AUSSIE LOVE: Benjamin Booker performing at Laneway in 2015. The American soul-rocker returns to for Bluesfest at Easter.AS someone who dates an Los Angeles-basedn film maker, US musicianBenjamin Booker is fully awareof the cultural differences between the allied nations.
Particularly when it comes to gun control.
“I’ve had n friends I’ve gone out with and I remember one timesomebody drove past us in a low-rider car, they were obviously gang members, and they spat in our direction,” the softly-spoken Booker tells Weekender from Los Angeles.
“This girl just walked out and started chasing them and I was like, ‘People have guns here, you can’t do that shit, you’ll get shot at’.
“It is weird for ns because yourinteractions with people are different and you don’t think, ‘Oh, he’s carrying a gun’.”
The soul-rocker knows first hand the dangers of America’s gun obsession. Around Christmas 2015 he was randomly shot at while riding his bicycle in his local neighbourhood in New Orleans.
The frightening incident and a home burglaryconvinced the Tampa Bay-raised 28-year-old to flee the South for California, via a month-long retreat in Mexico City.
NEW LIFE: Benjamin Booker left New Orleans for Los Angeles after he was randomly shot at while riding a bike.
While in the Mexican capital Booker wrote the bulk of his politically-motivated second album Witness.
Musically Witness was a shift fromBooker’sself-titled debut in 2014. It expanded on his blues and punk sound to embrace gospel and soul, as best heard in the title track that featureslegendary singer Mavis Staples.
But most importantly Witness was bristling with a political conscience. It represented Booker drawing a line in the sand. As a young African-American man with a public platform, he was no longer prepared to be silent aboutthe racism and prejudice his community suffers.
The title track dealswith the numerous instances of black men being killed bywhite police officers and has become an anthem for the Black Lives Matter movement.
“I had to become more active,” Booker says. “Since the album came out I’m definitely more bummed out in general. The album came out last June and things aren’t great over here. I can’t say I’m positive, but I’m trying to stay positive.”
Benjamin Booker – BelieveIs it hard living somewhere that you feel so negative about?
“It’s made it hard for everyone, It’s constant, non-stop all the time,” Booker says.“The only thing you hear about all day long.”
Despite Booker’s pessimism surrounding American society, his musical career couldn’t be brighter. Witness has been universally praised by critics.
The album combines the soul and roots of Ben Harper, the garage blues of early White Stripesand the croon of Otis Redding.
Not surprisingly, Booker’s eclectic sound has attracted a diverse demographic.
Benjamin BookerHave You Seen My Son?about his mother praying for him after he left Tampa for New Orleans to follow his dreams in music.
Booker sings, “Saying have you seen my son?/He’s lost in the world somewhere/I pray for him every day/But I know he ain’t seen your ways.”
Thankfully, Booker says, those bridges have since been mended.
“Anyone who starts off in entertainment probably has the same problems,” he says.“Every parent’s biggest concern is they don’t want their kid to be starving on the street and homeless.
“I think they were worried about that. Once you start to play and making money and paying rent they usually come around.”
Benjamin Bookerperforms at Byron Bay’s Bluesfest from March 29 to April 2.