Ben Kemp was born in Gisborne in 1972 and brought up in Manutuke and Matawhero. His family now resides in Taupo, where they have been since 1993. His Maori heritage is matrilineal and he comes from Rongowhakaata roots. Although he grew up in a predominantly Maori community, acceptance within has not come easily as he and his family have been considered outsiders to the group since Kemp’s grandmother married a Pakeha. It is only since Kemp reached his twenties, and been crafting his own art forms, that he has had the ability to get closer to knowing his roots.

He first went to Japan as a 23 year old, having completed a degree in Marketing and Computer Science at Otago University. Living for two and a half years in Tokyo, Ben spent much time absorbing traditional art and culture, and discovering his passion for kabuki theatre and Japanese literature. On return to the North Island, Ben discovered a special mentor-student relationship with Rore Hapipi, one of New Zealand’s pre-eminent Maori writers, all the while maintaining his connections with Japan. It was at this point that Ben’s creative work anchored itself. Responding to a magnetic pull to Japan, Ben returned to Tokyo in 2002.

With no music contacts in Japan, Ben played on the street in Shimo Kitazawa, one of the more Bohemian areas of Tokyo well known for its vibrant music scene. He soon met up with talented musician Koyu Suzuki and the duo began performing around Tokyo. In just over one year, Kemp and Koyu played at some of Tokyo’s most prestigious live venues, including The Cerulean Tower’s JZ Brat and Kichijioji’s Mandala2.

Ben Kemp’s debut album A River’s Mouth was released in March 2005, and was launched in New Zealand with a two-week tour. He backed this up in February 2006 with the creation of Papatu Road, an album that beautifully represents Ben’s concept of creating a unique Polyn-Asian sound. The result is a breathtaking blend of tunes that will soothe and haunt you, thanks to Ben’s ethereal voice and poetic lyrics. Papatu Road received critical acclaim from New Zealand National Radio, Radio Australia, Radio Pacific and NZ Musician magazine. Kemp is also a poet with works published by Trout by Auckland University Press, Deep South by Otago University Press and Blackwater Press. He was invited to read at Montana National Poetry Day in Auckland as one of two emerging poets.

Listen Frangipani, Papatu Road (2007)

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