Budjerah Slabb is a terrible liar. If you want a secret kept, he tells me he is definitely not your guy. It may seem like a relatively unimportant fact; the kind you reveal as an ice breaker on a first date, but in the case of this 18-year-old artist it offers an insight into the underpinnings that define his creative process. It explains why at such a tender age, his music is already laced with a pervading sense of honesty. A characteristic, he says, is a non-negotiable both in his craft and in life.
Born in Fingal Head – traditionally the land of the Bundjalung people – Budjerah owes his connection to music to being raised in a home full of instruments, exposed to the sounds of Sam Cooke and The Clark Sisters and encouraged to perform in family bands and at weekly church services.
On set, his unbridled sense of adventure offers a side to Budjerah we don’t often see – giddy, gentle, charismatic. But when he gets in front of the camera, there’s no shaking his calm and receptive demeanour. Much like his music, Budjerah knows how to switch gears.
What’s the first thing people should know about you?
Not many people know how to say my name – Boodj | er | ah. Which is definitely fair enough because I do have a tricky name. So, when I meet someone for the first time the first thing I usually do is teach them how to pronounce my name properly. It’s like my opening line.
Tell me about growing up.
I grew up in a village called Fingal Head which is just across the river from Tweed. The land is Bundjalung Country and it is where my tribe has lived for generations. I feel very fortunate to grow up on my land and learn my culture and language. Which we are very lucky to still have intact.
What is your earliest memory of music?
From the moment I was born, I was surrounded by music. All my family are musicians and we all played in church together. But I have always loved singing. I sing every day. There hasn’t been a day where I’ve kept my mouth shut. At one point I decided I wanted to be an archaeologist, but even then I was still singing every day.
Left: HERMÈS shirt; LOUIS VUITTON pants; TIFFANY & CO. bracelet and ring. Right: DIOR jacket and pants; TIFFANY & CO. bracelet and ring.
Do you think you would have discovered your passion for music if it wasn’t so intrinsic to your upbringing?
…It would have been impossible to keep me from singing. As to whether I would have pursued it as a career, I may have done something else instead. The unfortunate reality is the arts are still not as supported in schools as viable career options the way they should be. If it wasn’t for my family, I may not have had the same push.
Your music presents this effortless blend of gospel and soul with more contemporary notes and R’n’B references. Was this a sound that resonated with you from early on or was it something you grew into over time?
Gospel is what I grew up with; particularly gospel from the 70s onwards. Artists like The Clark Sisters and Kirk Franklin brought this sound into a more contemporary space, incorporating jazz and blues notes and characteristics. Not a lot of people know this, but gospel is the foundation of all styles of music. You just have to listen closely.
You have said before that “When people listen to my music, they’ll hear my experience.” How important is it to you that you’re honest in your song lyrics?
It’s very important to me. Not just in music, but in life in general. I see honesty as a very healthy trait for your mind and body. I’m also a terrible liar, I actually get really sick when I’m dishonest. So, I can’t help but tell the truth.
HERMÈS jacket and shirt; TIFFANY & CO. bracelet and rings.
You’ve formed an incredible creative and personal relationship with Matt Corby. How did it feel to find someone who understands your purpose and intention with music so clearly?
I love working with Matt. Our creative relationship is like having a really good friend. He always knows what I’m thinking and we obviously both really enjoy playing and creating music together.
How do you find magic in everyday moments?
God; he gives me the magic in the everyday. Takes care of me and my family and has blessed me with the gift of music.
What’s something you’ve learnt about yourself through music that you never expected?
I thought about this question a lot. One thing I definitely didn’t know about myself was that I could write songs. It wasn’t until I was 15 in music class at school where I had to write a song for an assignment. I had left it till the last minute and ended up writing it with my dad in 15 minutes. It ended up being a pretty great song in my opinion and I still sing it at some of my concerts.
BOTTEGA VENETA top and bracelet.
As this is our Majestic issue, can you describe the most majestic person you’ve ever known?
It would have to be my cousin. He has this long blonde hair, plays the bass and is a surfer – and when he washes his hair and brushes it out, it just magically floats in the wind. I can spot it from a mile away. So glossy and shiny.
You recently announced your first national tour. What can we expect from your show?
It’s going to feel very real. Just me and my one guitar – I don’t know how to use any fancy pedals or effects. I want it to feel like a conversation between myself and the audience. That’s what you can expect.
Do you ever think about your legacy?
I do like to dream big and I definitely want to be able to create really grand shows and tours in the future – like Michael Jackson once did. I’m not a dancer, but I have been working on my dance moves. Every artist has a different version of success, but I really want to be remembered as one of the great singers in history. There was Celine Dion and then there was Budjerah. That’s my goal.
LOUIS VUITTON jacket and pants; HERMÈS shirt.
PHOTOGRAPHY Kitty Callaghan
FASHION Angel Jhang
TALENT Budjerah Slabb
STYLIST’S ASSISTANT India Stibilj