“I had to earn each fan one by one… the biggest challenge is not stopping”
Words by Coco Veldkamp
Rwanda-Kiwi rapper Raiza Biza brings his thought-provoking lyrics and smooth beats to Melbourne for a show at Ferdydurke this Sunday.
A key part of New Zealand‘s underground hip-hop scene, Biza has built a dedicated international fan base with his astute observations of shared experiences and the nuances of life.
When it comes to artists building their audience from the ground up, Biza is the epitome. Growing up between Congo, Zambia and South Africa, Biza explains that there wasn’t a big hip-hop scene when he started his career. Rather, he had to find his own way into the industry.
Check out the latest gigs coming up at Ferdydurke here.
“I started rapping when I was 10 or 11. I mean, at that point it was more like poetry – we didn’t even use beats. Me and my friends would get together after school and have our little rap battles or whatever,” he said.
“We didn’t really have a scene that I grew up in – we just made our own. I think I was only officially introduced to the scene during the SoundCloud era when we could just upload our music instantly and get people to listen to it.”
When Biza released his first LP dream something In 2012, he didn’t think anyone would hear it. As it turns out, Biza’s introspective poetic roots and magnetic lyricism struck a chord and soon caught the attention of some bloggers and underground radio stations.
Biza’s music is shaped by both his personal experiences and the experiences of those around him.
“I make so many different kinds of music with different ideas and different concepts. It’s really expression for me, therapy I guess,” he said.
“I consider myself an observer, a person who in a sense makes the soundtrack to other people’s lives. A lot of other people’s experiences and stories come up in my music, so it’s like my music just comes from somewhere and then goes out and belongs to the world.”
A sense of quiet responsibility reverberates through Biza’s tracks. His insightful and intricately relatable observations are in part what earned him such a dedicated following, a loyal audience that was ultimately a decade in the making. Biza says his biggest challenge as an artist has been not stopping.
“My career has been a slow burn. There wasn’t a moment when I exploded or thought I would there. I had to earn each fan individually. I had to play small shows and then bigger shows and then bigger shows. I just built it from the ground up,” he said.
“I make a living from my music now, but it’s tough when you see your friends in corporate jobs…buying houses or getting on in life when what you’re doing isn’t promising. I think the biggest challenge is not stopping.”
For now, Biza’s quiet determination is paying off. His slowly cultivated fanbase has closely followed the release of his five albums and seen him touring Australia, Europe and China. Giving back is also part of Biza’s work. Having mentored several emerging artists in his community, he encourages artists to find their own voice and matches support with honesty.
“Don’t ask for opinions. You risk everything in this industry and I never had a plan B. A lot of people send me stuff to ask if it’s any good. If you don’t like it – it’s not good. You just have to master your own art. Don’t become the best rapper or whatever, become your best,” he said.
Despite his success as an artist, independent performances around the world and a growing canon of insightful discography, Biza still identifies as an introvert unaccustomed to large crowds.
“Some people think they were born entertainers and they have videos like this where they dance and walk on the moon when they were about three years old, but it was never me. I’m introverted and don’t like big crowds. All of that scares me, but it’s something you have to do to get your music across to people,” he said.
Biza’s determination is impressive. Over a decade into his career and now on his sixth album (among countless other projects and activities), he continues to consistently release music. And if it doesn’t live up to its standards, you won’t hear it.
“I’m always writing in my book and working on something new, like my next album, but I’m stuck. I need to get new perspectives and maybe travel. I hope to release the album before the end of the year. I’m always working, I’m trying to build that legacy and change the landscape of the music industry. That’s what I’m about,” he said.
Riza will play at Ferdydurke in Melbourne’s CBD, known for its assemblage of independent and underground artists. Among his classics, he will try some new music from the album Pangea to be released later in the year.
“I’m going to be making a lot of new music,” he said. “I’m taking the show as an opportunity to try some things and see what people think. It’s going to be very intimate, very personal, very raw and honest. We’re going to have some fun.”
Visit Riza Biza in Ferdydurke on Sunday 7 August. Admission is free.
This article was created in collaboration with Ferdydurke.