Being dropped from netball team the Central Pulse felt like a breakup, but rising New Zealand rapper JessB has managed to see the silver lining. She tells Nicky Park about losing her identity as a star netballer and discovering another: her Kenyan heritag
If I have a show on a Saturday, I will be recuperating, regenerating on Sunday. I like to keep Sundays as a chill day. I don’t like to be too busy, cos I am still busy during the week, even though it’s not a typical structured working week.
We have family dinner on Sunday. I have a really big family. I’m adopted, so my parents are Kiwis. My birth father lives in Kenya still. My aunt and uncle raised me. So I still have a connection with my birth mum, and via that family connection they’ve always tried to keep the idea of Kenya involved in my life… I’ve never been disillusioned.
I’m not the only Kenyan in my family. My cousin married a Kenyan guy, by complete chance, and he has become like my big brother. I ended up going back to Kenya with him, so I met his family when I went over there. Next time I go back I might meet my birth father. But I just wanted to go back, I just wanted to see it. So it was the perfect trip to go with him because he took me under his wing.
Kenya was a huge culture shock, which I hadn’t really prepared for. I grew up so quintessentially New Zealand. I found it really hard because here I’ve never quite fitted in, because there are not many mixed-race Africans in New Zealand. I never had a group of friends growing up that were the same as me. I kind of felt like going back to Kenya I was going to be invisible, because it’s really hard to stick out all the time. It gets tiring. But I wasn’t. Because I am a mix, because they knew I was not from there, there was no blending in, which I found quite hard.
It changed the way I saw myself. I just knew there was a lot of work for me to do in terms of the way I see myself, and my identity and my life and how I relate to that and being a New Zealander who’s of Kenyan descent, or an “Afric-Kiwi”. It’s a beautiful country, the cultures are beautiful and it was nice to go into that world. That’s my bloodline. I definitely came home with a different mindset, not of the world, but in terms of my place in it.
I never felt comfortable in who I was, I always wished I was different. It’s like a lingering thing. It’s not something I would ever talk about, it’s just something that was there. I hated my hair. In summer I would stay out of the sun because I didn’t want to go any darker, just little things like that. When you’re doing them you don’t realise what they actually mean and how you’ve internalised that. It wasn’t until later on that I realised all those things and I was like: “Wow, there’s a lot of work to be done.”
I feel proud of who I am, and my make up, and all the parts of me. I would love to go back and spend some more time in Kenya and connect even more to my ancestral land and where my family comes from.
I’ve always been wordy. Sometimes I’ll write random sentences that just pop into my mind. Then, when I have the time later, I will go through the notes on my cellphone and pick out the best bits and start formulating lyrics from there. At the moment, they are