger Federer fan and obviously his struggles with Nadal and Djokovic have caused me much pain. Also being constantly into thinking the Proteas could wine World Cup has caused much pain.
Where would you like to be right now?
Despite the lockdown, I’m actually very happy with being exactly where I am.
Do you do charity work and if so, what do you do?
My greatest passion is trying to do skills transfer with underprivileged artists. I do that wherever I can. In the recent past, this has been through Music Exchange and the programmes they connect me to in the Western and Eastern Cape.
Wishes and dreams?
I wish the Proteas would sort themselves out. I dream of creating a piece of music that actually creates a change in the world. I’ve had my fair share of tries and I’m still trying.
Watch and listen – RJ Benjamin in action:
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