All rap-t to make a difference
JONATHAN GOES FOR POSITIVE BEAT
It’s not really a room — more of a box. A beat box.
On a table sits a high-definition computer screen, a laptop and a small mixing desk blinking with red and green lights.
Three walls are covered in large portraits of inspirational men and women of colour painted in burnt orange and brown. Malcolm X and Martin Luther King are among them.
If you keep your elbows tight, there’s just enough room to stand up and jive, which is just the way Jonathan Safari likes it.
From his cramped orange box in Mooroopna’s Point of Difference Studio, Jonathan writes rap lyrics, sets them to a thick bass and a pounding beat and then produces high-quality video film to tell the story of the lyrics.
Sometimes he brings in friends to f lesh out the lyrics, create beats and to appear in his videos.
The stories he tells are the same stories young people tell across the world — about friends and relationships, quarrels, fights and coming together to find solutions.
Jonathan’s point of difference is that his stories are about young black people growing up and finding a place for themselves in Australia — specifically Shepparton and Melbourne.
His rap song and video Lights Out has all the swagger and sweariness of Los Angeles gangsta rap, but it also has a big streak of tongue-in-cheek humour.
The narrative is based on the true story of a female friend who broke up with her boyfriend who got so angry he cut the power to her house.
When Jonathan tells the story, he can’t help bursting out into infectious laughter.
‘‘When you listen to the music it’s kinda like gangsta music, but when you watch the video it’s kinda fun,’’ he says, bouncing out of his studio chair.
‘‘The story is like a chase — you want to know what’s gonna happen next. I come in with a fake gun, but the guy thinks it’s real and we start chasing him. Then at the end of the video you see it’s just a water gun and we splash him with water.’’
His first song, Better, got 5000 hits on Spotify. Lights Out has about 7000 hits. The video has received about 20,000 YouTube views.
‘‘Everything is getting better and better,’’ Jonathan says, with a laugh.
Despite the video’s moody atmosphere, Jonathan says he’s trying to convey a positive message about dealing with problems without using violence.
‘‘Violence is not the solution,’’ he says.
‘‘We need to put the guns down; you can use your hands or put on gloves, but don’t waste your time in beefin’ and the bro code. If you go to jail — where’s your brother gonna be? Is he gonna get you outta jail?’’
Jonathan was 14 when he and his family members were forced to flee violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
They spent three years in Nairobi, Kenya, before arriving in Shepparton in 2017 under Australia’s refugee resettlement program.
He went straight into Year 11 at McGuire College as a Frenchspeaking refugee with no friends.
Today at 20, he writes rap lyrics and video narratives in poetic English and, just like his music and film production, his skills are all self-taught.
‘‘I really wanted to engage with people, so the more time I spent with people the better my English became,’’ he says.
His music skills earned him a place in Heard Instinct, a Multicultural Victoria-funded collective of dancers, songwriters and musicians that performed at Shepparton’s inaugural Land of Plenty Festival in 2019.
When COVID-19 arrived to press pause on live performances, Jonathan buried himself in the newly opened POD studio in Mooroopna.
He would cart his computer equipment back and forth from his home to the facility on Macisaac Rd.
Funding from the Victorian Government’s Anti-Racism Taskforce initiative earlier this year has meant updated equipment and employment as a POD staff member for Jonathan.
Now he wants to increase his music and film production skills to get the message out that African youths can express themselves without resorting to violence — or to gospel music.
‘‘There are a lot of African kids who are scared to do music like this because their parents want them to do gospel music,’’ he says.
‘‘So many kids are talented, they can write good music and good stories — I want to tell them you have to prove to your parents there is another way out.
‘‘When we come here, our parents always expect us to be doctors, or a pilot or a lawyer. When I left school I got into nursing because my parents wanted it.
‘‘But I didn’t really like it — they accept my music a bit more now. I have a lot of good people around me, and a lot of opportunities now, so just let me do what I wanna do.’’
Jonathan swivels his chair back to face the two screens on which he is producing his latest music video.
On the wall above him is a portrait of what looks like a tattooed Maori warrior next to an inscription by the American poet Ralph Waldo Emerson.
What lies behind us
And what lies before us
Are tiny matters Compared to what lies within us.
Jonathan Safari’s music and videos appear on Spotify and YouTube under his creative name Yungkily.