Unsung Heroes II: RJB
by Sheldon Rocha Leal
There is currently a culture of celebrity which seems to have infected the music business. It almost feels like people, today, get into the music industry for the fame and the glory, instead of wanting to push the craft forward and ultimately using their music to change people’s lives, and when I say change people’s lives I don’t necessarily mean a profound existential change, any change is a change, even if it’s making someone happy for 3 minutes and 50 seconds.
My philosophy is that if you are true to your purpose/art and do things with integrity that people will naturally be attracted to you, and that money, fame, glory will naturally manifest.
Which brings me to the topic of this article Roy Julian Benjamin, also known as RJ Benjamin or RJ or RJB for this article.
In the past 16 years he has become a well known television personality, producer, music director, artist, musician, vocal coach, teacher, mentor and songwriter in South Africa.
I met Roy 18 years ago, when I was studying music. Back in those days we were music school rivals, in our first year at music school, trying to top each other from one week to the next, in our performance classes. When it came time to move into second year, we were the only two vocalists left, from the first year out of a class of 11, and I came to the realization that the only way I was going to make it through the second year, of my music studies, was if I teamed up with my first year rival. That second year was uber productive, we created some awesome music (that went on to appear on Roy’s first album) and shows, and we left an indelible mark on the music school at which we studied. Together we persevered and made it to the other end, becoming lifelong friends in the process.
The thing about Roy is that he has always been a determined and disciplined person, who wanted to change his lot in life and to that end he worked his ass off to make sure that his dreams became a reality.
Before he attended the music school, he’d been working at a video store, in a job, that probably would have never taken him anywhere. He knew that his true passion lay in music. But as always, society places pressures on creatives to take the safe route and secure a job. It took great strength of character for Roy to leave his “safe” job behind and pursue his studies in music. Knowing that by honing his talent, investing in his craft and taking his art seriously could, possibly amount to self fulfillment and eventual financial and personal success. The risk was large and the reality is that without his strength of character, determination and drive, his music studies, would have never amounted to anything.
When I first met Roy, I must say that I had never met anyone with the unbridled talent and determination he embodied, so much so that I had to reevaluate my talent and what I stood for. Now almost two decades down the line, having met countless musicians, I must say that there are few people who can rival Roy’s immense musical talent.
But once again I digress. From studying at our music school, he was employed to teach there, why? Because he was an exceptional student and he became an exceptional coach and mentor, who can turn any vocal toad into a singing angel. His talent was soon discovered by the industry and he landed his first recording deal, and as with many first deals, many mistakes were made. He left teaching, he was then employed at the National School of the Arts, based on promises made and undelivered. He soon returned to teaching, and continued to influence his students with his depth of knowledge and musical ability. He then landed a vocal coach stint on a show called Project Fame, in which he attracted major attention and released his second solo album (to which I contributed a few songs).
After his success in the show, he approached me to start a music academy in Centurion. Off we went and started this amazing music school, TIME/SAM and now it’s part of a private school called Southdowns College. Together we worked on turning that school from nothing into something desirable and in the process, of three years, we weathered some major storms and nurtured and discovered some amazing talent.
But the thing that inspires me the most, is that at the end of all the toil and trouble, we had in those three years and after having created a successful and sustainable business he decided to leave it all behind and pursue a solo career. He was in demand, people in the industry wanted him to write songs/produce/arrange and do shows. He could have decided to play it safe and stay at TIME/SAM but once again he decided to go with his heart. Had Roy not taken the chance and pursued this course, he would have never discovered the success that lay ahead. This move truly catapulted him to the next and most successful phase in his career and he never looked back. He initially started off by running a recording studio for Soul Candi, he also wrote and produced works for some of South Africa’s biggest talent: Lira, Vicky Sampson, Kelly Khumalo, Tamara Dey, Pitch Black Afro, Elvis Blue, Zama Jobe, DJ Cleo, Unathi, Slikour, Gift Gwe, Liz Ogumbo, Vusi Khumalo, Danny K, Vincent Bones, Jub Jub, DJ Kent, Zubz, ShugaSmakz, HHP, Pebbles, Puff Johnson and Proverb. He also released his third album at this time, a house album.
In the interim he also appeared on various reality shows, as a mentor, music director and vocal coach: Idols, The Voice Nigeria, The Voice South Africa, Clash Of The Choirs and of course Project Fame (mentioned earlier).
So in 18 years, Roy has taught at some of the best music schools in South Africa, he has written music for some of the top acts in the country, he has released 4 albums, had various No1 singles and won a Metro FM Award, he appeared on the Oscar Award winning movie soundtrack for Tsotsi, appeared on various TV shows and mentored some amazing young talent, fulfilling his career goals, for now…
So why did I choose to write this story? I wanted to use this story to illustrate the fact that if you are truly passionate about what you do, and if you truly invest in your craft, by studying and honing your skills, and if you are always true to what you do, the money and success will follow, the doors will open and the opportunities will present themselves. The Cream always rises to the top and people, no matter how hard they try, can never suppress people who are following their true path and that is why I decided to tell the story, from my perspective, of RJB…