Meet JamarzOnMarz, who breaks new ground with his new single, Tomorrow
His new video clip is influenced by a petition he's spearheading, against the discrimination of Afro textured-hair in the schooling system.
Header image by @cernestudios.
There's a strong chance that over the last few months, you've seen JamarzOnMarz on your screen. The Sydney-based musician has caught national attention over the last few months for a petition he started, which aims to resolve ongoing discrimination against afro-textured hair in the schooling system: "Throughout my senior schooling years, I was continually forced to shave my natural Afro hair, and protective styles (braids, cornrows, twists, buns & dreadlocks) were banned, outlawed as 'extreme hairstyles'," he wrote. "Erasure of African culture and identity should not be an additional cost to attending an independent school in Australia."
The petition has been quick to take off, eyeing off 25,000 signatures in a matter of months and catching the attention of everyone from media platforms to politicians, who have all joined to elevate Jamarz's voice. It's also a big influence behind the music video for his latest single Tomorrow; an uprising of kids led by Jamarz after the principal dragged a student through the school because of their hair texture, facing a forced haircut in a reimagining of what's actually a reality for a lot of kids of colour, at a time vital to learning about yourself and growing self-confidence in your history and culture.
"Growing up in an overwhelmingly white regional town, I didn’t have many peers who looked like me or who were openly queer," says Jamarz on the clip, which as he mentions, also features a queer romance narrative that brings distinctive teenage stereotypes to life with queer angles, doing so to emphasise something that isn't often seen in interpretations of schooling life nowadays. "I rectified that through the casting, and lived my Grammar School fantasy; being out and proud, surrounded by diverse and accepting peers, and embracing individuality. Fingers crossed this video can influence at least one Australian Independent school to stop discriminating against Black students with Afro textured-hair and protective styles."
At its core, Tomorrow is a pointed masterclass from JamarzOnMarz that emphasises his many strengths spread across music and into the greater world. Musically, the track moves between gentle R&B sways and focused hip-hop overlayed with smatterings of afrobeat, over which Jamarz switches between English and Swahili as he sings about queer love in an ode to his current partner (it's also worth noting, as he says, that Swahili is a language commonly found in Kenya, where homosexuality is criminalised).
It's a brilliant track - and accompanying video - that emphasises how crucial someone like JamarzOnMarz is to Australia's music space, as representation at a time that reflects growing calls for diversity and inclusivity on festival lineups and within the music industry, right through to the messages and stories he brings to life as a musician in the commercial eye. There's really nothing else like it, and that's why we're such a huge fan.
Take a dive into the track and its accompanying video clip below, and underneath that, better get to know JamarzOnMarz ahead of what's next:
Tell us about yourself?
My name is JamarzOnMarz. I’m a lyricist, and saxophonist. I was born and raised in regional NSW (Orange), and I’m now Sydney based. I found my beginnings 12 years ago as a classically trained alto saxophonist. For the musicians out there - I did all the AMEB exams including, AmusA.
As a recording artist, it feels like I’m operating in largely uncharted waters being an openly gay male rapper. Growing up as a kid, and developing as an artist, I never had a queer male rapper to look up to. Most of the rappers I grew up idolising ended up being massive homophobes, so I don’t like listing my past influences. I will say Nicki Minaj is the exception, and has paved the way for many other artists like me.
What’s the ‘vibe’ music-wise?
I float between modern rap, trap, R&B and afrobeats (which fringes on pop because of my Aussie perspective), and I excel on dark-sounding production. Regardless of genre, it’s important to me that I incorporate elements of jazz (i.e my saxophone), either through samples or solos. Purely so I don’t feel like I’ve given up on my sax in pursuit of being a recording artist.
Politics are at the core of my music. Even if my song is giving off dance or party vibes, my lyrics are laced with subversion. I love turning stereotypes and social constructs on their heads, as of late these are masculinity, sexuality and gender - at my live shows. In my previous releases, I touched on racial privileges (Complexion 4 Protection) and appropriation (Amnesia).
When I’m spitting on afrobeats, speaking in Swahili is essential. But I’m not fluent at all. My parents only taught me enough keywords to talk shit in public. Still, it’s my way of staying in touch with the motherland - Kenya.
What are your production and writing processes usually like?
Creatively, I’m driven by emotions that are overwhelming. That’s what makes me pick up the pen. When I was closeted (up until 2018) these emotions were anger, repression, and anxiety because it felt like it was me versus the world, and hip-hop was the perfect outlet to let it all out. These days it’s lust, romance, love, heartbreak and of course current affairs (e.g, my previous single Israel Falafel following Israel Folau’s homophobic comments in 2019).
Production-wise, I’m really picky. Once I’m emotionally activated, I speed through a bunch of beats, listen to the first 10 seconds until the right one speaks to me and then I let it all out. I do sit on demos, detach from the moment, then add my own additional production and rewrite with the less-emotional side of my brain. When I’m at this stage, I try to make lyrical changes that are best for the song, and intended audience.
Can you tell us a bit about this new song, Tomorrow?
There’s quite a lot to unpack. The song itself was inspired by my boyfriend, written when I was tuning him hard (haha). He was based in Sydney and I was based in the Blue Mountains, so naturally I wanted my days away from him to be over, so I could see him again and cuddle (hence the chorus “so I can hold ya on my shoulder”).
On a deeper level within the song, I rapped a few bars in Swahili that are sexually explicit and clearly about another man. The opening line literally translates to “Hi! How are you? I’m good thanks. Eat my ass like a banana”… So, I’m sure this will jar a lot of people in East Africa. Being gay is still illegal, punishable by imprisonment, in Kenya and a lot of other African countries. What’s worse for queer folk in these regions are the hate crimes and ostracism they endure. You can easily be killed for being gay. My hopes are by being myself on these tracks, I can breakdown stigmas, inspire and invoke pride within these LGBTQIA+ communities.
You’ve been doing a lot of work against racial discrimination at the moment too, particularly concerning discrimination against afro-textured hair and protective styles. Can you tell us a bit about this, how it ties into your new video, and what people can do to help?
Since July, I’ve been leading a campaign to stop independent schools discriminating against Afro textured-hair and protective styles; braids, locks and cornrows for example. In my experience at school, and many other Black students, our natural hair and protective styles breach school uniform rules, and grooming codes. Teachers are labelling our natural hair as “extreme hairstyles”, when our afros are not a ‘style’ they’re type of hair texture. Unfortunately, in the law, independent schools remain unregulated with their powers over students’ uniform. Through this petition, I am calling on the NSW Education Minister, Sarah Mitchell, and the NSW Attorney General, Mark Speakman, to make an amendment to the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act that clearly protects culturally diverse students from such uniform policies that hinder their identity and culture.
When it came to making a video for Tomorrow, I just knew I had to bring the campaign to life through these visuals. My main priority was to represent Black independent school students, and their natural hair, in a new light. When I thought about all the movies I’ve ever watched, Black students with afros and braids in cliché ‘preppy’ schools are severely underrepresented. It’s because our identity is not *really* welcomed in these conservative spaces. So I aimed to celebrate and normalise Black kids in these conservative spaces for the NSW Attorney General, the NSW Minister for Education, the Independent Schools Association and of course the Australian public.
If you are reading this, every single signature counts especially as I negotiate with MPs. I need two very important things from you! Firstly, please sign and share the petition (change.org/protectblackstudents). Secondly, please reach out to me if you have faced similar discriminations in school. I am keeping a record and compiling all incidences. We are stronger together.
What does the rest of 2020 have in store for you?
More lobbying to come! I really want to focus on the petition and push for this legal change. I’m aiming to bring other stories to light, and get the petition mentioned in the Parliament of NSW again, before it finishes for the year sometime in November.
I’m working on my first collab, with a super special artist, and I’m hoping through this song, together we will continue to normalise queer relationships in Australia, and amplify local queer stories. I’m already conceptualizing what visual story I’ll tell in the next video, and what social construct it’ll challenge. I’ve been writing down all the ‘mistakes’ from this release, and the wins, to make sure we really elevate the storytelling of the next video. I also may or may not be working on a project that’s around 9 tracks – oop!
What do you want people to take away from the project?
Firstly, queers in hip hop/afrobeats/R&B exist and it is time now for our stories to be told in these historically unwelcoming genres. For those grappling with their identity, I want you to know who you are is okay, you are normal. I am so sorry that you have to hide who you are because of your environment. I’m gunning for wider acceptance and celebration for you.
I hope this music video further validates queer artists within the Australian and global music industry, especially within the hip-hop realm. I feel like queer artists are boxed into a LGBTQIA+ audience, when our stories can be transcendent and speak to the masses. Personally, I’m so happy to be providing a glimpse for the global industry, into what a proud gay male rapper may look like, as I reckon we’re viewed as ‘a gamble’. I want more industry support for queer artists (booking quotas at festivals for example) and for the queers to rise together.
Where can we find more of your music?
Head to YouTube for this project, the music video is truly special! Otherwise, I’m on all streaming platforms; Spotify, Apple Music etc.