There is excitement in the air ahead of LSE alumna and award-winning neo-soul singer Rhian Benson’s event on Monday here on the campus. The Ghana-born singer-songwriter will perform an exclusive live acoustic set before talking about her music career and her involvement with the World Bank’s youth project, Youthink!.
As Mobo award winning Rhian Benson prepares for her return to LSE, she has been reflecting on the life lessons learned during her time at the School.
“I remember being inspired by the ambition of my fellow students. It’s something that’s very hard to teach in a formal setting but you know it when you see it.”
The half-Ghanaian, half-Welsh musician gained a degree in Economics from LSE in the nineties and worked in investment banking and studied at Harvard before entering the music industry. She burst onto the music scene in 2003 with her debut album, Gold Coast, an effort that earned her a Mobo award as best jazz act.
The 34-year-old credits the ambitious atmosphere at the LSE in helping her negotiate the music business.
“I remember in my first year having a really great time and then realising that half the students in my year had already got themselves internships at major banks or accounting firms. And I was like ‘my gosh, I haven’t got one yet. I have to get one. This is what people do.
“I think there was this general sense that you can be the best, you should always strive to be the best and that stayed with me. The music industry that I ended up in is a very challenging one and you have to learn to believe in your vision and have that LSE-type ambition to rise above it all.”
This attitude is reflected in the direction of her recently-released second studio album, Hands Clean in which she has made a huge artistic leap from her first effort. I find that whereas Gold Coast was beautiful, melodious jazzy soul, her second album features her incredible voice draped in electro-pop rhythms.
“I lost my mother shortly after I finished touring Gold Coast, so that put my head somewhere else completely. The things I wanted to write about were so far removed from Gold Coast.
“The beautiful poetry of Gold Coast and the wondrous endless optimism it represented was replaced by something a little bit more based in reality. I think it took quite a bit of courage to be so direct about some of the things on the album.
“Musically as well it needed a different bed. So away went the very live sounds of Gold Coast and in came the electronica sound. Sometimes it is uncomfortable to hear and it jolts you and that’s the sort of feeling I wanted to have on Hands Clean. I thought it contrasted well with my vocals which are quite jazzy.”
Benson is also involved in the World Bank’s multimedia youth project, Youthink! ,an online forum for African youth to discuss global development issues.
“I did a video blog talking about the things I hope and aspire to see in African development. It’s a really interesting project with young Africans living all over the world doing various things from banking to fashion giving their views and talking about it openly.
“I was very excited by the lively debate because I believe all great change comes from a little conversation or a small idea.”
Watch the video of Rhian Benson’s latest single from Hands Clean.
Listen to my full interview with Rhian Benson below.
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