"I always had a curious mind… so I just followed it!"

Once a star begins to form, it relies on a perfect balance of gravity, heat and pressure to survive. Fundamentally, the star will not materialise without the right amount of heat to trigger the essential reaction.

It comes as no surprise then, that Berwyn has chosen to conceptualise the beginning of his music career with the solar system and its inhabitants. Like the stars his grandmother taught him about when growing up, he’s blazed his way through the heat of turbulence and insecurity: the uncertain immigration status that dogged his childhood, and saw his dreams of attending university to study medicine cut short; the period of homelessness which followed, finding him writing songs for debut mixtape ‘DEMOTAPE / VEGA’ in his car, or his plan to relocate to Trinidad – where he was born – should his last-ditch music attempts fail.

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Today, Berwyn has managed to not only survive, but thrive – but that notion of a solitary object in the night sky remains. “Even when I first titled ‘VEGA’, I always had the idea of a trilogy of tapes based around astrology in the back of my mind. It’s something I grew up with as my grandmother was really into horoscopes and astrology, and I always had a curious mind… so I just followed it!” Berwyn laughs over Zoom as we discuss the title of his upcoming mixtape.

‘TAPE 2 / FOMALHAUT’ is a celestial release. One of the brightest objects in the night sky, Fomalhaut is often referred to as ‘the solitary star’, and so the title of his latest project comes as no surprise when Berwyen refers to the “dark little corner” in his kitchen where he did most of the writing for this tape. The physical loneliness of the pandemic, which started only two months before the release of ‘VEGA’ as well as his solitary rise from virtual anonymity to international recognition from the likes of Drake and a performance on Later…, make it easy to draw parallels between isolated crepuscular objects.  

“This tape is best enjoyed at dusk - it embodies that precious time just before the sunset, when you’re driving just as the streetlights come on. ‘VEGA’ was very much made in the dark because that was the only time I had to record,” he says.

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However, both projects have honed and defined Berywn’s style to audiences; confessional, stark, and candid. He speaks of a childhood cut short , one that forced him to grow up fast - his mother going to prison, racist encounters in East London, and falling out with his former manager over money. “I had so much to say on ‘VEGA’ that I just wanted to get it out of my system, so I still explore some of the same issues that I experienced in that part of my life, but I can speak about it more in-depth because I’ve healed, it’s traumatising having to dig out your trauma constantly whether it’s in music or in conversation,” he explains.

Where his first tape made heavy reference to religion and adopted hymnal tones, he acknowledges that he now references religion less, having grown up in a devout Christian family. “There’s a line that didn’t make the cut where I reference not talking to God anymore, and that’s because I’ve realised how religion, more specifically the Church as an institution, was used to oppress and silence Black people into submission for centuries”.

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It makes sense then, that Berwyn has been “understanding his mind” and “exercising his brain” through meditation as well as literature. “I’m understanding the power of my brain as the most important muscle I could ever have. It’s my money maker and my tool of trade, it’s my gun when guns can’t be used,” he explains.

It was his brain, his spark that first convinced his teacher Di Russell, to take a chance on him and nurture his musical talent, staying with him at school until the early evening so he could experiment and explore on school computers. He credits her, alongside his own drive and determination, as the foundation for the skills he would go on to develop.

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With no features on either tape and the most relevant and talented artists no more than a DM away, who can we expect to see Berwyn team up with?

“I’ve been working with Loyle Carner and he’s a really cool guy, as well as Kano,” he explains.

Kano? Like K-A-N-O?

“I was out to watch the football with my little brother (who has no clue who Kano is) and I heard a voice behind me like: are you Berwyn? And I couldn’t believe it ! Kano was air dropping something on his phone and saw ‘Berwyn’s iPhone’ so he came to find me”. Having spent formative years in East London, the magnitude of this recognition from a legend isn’t lost on him. “I couldn’t believe it, a whole Kano knew me and my music?”

The next tape, the final instalment in the cosmic trilogy, will be “one for the anytime, when the sun is shining and you’re at a party sipping on rum” he promises. With no sign of slowing down, it seems the stars are finally aligning for Berwyn.

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Words: Rahel Aklilu
Photography: Walid Labri
Fashion: Harry Clements

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