Berwyn’s breakthrough songs of ‘blood, sweat and tears’

In “BBC Sound of 2021: Berwyn’s breakthrough songs of ‘blood, sweat and tears,’” Ian Youngs (BBC News) writes about the professional trajectory of Trinidad-born, London-based singer and rapper Berwyn Du Bois.

Two years ago, Trinidad-born, London-based singer and rapper Berwyn was sleeping on a mattress on a bare floor when he decided he had a choice. Either he would go all-out to try to make a go of music, or he would give up.

What followed was a two-week burst of intense creativity during which he poured his heart into a collection of achingly personal songs about struggling to balance heartache with hope. “Blood, sweat and tears,” he says. Fast-forward to October 2020, and those intimate songs became his debut album Demotape/Vega. They have also earned him a record deal with Sony, and now third place on the BBC Sound of 2021 list, which is being revealed this week.

Berwyn’s blend of haunting hip-hop and downbeat R&B puts him in the company of singers like James Blake and Sampha. For an appearance on the BBC’s Later… With Jools Holland in June, he recorded his song Glory in front of his mum in the kitchen, adding an extra verse about racism in response to Black Lives Matter.

Berwyn Du Bois moved from Trinidad and Tobago to Romford, east London, at the age of nine. There, his school music teacher took him under her wing – and to folk clubs (evidence exists of a young Berwyn at one such club performing an impressive Ed Sheeran cover).

Much of the rest of his life story is laid out in the lines of his songs – his thwarted attempt to go to university, his mum’s spell in jail and his struggles to survive.

He makes poetry out of violence (“Bodies drop like flies/Bonnies wanting Clydes/Clydes dying long before their times”), homelessness (“How come sleeping in a car only filled me with drive/It was just me, myself, the stars and my guitar in the night“), and his dreams of escape (“When I close my eyes, I see stadium lights“).

He talked to BBC News about the obstacles he has faced and his dreams for the future – from becoming the next Dr Dre to being prime minister of Trinidad. [. . .]

How did you get into making music?

In year 11, we gained a really, really good teacher. She was so invested and so committed to making sure our future was sound. She really went the extra mile.

There was one computer and I would sit on that computer any time I had the chance. After school I was on it from three o’clock, when school finished, till seven in the evening sometimes, and she would sit there on her computer finding something to do just so I could be up there. That level of commitment – oh my God. None of this was existing without it.

What’s her name?

Di Russell. Those are the little things that make such a crucial difference. She understood the importance of keeping me distracted in the right ways. We used to go to this folk club on a Wednesday evening. These people would show me so much love. That’s a special woman. Shout out Di. [. . .]

For full interview, see https://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-55274241

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