I have a rather embarrassing story about my first time meeting Ziggy Ramo. He was performing at an event I'd been part of organising, and to be honest, we were pretty stoked that we'd secured him as a headline. Ziggy's kind of a genius freestyler, and he does this thing at his live shows where he asks crowd members to wave objects in the air, and works the names of those objects into his rap. In this particular case, he was inviting people on stage to throw words at him for incorporation, and I was an unlucky victim. I guess the fact that, when trying to produce words on demand in front of people, my mind goes blank (I think the best I could produce was another audience member's name), while his goes into overdrive, explains why he's the freestyle hip-hop artist and I'm the writer. But then, he writes all his own music, so what's my next excuse? I'm spiralling. I had an opportunity to return the favour and put him on the spot for this story in Fabric Quarterly Issue 5, only he dealt with it - should I say - "like a man". Looking back on the photos, I notice how fluidly he shifts between stoic and strong-boned - masculine - and soft, childlike, almost "girly" in the sense it's traditionally understood. It's not on purpose. It's just human.
For this shoot, Ziggy was styled by Andrew Lim at Mckilroy, with hair and beauty by Jessie Daoud and Andrea Hendroff respectively.
Hip hop artist. Indigenous activist. Catalyst for change. What do you call someone whose purpose in life is to dismantle society’s predisposition to categorise? Ziggy Ramo doesn’t need a label to have an impact – he’s got his music, a freakish natural talent to freestyle, a fiery inner-monologue and a belief in equality that’s intrinsic and unwavering.
Born in Bellingen in New South Wales, Ramo was brought up in Arnhem Land before moving to Perth at age six. Ramo’s full name, Ziggy Ramo Burrmuruk Fatnowna, reveals his diverse background: he’s born to an Indigenous and Solomon Islander father who wasn’t recognised as a citizen at the time, and a mother of Scottish heritage. And while Ramo is reluctant to distinguish his everyday self from his stage name, he chose to go by the shortened version for a reason.
“Ramo means Warrior,” he says, “and I've always thought of myself as reclaiming the concept of what it is to be a warrior, in love and compassion.”
With every music release, he’s proving that to be true. In a string of single releases since he arrived on the scene back in 2016, the central themes of Ramo’s music are unequivocal. From Black Thoughts and Black Face, which give voice to the silenced reality of being an Indigenous person in modern Australia; to confronting mental health stigma with Same Script; discrimination against women with YKWD, and love and relationships with last year’s release of A to Z, Ramo certainly doesn’t hold back.
Catch him live, and these themes are only amplified. He brings a vulnerability to the stage that you don’t see in every artist.
Emotions on display range from joyful exuberance, as Ramo bounces around to his often self-produced nu-soul beats, to gripping heartbreak as he delivers an agonizing acoustic song that deals with the all too common ‘get over it’ attitude held by many Anglo-Australians in relation to the Stolen Generation.
Ramo’s live performances, more than anything, reveal that music is just his medium – a conduit through which his very nature flows, leaving love and truth behind in the wake of sold-out shows and annihilated speakers. It’s his identity that’s truly tectonic, and it’s one that effortlessly embodies at once, nothing in particular and everything. He’s dissolving division, shifting perceptions and antiquating the whole damn system purely by existing. A mixed race, gender fluid, vegan mental health activist spitting real talk about Aboriginal empires, black face and white Australia’s hypocrisy? To say Ramo is an important voice in the Australian music landscape is as gross an understatement as they come. Even worse would be to say he’s purely political.
“It's not like I consciously choose to be political or not political,” Ramo says, his distaste for being pigeonholed on full display . “If people need to categorise it so that they feel comfortable knowing it's in a box, that's cool, but … I just write what's real to me. For me that’s what music is, it's just self-expression. It's just intrinsic to me. I can't write what's not me.”
Intrinsic, indeed. He describes realising he could freestyle at age 15; a great skill with which, he says, came with a great sense of responsibility. And learning he could write and actually apply structure to a song? “That was like opening a floodgate,” he says.
Starting out, Ramo’s songs would spring from book quotes that his brother would send him, but were soon replaced by quotes from Ramo’s own “inner monologue”.
“My gender is super fluid,” he says. “I’m very compassionate and I place an importance on vulnerability and communicating around masculinity and non-toxic masculinity. Those things started to become more important.”
Ramo is steadfast and articulate in his calls for change and equality, and there’s no sense of strain or doubt when he speaks of the universal nature of the oppressive forces at play for all iterations of discrimination and injustice.
“Music is such a universal language,” Ramo says. “So whether or not you can understand what I'm saying, you can hopefully understand my authenticity.”
For Ramo, it’s all about connection. He appears to have been put on this earth to transcend the mundane – to rise above the fray and give voice to change. It’d almost be too much virtue to take in one person, if he wasn’t also so grounded, and so willing to bring us all along for the ride.
“All we have is connection,” he says. “And for me, music is just trying to connect with a lot of people all at once. I don't want to tell people what to think, I just ask them to think. To actually ask themselves why they are the way they are and come to a place of self-acceptance.
“I guess in a way there’s a sense of anarchy [in my music], but it's individual and self-anarchy, because we as individuals will create great change. It starts from within, it just needs a spark.”