Five years ago, back in 2015, a 19-year-old International Business Administration (IBA) student shared his story with Erasmus Magazine. A true world citizen, Benoit Kassa Koumba was born in Gabon, has lived in Brunei, France and Nigeria, but eventually came to the Netherlands. Charmed by the Dutch way of life, its diversity and open character, he decided to settle here and enrolled at Erasmus University. But his story was not about travelling the world, it was about Benoit’s real passion: music.
Since the age of sixteen, he has been creating hip hop music in his bedroom. Experimenting and exploring different areas of the creative process, his art evolved and he developed an individual style: hip hop and rap influenced by reggae, house, jazz and blues. Nevertheless, Benoit never dreamed about becoming a professional musician; his focus lay elsewhere. “Of course it would be great to achieve something with my music, but I would never let it get in the way of my studies. Education is far more important,” he told EM. Five years later, he got back in touch, with exciting news. Benoit has won a local music award called Grote Prijs van Rotterdam.
Last time you spoke to EM, you were a 19-year-old IBA student, not planning a professional career in music. What changed since then?
“I’ve been releasing music since 2010. I used to download things off of YouTube, sing or rap over them, and then put it all over the internet. Soon, one of my classmates became my producer. He would make the instrumentals, I would write to it and share the outcome with the world. Back then, I only had a few gigs here and there, open mic experiences.”
“Later, I decided to put a small band together and started getting more offers to perform. I increased my network, collaborated with more artists in Rotterdam. Now here I am, taking a more professional approach. I invest more into my music, financially and also time-wise. Music has become a bigger part of my day-to-day life, but it’s still not my full-time job.”
How do you use your IBA education within your music career?
“It definitely made me more business savvy and helped me discover an additional dimension in music. I gained a different perspective on art, realised that music in itself is also a business. During the day, I’m in Amsterdam, working as a digital marketing consultant, but my evenings are dedicated to music. My current job is also in line with what I do in music. Music also requires advertising, finding your target audience, or use of other digital marketing tools. And then all of this ties itself with the passion, which is not linked to any numbers or whatever the result it may bring.”
Which part of the creative process do you enjoy the most?
“Nothing compares to the satisfaction of seeing it all come together: actually hearing your song being played. For me this is the highest point. The second best thing is performing with the band. I think it is one of the greatest feelings when you see different energies come together in unison.”
Recently you won a local music award, Grote Prijs van Rotterdam. How did that happen?
“I heard about this competition some time ago and decided to participate in one of the five categories. In each categories they select four finalists. These finalists get to perform in venues, Bird for example, competing for one of the two prizes: the Jury Prize and the Public one. I participated in the hip hop category. The first time I tried was last year, but I was not selected as a finalist. This year I was, and I won the Jury prize.
“The winner gets a cash prize and many other perks. For example, I can pick someone in the Netherlands to give me a masterclass in person. I’m thinking of picking someone from Spotify, and learn about the best practices. I will also get a buddy from the music industry, who will follow my progress for a couple of months. And finally, the winner of this award gets officially nominated for the Most Promising Artist of Rotterdam prize – Rotterdam Music Awards.”
“I have been nominated for the most promising artist of Rotterdam prize; that’s what I’d like to win next. I am also looking forward to the moment when I will feel it is viable to do music full-time without any great risks. Unfortunately, that has not been possible yet. If I have to be honest: my consulting job pays more.”