People / Resolutions

Ziggy Ramo on courage, systemic change, and where he finds joy


Before he is an artist or a musician, Ziggy Ramo is a person. A person with a drive for change and a voice for his community that reverberates throughout his music - which is filled with soul, storytelling, and transparency of his own trauma, that of which is inextricably linked to the trauma of First Nations Peoples at large. Understanding Ramo's music is an honour and a privilege, especially for those of us living on stolen land. In a soundscape of experiential anguish for his community, the singer-songwriter has laid himself bare in the name of healing and honesty, and the result hits you exactly where it's supposed to. Here, we speak with Ramo on courage, systemic change, and taking things day-by-day in order to survive.


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Can you take us through your creative process when it comes to making music?

My creative process is pretty fluid. I think it just depends on how I’m feeling day-to-day. For me, being creative is just a way to express what I’m thinking or feeling. I do a lot of my own production and because a lot of my songs are just stories that I’ve lived, I think for me I always like to start on the sonics. 

Whether or not I’m producing or working with a producer, I like to find a sound or a soundscape that interests me and brings to mind something that I’ve been thinking about and brings it out of me. I like to be pretty free with it, I try in a way, not think too much. I just want to feel my way through the creative process. 


How have you been staying creative during this time?

Prior to quarantine and lockdown, and living through a global pandemic - I’m an independent artist, I’ve been independent my whole career. So I’ve always just had to make things happen. A lot of the time, I wasn’t working in big fancy studios or anything, I was just making do, so for me, I think I have kind of been used to just writing at home, writing outside or writing wherever. I think because for me, being creative is expressing what I’m thinking or feeling, I always want to do that. So whether or not it means I get to go play shows, I just always want to be creative. So yeah, it’s just something that I’m always going to do. 


How do you think music can function as a catalyst for change?

I think music as an artwork is so powerful because it gives you insight and perspective to something that otherwise you wouldn’t have. I think the other thing that’s really special and beautiful as an art form, is that for the artist its a safe space for them to share what they want to or don’t want to share. And then for the listener, they can then go and engage with that. The emotional labour is chosen, rather than being forced upon us, like anything that I write, that I find quite heavy or exhausting to get through - I like the idea that it can then be listened to many times by many people. 

Whereas I think a lot of the times when you’re trying to be a catalyst for change, you can feel like you're having the same conversations over and over again. So I guess I wanted to capture my thoughts into something that could be engaged with all the time - from once I put it out. 

I think that that as an art form, it connects feeling to the change we’re after. Because I think so often when we’re just talking about being catalysts for change, it all becomes so theoretical, but I think with music, there’s so much feeling and emotion. But for change, and for someone to be committed to making change, I think it has to be pulled from them emotionally.


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Has it been cathartic for you to release music that is so deeply linked to personal trauma?

It's definitely been cathartic in some regards. I think that because I wrote this album four to five years ago, I’ve had a lot of space and time to process that trauma. So I felt at a distance in a way. It's obviously still with me in a way, but I felt safe, sharing it, performing it, talking about it. In the past few months, it’s been a bit trickier honestly, because the triggers and the causes of the traumas that I was writing about five years ago, haven’t stopped or it hasn’t changed. Yes I write and I make music about the trauma, but I also live and experience it, and the last few months, there has been some personal stuff going on. I’m not just a commentator on this experience, I live it and when you're continuing to live those things and the fact that the words that I wrote five years ago still feels so relevant and hit me in a place that’s really difficult. 

So I think in some regards it is cathartic because these are the conversations that I want to be having and I think are really important to be having. But at the same time, just because they are important, doesn’t mean that it isn’t exhausting and I honestly feel very fragile sometimes. Because, it is just constantly re-living trauma and when, like I said those trigger points are still everywhere for me, so I feel very vulnerable in a way. But then there is the strength in being able to own that, I reckon, with what’s going on inside of me emotionally and having the freedom and the space to make art and talk about that, rather than being silenced with it. It’s like a double-edged sword. It is definitely cathartic. There’s no sense of closure, probably because it’s continuing to happen every day. 

When have you had to be most courageous?

I think for me, I just try and find courage each day. Its a pretty tough existence when you and your family have been displaced, disconnected, disenfranchised. It's kind of every day honestly. 

Obviously, there have been more intense moments, but every day I’m trying to fight for our human rights to be given back to us. Every day that I don’t succumb to being in that dark place, like wanting to take my own life. I have to take courage every day to get through that. It’s not like you just beat that, it’s not like the trauma comes and goes, so I think for me, I’m courageous every day. I'm finding strength every day to continue to navigate this existence because it’s just a lot, you know. 


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Where would you like to see a change in the music industry and beyond from a systemic lens?

I think the change that I want to see is marginalised or oppressed communities, being able to steer the direction of their communities. For example, in the music industry, I think it’s so important that we’re not just artists, that we also have people sitting at the table. Us having people at the table in all aspects of the industry. We should be able to hold positions of executives, in labels, publishing companies - we need representation across the board.

When we walk about being unrepresented - I think it’s more insidious than that. We’ve been forced out on purpose. The systems across all industries were not built for us to be included. The change I would like to see not only in the music industry but all industries is to try to have a reimagining of these systems so that there is space for all of us. I want us to be able to be in control of where our art is heading, where our health is heading, where the community is heading. I want us to be self-determined. I want self-determination in a real sense and within all industries. 


What did it mean to you to release your album, ‘Black Thoughts’ amid the global Black Lives Matter movement?

It was really empowering. It was really liberating in a sense. I had been holding onto the album for such a long time, and I think for me it was like a line in the sand that I had drawn. I’m not going to be the artist that anyone else wants me to be, I’m just going to be me. I made this art, and this art is really important to me and this is what I needed to be out in the world. Finally finding the trust in myself and just letting it exist. 

It was really empowering. Because now I’m just going to do me. And if people get it, they get it, if they don’t they don’t. But I think what is so important about art, is that it exists and that it’s out. Otherwise, people can’t interact with it. For me, it's not that everyone has to agree with what I’m saying, but I want the art to hopefully spark conversations and dialogue that can lead to the change that I want to see. I think being able to put it out at this time was really serendipitous, like it was meant to be. But at the same time, to be able to find that trust, to back it and to do it, it’s super liberating. 


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Our current issue theme is ‘joy’, what makes you the most joyful?

Honestly, the last chunk of time in my life hasn’t been super joyful. But for me, it’s connection. It's relationships, it's family, it's people. I think that’s what causes me so much hurt, is when I can feel that my community is in pain. I want joy for all of us, so the cause of the pain that I feel is the biggest cause of joy. Because it’s all about people and relationships. I'm most happy when I’m around people that I love and that I care about, and who care about me. That’s always my joy. 


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What’s next for Ziggy Ramo?

What's next for me, is whatever I want to do honestly. I just feel like I’m on my path and I just have to be true to that and stay authentic in what I want to do. I got new music, I got things in the works, but I’m trying not to look too far ahead. For my own mental health and for my own joy, I’m just trying to stay present in a day to day sense. I think what’s next for me is trying to take it day by day. Just being conscious and thankful for the privileges that I have. Like being able to create art and do art for a living, be connected to the fact that people think of me like an unconventional artist or non-traditional - but I’m one of the most traditional artists that this country has. We come from 50,000 years of storytelling. I think what’s coming next for me, is continuing to tell stories.

Image credit: @vanessaswederus

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