In the heart of NAIDOC week, Ziggy Ramo is here to tell us that apathy is just not good enough. 

The political and passionate voice of this young Indigenous hip hop artist is imploring our society to get up and speak out for what is right. Whether his message is mental health, Indigenous rights or speaking against sexism and xenophobia, Ramo is a force to be reckoned with.

With each minute of this interview, I became more and more convinced that this is a man who is set to make lasting change. He’s already released an acclaimed EP Black Thoughts, and more recently, singles Black Face and Same Script, leading us to believe that another record is just around the corner. LunchBox got to chat with Ramo about mental health, the paradoxes within hip hop and creating pop with a message.

It’s an issue we are all familiar with. It seeps into our conversations, and as much as mental health is something we know we should be open about, there is still a stigma surrounding it, particularly within our Indigenous communities. Ziggy Ramo is convinced that it needs to stop, and dialogue needs to be opened up. “There’s a lack of feeling that we are able to talk about that stuff. I myself have been really fortunate around me and I’ve come to a place where I feel very comfortable in myself and I’m not defined by my struggles with mental health.

“As someone with a platform, I want to present authenticity. As an artist I write from my experience – the first thing I tackled within my experience was growing up in Australia as Indigenous. A by-product of being Indigenous is mental health and that’s not even specifically Indigenous – I think everyone, whether you’re affected directly or indirectly, has an experience with mental health. And I myself has grown up directly affected with mental health around my family, my Indigenous family have struggled with mental health…

“For me, I want to be using my platform to challenge stigma around Indigenous rights, gender rights, stigma around mental health and our toxic idea of masculinity. For me it’s not so much Indigenous or non-Indigenous rights, it’s about human rights… If we’re ever going to make a difference we have to do it together as Indigenous Australians, we only make up 2% of the population. I never want to tell people what to think I just want to tell people to think.”

Ramo’s sound can be loosely categorised as hip hop and R&B, but with this comes a need to speak over the noise. It’s undeniable that while we love hip hop, its lyrical message is historically misogynistic and filled with challenging images of women and sexuality. Are there ways to break away from this train of conversation and still be relevant within the genre? “I am very much within the subset of hip hop culture, but culture and tradition doesn’t mean that something is right. It was through culture and tradition that slavery existed and made slavery normal. Within hip hop culture, a misogyny and hyper-masculinity has been pushed from a lot of artists. I have always found that really troubling because hip hop and hip hop culture has always stemmed from a place of giving a voice to the voiceless.

“I like to approach life in a holistic sense – I can’t imagine how contradicting and troubling it must be to push pro-black movement and in the same song demean women or engage in homophobia.” While his music is a clear reflection of hip hop’s structure, Ramo is injecting pop, soul and R&B to ensure that his music is accessible to everyone. This comes from his own experiences of feeling like his taste and story weren’t being recognised when it came to the music he listened to. “Growing up I didn’t feel represented, and I think at my most vulnerable I would have loved to have been able to connect with people who I could relate to. For me, the term ‘accessibility’ has some negative connotations to it because bubble-gum and cheaply and poorly made pop is really easy to do, but really good pop is quite hard and I think I take massive influences from, for example, Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder, and John Lennon. Just because you make pop music doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice your integrity and your intent.”

Ziggy Ramo is standing in the spotlight with a message of inclusion and respect: “I can’t just tell someone to do something and they’re going to do it, but I can plant the seeds for them to question what is going on around them and for them to come to their own understanding.” For all those not represented and disavowed by systemic conditioning through racism, misogyny and ignorance, Ramo is making music to ensure their voices are heard.

5 – 8 September, BIGSOUND, Fortitude Valley