Thursday, August 19, 2004

Sweet music from Ghana to New Delhi to USA - across the continents

Rhian Benson – How 4 continents bring her music a special edge and how New Delhi has inspired her!

Text by Ashanti OMkar
Picture by Akin Falope

What’s a half Welsh half Ghanaian singer, who dotes on her African heritage doing in the Asian Post, you may ask, well let me tell you about Rhian Benson, the prodigy who started her musical journey at the age of 9, in a very special part of the world, no other, than New Delhi! This lovely lady has a show in America and a genre of music, which can be termed as a paradox, simply because it is a combination of disparate sounds, coming together in sheer melody. Her music can be classed under World Beat, R&B, Hip Hop, Jazz, all teamed with Indian and Arabic influences. Rhian Benson, a truly multi-cultural artiste is making a name for herself in the UK.

Born in Ghana, West Africa, Rhian comes from a well-known Ashanti tribe family, who are not only musical, but also highly educated. Her father, a Ghanaian diplomat was posted to New Delhi, to the Ghanaian High Commission, and the whole family moved there, to join him. Rhian tells us with nostalgia in her voice: “as my Mum, my younger Sister and Brother landed in Delhi, the smells there, the foods, the children on the streets, all reminded me of Ghana and I immediately felt a sense of belonging and felt that I would make India my dwelling with very little home-sickness. Such is the wonderful impression that India made on me.”

In the 3 years that Rhian and her family lived in Delhi, they stayed in a residential area and the siblings went to a British school. She tells us: “my Mum encouraged us to immerse ourselves in the Indian culture and we did everything, from trying out Henna on our hands and feet, to having our hair nourished with Indian coconut oil – my Mum was very much into using local beauty products and we also enjoyed the fresh food we had daily.” She goes on to add: “I honed into my creative talents at an early age, when me and my Sister would write songs. The house we lived in had a piano, which my Parents bought from the previous owners. I started to study it, from playing scales to dabbling in song writing, I was definitely hooked on music and I made the most of my time there to enjoy my musical side.”

On moving back to Ghana, Rhian says: “I missed India very much, my passion for music remained with me from that time in Delhi, my memories are certainly fond ones. I would love to go back there as an adult, certainly to visit Madras (Chennai), Rajasthan, Agra and all those beautiful lakes I so often reminisce about.” She tells us that as the cultures in India and Ghana are all about family, close society, music and dancing, fitting back into Ghanaian life was not at all a problem. However, she continued her fascination for the Indian culture by watching Bollywood movies, which were shown on TV in Ghana. Rhian also goes into the fact that “Indian music plays a huge role in everyday life, at 26, I certainly still relate to it, as it is now incorporated in many R&B/Hip Hop numbers and incorporated into many commercials and Hollywood film soundtracks.

Rhian’s family then moved to the UK, where she carried on with her music but also got herself a good education, as her Parents having a traditional view of things, wanted her to have a fall back in job security and insisted that she studied hard academically, and indeed, she excelled at this, getting her first degree at LSE (London School of Economics) and then went on, to Harvard University, in Boston, USA. She pursued the highly paid career of Merchant Banking, but was brought to a huge decisive moment of her life, when her Mother was diagnosed with Cancer. Rhian came back to London, to nurse her Mum back to health and re-evaluated her life and it’s many options. Music filled her senses again, and lo and behold, she was ‘discovered’, playing at a Jazz bar in London.

The rest, as we say is history, Rhian moved back to the USA, this time to California, to pursue her musical career, still best friends with her Punjabi classmate of yesteryear, Rhian now spends her time touring the world and promoting her wonderful debut album, named after the old name for Ghana, ‘Gold Coast’. In this album, the song ‘Invincible’, is a very Arab influenced Jazz track, following the minor scales so often found in Middle Eastern and Asian music – this is a song that gets a lot of reaction from audiences of all cultures, for it’s universal appeal. On the song ‘Soulboy’, Rhian very much wanted to use Tablas and Sitars, but she said “the whole vibe wasn’t working with the melody and song structure, which made me sad, but also made me realise that in my next album, I will be working on some exclusive Indian sounding tracks, to bring back the recollections and musical vibes of wonderful Indian music.” The video for her single, “Say how I feel” has been doing it’s rounds on MTV, Kiss and cable music channels and features the gorgeous Tyson Beckford, the model who featured highly in the Asian Woman’s list of favourite black men, as published in the 1st edition of Asiana magazine, back in January. You can buy Rhian’s single “Say how I feel” on Monday 20th September, and her album, ‘Gold Coast’ on Monday 27th September, from all good record stores, nationwide.