Name: Bemz aka Jubemi Iyuku
Occupation: Composer, performer, writer
Nationality: Nigerian (living in Scotland)
Current release: Bemz's new EP M4 is out via M4 Music.
Recommendations: Right now, a book called Happy sexy millionaire & Dave’s new album.
If you enjoyed this interview with Bemz and would like to listen to more music, visit his Soundcloud profile.
Bemz is part of the thriving Scottish hip hop scene. To discover more about it, read our Stanley Odd interview.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
Started writing music when I was 16. That’s when I fully embedded myself into it. 11 years later we're here. My earlier influences werre the likes of Giggs, wretch 32, Ghetts, Drake etc. But I eventually managed to find my own lane.
Music for me is therapeutic. It soothes my soul and allows me to express how I'm feeling in a way that’s different.
Music has always played a big part in my life. I’m Nigerian. Grew up in London. I was surrounded by it.
For most artists, originality is preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you: How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
My development has been tough. It’s been a long road of ups and downs and not a lot of money. But there comes a time when you realise you have to grind it out to ever get somewhere.
I am currently starting to see the benefits of staying true to my vision all these years. I am grateful for the hardship because it’s made me who I am and taught me a lot about myself. Also gave me good things to talk about (laughs).
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
Well my creativity is me. It’s my life. Being a working class black man in Scotland is very tough but I show this in my music about the choices this has led me to make over the years.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
Staying in a place that was predominantly white and into Indie music was very, very tough because they don’t rate or respect my music. I had to move a couple times just to be able to find a space that appreciated what I do.
But now my main creative challenge is sticking to myself and my story. Explaining to people why it’s important for me to tell my story.
As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, be it instruments, software tools or recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you, starting from your first studio/first instrument? What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments/tools/equipment over the years?
I started off in my friends house with Garage Band and a mic. That was it. I didn’t understand the creative side of music at all, all I knew was I wanted to make music.
Over the years I’ve met people with different levels of equipment. For me it all still doesn’t mean much as I don’t understand that aspect. So I still rent spaces and bring in engineers just so I can focus solely on my vocals.
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
Collaboration is KEY. For me, though, I only collaborate with people I rate and whose work I like. So it doesn’t matter about the social presence or whatever, if I like the sound and work I just reach out.
I don’t shy away from sending a DM to someone I like and letting them know their music is fantastic and see if they want to work. Once that’s done, I love meeting up and working from scratch. Talking through each element of the music and what we want it to sound like etc.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
I wish my day was exciting, but I’m still waking up, working a 9-5 then putting in work to make sure I don’t have to work a 9-5 anymore.
But on a serious note, I don’t have a routine as such. But if I ain’t working, I’m spending time with my daughter. Music and everything else comes after those things. Any free time I ain’t working/with daughter, I’m making moves musically. So it’s tough but it’s fun.
Can you talk about a breakthrough work, event or performance in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
Well right now, it would need to be my latest EP Saint of lost causes.
That EP/body of work is what started a lot of positive things for me. It came out last year and I worked on it throughout Covid. During this time I found out I was going to be a dad so that was the purpose and the big push behind it.
The idea behind the tape was basically explaining why I went AWOL for 2 years, and that was because I felt like a lost cause. But all of this motivated me to go on and strive for what I wanted. Especially becoming a dad. The biggest motivation I’ll ever need.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
Peace. I only write whenever I feel peaceful or content with life. So whether that's when I’ve accomplished all my little goals or when I’m feeling happy about my life. I’m still to learn how to enter these stages but as of now it’s just if and when it comes. I hope one day I'll feel it regularly.
Music and sounds can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for music as a tool for healing?
Yeah music for me helps me get out feelings that I have inside. Whether it’s sadness, happiness, loneliness etc. It doesn’t matter. Writing lyrics helps me get these feelings out but also understand why I feel the way I do. So it does affect it as it shapes what kind of music I make.
There is a fine line between cultural exchange and appropriation. What are your thoughts on the limits of copying, using cultural signs and symbols and the cultural/social/gender specificity of art?
For me, it’s down to the artist but I don’t like the idea of appropriating without giving credit where it’s due.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
My approach is basically my life. Like I said, my art comes from how I feel inside. So being an artist is just a way for me to cope with the issues of the world and issues I face.
What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
A feeling. The feeling inside that you get from music.