Budjerah is an 18-year-old singer/songwriter from Fingal Head, NSW, who has quickly earned a name for himself as ‘one to watch’ in the Australian music industry. And, for good reason. His debut single, ‘Missing You’, is three and a half minutes of nothing but soulful vocals, earnest lyricism and optimistic melodies, and is a major mood-enhancer in these strange and uncertain times.
Budjerah recruited fellow musician Matt Corby to produce his upcoming EP, which will no doubt be heavily influenced by gospel, soul and R&B—the preferred genres of his musical family. Favouring organic sounds over synthetic instruments, the Coodjinburra man creates a sense of comfort and warmth with his music that has us repeatedly hitting the replay button on his tracks and grooving in our seats.
We had the immense pleasure of chatting with Budjerah recently, where we discussed his intuitive approach to music making, the intersection of his faith and his music, and who we should be listening to next.
What can we expect off your debut EP?
You can expect to get some soul and some singing. I'm a singer so I try my best to sing well – it's just an introduction to me.
You’ve mentioned that when working with Matt, he pushed you vocally and that you both really like real, organic sounds of instruments. Can you elaborate more on your collaboration?
Working with Matt was really cool, actually. Both of us have a similar preference for using real instruments over synthy sounds. We're both singers, too, which is great. I don't have many friends that sing. He's one of the coolest people I've ever met. He’s a pro, so it was just cool sitting in a room with him and learning as much as I could.
When I was sixteen and in school, I opened for him at a gig in the old museum in Brisbane. He peeked around the corner when I was playing and thought I was pretty cool. That's when we first met and it just went from there.
What’s your creative process like?
I get asked this a lot. Honestly, I don't do anything specific. I don't really have a process. It's just sort of– if the song is meant to come out, the song will come out any way it wants. I've never written a song the same way twice. But with the EP ... when I left Matt's studio, on the way home, mum and dad picked me up. We were listening to the songs and were like, "Oh these songs are kinda cool.” And then I thought, “Well, I guess this is the EP.”
I know some people have formulas that they believe in, like, “This chord creates this feeling.” People can be very, very particular. But not me; I just go with the flow.
Can you elaborate on what inspired ‘Missing You’?
I left school in 2019, just before the HSC started, so I could keep doing music. Coming home and writing songs all day and doing emails was all I was doing. I missed being around my friends five days a week, six hours a day. So that's what initially inspired ‘Missing You’. I think COVID-19 really turned all the emotions up to 100—being in lockdown and not being able to see family members. I think everyone really felt that too. We all just wanted to be around people.
The song also speaks to the uncertainty in lockdown. The first lyric of the song, “When will the morning come”, is kind of like, “When will I be able to go and see my people and my friends?”. The chorus, “Will we live long enough”, speaks to the feeling of not knowing how long this will go for and all the uncertainty and scariness that we feel. We all just want everything to go back to normal.
You’ve mentioned growing up listening to gospel music. For those of us who didn’t, can you recommend some of your favourite artists?
I love gospel music so much. It's all about soul and feeling. My favourite ones are The Clark Sisters. They were very funky. They can really sing, those women.
Kirk Franklin is really good, too. Definitely listen to him if you're interested in gospel music.
I also really like Kim Burrell. She's a jazz and gospel singer from Texas and she has a really crazy ear and does all these crazy scales when she sings. When I was learning how to sing and practice runs, I would try copying Kim Burrell.
Those are my top three I think.
How do you think faith informs your music?
For me, I think that my faith is about loving people and giving them hope. Jesus went and sat with the poor and the sinners and he didn't treat them as lesser. He loved them and gave them hope. If I can do that with my music, then I'm doing something good. That's what i'm trying to do.
What aspects of your culture are explored in your music?
That's a tricky one. My music explores who I am. It's an expression of what I feel and my experiences. I'm a Coodjinburra man from Budjalung country and I don't try to sing about anything specific within my culture. I grew up knowing my dances and my languages but I don't specifically emphasise that in my music. It's who I am and growing up in it, it comes out naturally.
What are your favourite things about living in Fingal Head?
It's right on the beach. It's very tropical. It's like an island. A lot of people come here on holiday. There's a little studio down the road in the holiday park and sometimes I just walk down and have a writing session there. Everyone's just in holiday mode.
Fingal is my home. I live here and my ancestors are from here, so I'm just connected to it. That's my favourite thing about it––that I get to be connected to such a beautiful place.
Younger people around the world are becoming increasingly aware and active about social justice issues. Are there any particular issues you’re passionate about?
I'm very passionate about the Black Lives Matter movement. Being coloured myself, it makes me really sad that for years people have been fighting for equality and we're still struggling to look out for each other and care for each other. We need to stop worrying about how other people grew up and what the colour of their skin is. That's really important to me.
What are you reading at the moment?
I'm not reading at the moment, but I should be. My favourite book is The Little Prince. I've read it five times. I might read it again, now that I'm thinking about it. It's a little French book about a pilot who gets stuck in the desert. It's like a children's book, but when you read it, and really think about what's going on, there's a lot to learn from it. And it's just a good little tale. I love it.
What are you watching at the moment?
One of my friends got me into The Office. It's my new favourite show.
Who are other Indigenous artists to keep an eye on?
My favourite Indigenous artist is JK-47. He lives just across the river from me. He's pretty much my cousin. I might be a bit biased, but he's my favourite indigenous artist. He's really good. He's a rapper and he just won the Triple J Unearthed competition. In my opinion he's one of the best at the moment.
I also really like Sycco. She's got a cool song Germs which i really like. Also, Kee-Ahn. She's really cool! They're the people I'm watching and I can't wait to see what happens in their careers and how their music develops.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
My parents told me to always be honest and truthful, as much as you can. Always be honest to yourself and to others and you can't go wrong.
Feature: Martyn Reyes Photos: Julian Schulz Fashion: Miguel Urbina Tan
Shot on location in Marrickville, Sydney