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The album Gold Coast - Out Now

 
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Rhian Benson
By
Keya Modessa

The interview was scheduled for 1pm, but in this line of work, we all know that nothing runs on time. So I make myself comfortable by marking my territory on the over sized, chocolate brown leather sofa. With a pile of magazines to flick through and soft, warm, seductive music floating in the background, I wait with bated breathe for Rhian Benson to make her appearance. Born in Ghana to a Welsh mother and a Ghanaian father, her features are immediately striking. The soulful singer breezes in fashionably late and very apologetic. But with her stunning looks, killer smile, and polite manner, what else can you do but smile back and say 'no problem'? So, as she curls up on the leather sofa opposite me, we talk about her musical and spiritual journey and her life as a rising star.

"My interest in music has been fuelled by my family background. My mother used to sing, and my uncles were professional singers and we would go to see them perform in festivals. I also have a natural love for it. I always turned to music when I needed to find my piece of mind; even as a kid, I would go into the room, put my CD on and shut the door."

Her debut album entitled 'Gold Coast', sees Rhian collaborating with two noted producers, James Poyser and Bob Power, who have individually worked with the likes of D'Angleo, Erykah Badu and The Roots amongst many others. The album is set for release later this year, and is loosely based on the singer's personal journey and experiences. These experiences include her childhood in Ghana, amongst other things. The currently single songstress remembers a life very different to that of many other urban artists. “For as long as I can remember, we used to come and visit family in Wales. I had a dual thing going on and I was always in touch with family on both continents. I also lived in India, as my father was posted there with the diplomatic high commission. It was quite amazing and it reminded me of Ghana, a similar vibe, and a very international community.” It was during these impressionable years that her natural interest in music began to grow. She wrote her first song whilst in India, at the young age of 9, and began to take piano lessons. Music was always streaming through her life, and as a young child, Rhian would take part in school productions and sing in the choir, but remembers shying away from centre stage throughout her former years.

After finishing school, Rhian moved to the UK and studied in London. Even though the soulful world of music was beckoning, Rhian took the mature and responsible approach to her future and studied at the renowned London School of Economics. Following this, she moved to the States, where she attended the prestigious Harvard University to pursue a career in banking. However, she unexpectedly returned to London when her mother was diagnosed with cancer, an experience which changed her life. "It was a real eye-opening experience and I really grew up a lot. She had always been my pillar of strength, a real tough Welsh lady, and for her to fall ill, of anything, was unusual. But her spirit was strong and she made it through, but it was during that time that I started to think 'If you can be taken like that, what am I doing with my life?'”


With such an unfortunate turn of events, the now 27-year-old Rhian started taking a closer, deeper look at her life and what she wanted from it. It was during this time that her love for music was rekindled. "I started going back to writing poetry and then I pulled out the old keyboard. I found that I had plenty of free time whilst I was looking after my mum, and I started writing. One day, I don't remember what the full thought process was exactly, but I decided I wanted to start performing." As her mother's health improved, Rhian stayed in London and began to seriously fuel her love for music. She began performing regularly at small, open mic venues. In the space of about six months, her sultry vocals were discovered and signed to DKG Music. She moved to the States, where she immediately began to work on her album and promote herself. "One of the things that the label did with me, which I really appreciate now, was to develop my stage experience by getting me to perform in little venues. Obviously then no one knew who I was."
Following these performances, an EP was released in early 2003, entitled ‘Spirit’, which included early mixes of songs, which would later feature on her album. Almost immediately, attention was turned to this enigmatic beauty and her soulful voice. As well as being compared to neo soul artists like Sade, Jill Scott and Lauryn Hill, Rhian toured with living soul legend Brian McKnight, and also supported Raphael Saadiq, Angie Stone and Musiq, to name a few.

She was then invited by BET Jazz to be a part of their first ever Ghana Musical Festival, later leading to another exciting opportunity. "After they (BET Jazz) had invited me to perform at the Ghana festival, the obvious link had been made. The label developed a good relationship with the head of BET Jazz and an opportunity came up to create a new series. They approached me and asked if I could do something with a Ghanaian tilt and I said ‘Yeah, sure.’ It was a great opportunity for me to be able to share Africa from my perspective. There is this perception that Africa is a war-torn nation and all the children are starving, but that wasn't my experience growing up in Ghana. I talked to people who were just making a living, from local entrepreneurs, to members of government and we went all over to the beaches, hotels, landmarks."

It is the influence of her cultural roots and upbringing which have moulded Rhian into who she is today. It is very much these factors, which play an intrinsic part in Rhian's music, that colour her image and which led to the naming of her debut album. "I really wanted people to know where I was coming from with this album. I am British, but I spent most of my life in Ghana, so my perspectives and references are very much based on Ghana. Historically, Ghana used to be called The Gold Coast, and California, where I am based is kind of the American Gold Coast, so it ties up my whole experience so far, summing up my journey."

So, from the sandy beaches of the Gold Coast, to the cold and wet streets of England, Rhian finds herself back where the dream began. Having managed to successfully lure the US market, Rhian is now focusing her sights on the UK music scene. If it's pure raw talent that the UK industry needs, then cast a closer look at this soul star in the making.
Only time will tell if this elegant soul/jazz singer will achieve the golden future she deserves.

Rhian's debut single 'Say How I Feel' and her album ‘Gold Coast’ is out now.
Visit www.rhianbenson.com for more details.

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