Jamaican songstress Zia Benjamin is equal parts beauty, depth and bohemian wise-woman.
She’ll be joining young roots reggae artist Kabaka Pyramid on Friday, June 14 in Pembroke Pines for a show at the Reign Restaurant and Cocktail Bar.
Benjamin, whose solo musical career came into bloom after cutting her teeth in the industry as a songwriter and featured vocalist for mega-stars like Sean Paul and Major Lazer, has emerged with a soulful bohemian island gyal sound, which she dubs “rum shop blues.”
Last December, Benjamin released her “Mr. NeverMan” single (music video above), and followed up with another single called “Rudie”, which she dropped in April 2019.
Benjamin was born and raised in Kingston, Jamaica to immigrant parents, and is of Black Carib-Indian and German descent. Her mother, who was from a small village in Germany, woke up one morning to Bob Marley’s song “Wake Up And Live” on the radio and it changed her life. She left her fiancé and flew to Jamaica without any connections or fluency in the language. She met Zia’s father, Dr. Bernard Benjamin, who had migrated from the small Caribbean island of Dominica. Fast forward through a dramatic love story and Zia was born.
Songwriting & Poetry
A poet and songwriter, Benjamin has written for the likes of Major Lazer and Sean Paul, and more recently was commissioned for a writing camp for an international pop star (which remains undisclosed at the moment) who is currently prepping a reggae album. “As a kid I always had ink on my hands, all over my school books – lyrics everywhere. I’d drive to the country with my parents and because I had no paper I’d chew up all my bubble gum and write lyrics on the wrappers – just so I wouldn’t forget them. I’d leave the car with lyrics all over my arm’s because bubble gum wrappers can only hold so much,” she says.
She also found a passion for documentary production, which was inspired by the tragic killing of her father. Dr. Benjamin was shot by teenagers close to his home in 2005. To find solace, Benjamin dedicated her documentary work to social justice and human rights issues. Her feature on grief won an award for Documentary Producer Of The Year presented by Fanshawe College and Western University in Ontario, Canada, where she attended and studied media/journalism/film. Today, she directs all of her own music videos (she lists Quentin Tarantino as an influence) and continues to pursue her love for visual media. She also represents Kingston, Jamaica as a World Economic Forum Global Shaper.
Benjamin currently lectures on resisting gender-based violence and working through trauma using art at post-secondary schools and homes for girls across Jamaica. She isn’t afraid to point out the shadiness of the sleazebags in the industry. Her debut song “No Fame” shed light on a personal #MeToo moment, and it has allowed her to share her story with young females in the Caribbean where it is a prevalent issue. “On the outside looking in, the industry seems so glamorous, but when you’re in it there’s a lot of pressure from the people “guarding the doors” – ‘bow down and I can make your dreams come true’ – it’s so stereotypical, but it’s fact.”
She is inspired by 1950’s and 60’s jazz bar vocalists, retro dancehall and old Hollywood and obsessed with classic James Bond films. Music and style icons include Billie Holiday, John Lennon, Elizabeth Taylor, Sade, Nina Simone, Marilyn Monroe, Lady Saw and Shabba Ranks. “I think my style is a mix of opposites: I’m like Shabba Ranks meets Marilyn Monroe, with a Nina Simone soul and a few shots of Appleton rum.”
Journalism, Emergency Surgery & Miss Jamaica World
If she didn’t pursue her dream of music, Benjamin says she would have been a journalist. “Although my dad wanted me to follow in his footsteps as a doctor – once, when I was a little girl I helped sew someone’s finger back on after an emergency!” Benjamin was accepted into the prestigious McGill University for sciences, but being the non-conformist that she is she declined at the last minute, without telling her parents, to pursue her passion for journalism at Western University instead.
Benjamin was also a finalist in Miss Jamaica World, and won the award for Beauty With A Purpose. “I spent the month eating Wendy’s in the bathroom wondering wtf I was doing in a pageant – it was also probably the only time in my life that I was consistently in the gym… to work off the Wendys, but I met a ton of dope chicks and I’m still conquering the world with them, we’re still close.”