Alys Francis talks to L-Fresh The LION to find out how he fell in love with hip-hop, became a passionate anti-racism advocate and uses music to help the down and out shine
He sports a chest-scraping beard but he’s no try-hard hipster. No, L-Fresh The LION is far more unique—breaking ground as one of Australia’s first Sikh hip-hop stars.
L-Fresh The LION’s parents migrated to Australia from Punjab in the late 80s and settled in Liverpool, southwest Sydney. He was born one year later.
The emcee got his first taste of hip-hop in his early teens—but didn’t actually like it. “The first song I heard, that I got introduced to, was like a battle rap song, and to me it just sounded so angry and violent. It wasn’t until I really explored some more emotional powerful music, particularly of artistes like Eminem and Tupac… they tell you their story in such a unique way and deliver it with such power and energy and depth and passion that it’s hard not to be moved by it,” he says.
“Hearing the stories of Tupac’s struggles and hearing the stories of his family’s political struggles in America through the civil rights movement… those stories just really resonated with me and I think that’s what kind of inspired me to want to tell my story also,” he says.
He started writing and recording as a hobby when he was 14 and was still in high school when he began performing at community events. It was around 2012, after graduating university with a law-arts degree that L-Fresh The LION decided to start taking his hip-hop passion more seriously and try to turn it into a career.
“After uni I had done a number of things. I had been on tours with international artists and I’d developed a small following that really believed in me … [then I said to myself] ‘Okay, let me give this a crack,’ you know, I’ve got my uni degree behind me, so if I ever fall on my face and this doesn’t work then I’ve got that.
“So far it’s been a really enjoyable ride.”
His debut LP One launched in May and fast won praise for uplifting and thought-provoking rhymes inspired by narrative hip-hop from the late 90s and early 2000s. The hip hop artist also scored a coveted spot as one of radio station Triple J’s ‘Unearthed’ artists, being recognised as “a bright light in Australia’s music scene”.
“My debut album One is a piece of work that I feel truly captures what I’m about musically. It was a long time in the making, I think I developed over a period of 10 years as an artiste before I could get to the point where I had the skills and I had the team to develop a work like that,” he says.
“It’s definitely very soulful. It’s about movement, whether that means movement to the music to get you to move and dance, or movement to your mind to get you to think and challenge yourself or to help you get through tough situations,” he says.
“Since putting it out I’ve had quite a few people reach out to me and tell me how valuable they found the music in times of need… that to me is really special because that’s the kind of music that I love as an artist. It’s the music that makes me feel like I can do anything and I can overcome,” he says.
But music is not all there is to L-Fresh The LION.
The 25-year-old is also making a name for himself as a passionate anti-racism advocate. He’s appeared on Channel Ten’s ‘The Project’ and is often quoted by media on issues of race, as an ambassador for the non-profit All Together Now.
Currently living in Pascoe Vale, north of Melbourne, L-Fresh The LION works part-time as a coordinator for a youth music program at Songlines Aboriginal Music, and runs hip-hop and poetry workshops. He’s also working with the Immigration Museum in Melbourne to talk about racism and discrimination in schools.
“My parents brought me up with a sound understanding of the values of Sikhism and knowing that we kind of have a duty to be active in our local communities and to always be supportive or trying to do our best to support those who are less fortunate,” he explains.
“When I found out that hip-hop was born out of a similar circumstance and had those values also, it kind of just clicked in my head like—wow I can use something that I’m really passionate about which is hip-hop, and my ancestry and my knowledge of history, and kind of tap into community,” he says.
He says he was about 17 roughly when he got into wanting to give back and working in a community setting, but it was mostly like doing hip-hop workshops and song writing workshops and putting on events, things that young people could get into.
“I would meet people just through recording with them… learning about their life—them wanting to change their ways from being a person on the street to getting their education and finishing their education, to wanting to go to university and now being youth workers themselves—that journey all started through music. When you’re a part of stories and experiences like that you just realise how powerful and valuable it is,” he says.
L-Fresh The LION is now busy touring and performing his new LP. You can catch him on stage at the Parramasala festival in Parramatta in October and The Hills Are Alive festival in South Gippsland, Victoria, on New Year’s Eve.
As for the future, his next album could see him return to Punjab. “I’m doing research going back to traditional Punjabi music, Sufi music, folk music… maybe that will be the direction I go in for the next one, I’m not too sure yet but I’d like to explore that idea of a true fusion of music from the sub-continent and hip-hop.”
Published in The Indian Sun / Indian Magazine in Sydney