Rooted… With Berna

Hiba Hassan

By Hiba Hassan

Hiba Hassan

24 Mar 2023

Producers: Hiba Hassan + Akeal Iqbal
Journalist: Hiba Hassan 
Photographer: Oliver Buckle

Videographer: Mitchell Williams

At only 16 years old, the UK music scene was introduced to Berna. A young rap protégé that found himself in conversations with some of the UK’s biggest names, featuring on almost all freestyle platforms; Mad About Bars, Daily Duppy, Fire In The Booth and quickly became one of the hardest and youngest on the scene. Fast forward almost ten years, Berna is 24 years old and introducing himself to new listeners and reintroducing himself to loyal fans with the anticipation of his forthcoming project, East2Essex.

In our latest ROOTED, Berna takes us to where he now calls home, Essex. Born in Cape Town, and raised in East London with a Congolese heritage, he has crossed several walks of life in such a small amount of time. Yet, it is only right at this moment that he feels he is ready to show off his impeccable talent. Fresh off from releasing his latest single, “Straight Outta Newham”, we sat down with Berna at the “right time” in his journey.

Berna! How are you doing?

I’m good! Everything is good. How are you? We’re just chillin’ place on PlayStation right now.

So, how do you start your day then?

I go gym you know. I get a notification on my phone at like nine to pray. And then I go to the gym. 

Speaking of prayer in the morning, I remember the last time we spoke you told me how important your faith is to you. Is that something that’s always been present in your life?

Obviously, God’s always been that present in my life. But in terms of like, how deep my spirituality goes, that’s definitely quite new. So, I’d say like, maybe in the past year.

What was the turning point for you that made you want to walk towards your faith more?

I don’t know. Just kind of maturing myself. A couple of things that just happened in my life, you know?  

It’s more of like a realisation, an epiphany. It just came to me, it was like ‘yeah, this is what I’m on.’

I feel like I’m in kind of the same position, you know. And we’re the same age as well, do you think something about society…

It is society right now. I think the society right now people our age, our generation, I feel like there’s just a lot going on. We live in a very sinful world right now and I feel like people our age are clocking it. So, it’s like, yo, get right get left. You know what I mean? So, I’m trying to get right as soon as I can because I’m not getting left anywhere. 

From such a young age you received so many prestigious accolades. Do you think having that rise so quickly put added pressure on you that you didn’t realise? 

Yeah, 100% like, obviously, making a name for yourself so quickly… It’s like, you’re kind of catching up to the name. It’s because I was never really even ready, you get me?

It’s not like it was something that was gradual, it just happened overnight. It was like one day I’m being called by my government name and then tomorrow, I’m Berna. It was like okay, now I need to become this person that I haven’t even fully become, you know. So yeah, it’s definitely a lot of pressure.

Even when we were shooting Rooted, the amount of people who came up to you and asked for pictures was crazy. And the school kids that were waiting for you while we were filming, did you see them?

Yeah, I got pictures with all of them. 

It was so cute to watch honestly, are moments like that normal to you now? Because you’ve been in this game for almost 10 years now.

Yeah, and that’s the thing you know, it just shows me that I’m doing something right.

Because these kids were in nappies when I started, these kids that are in school right now and coming up to me asking for pictures, I was their age or a little bit older than them when I first started. So, to see that my name is still ringing through generations of people, it’s like, okay, I’m clearly doing what I need to do. Of course, there’s always room for improvement and whatnot. And I know where I’m lacking but I always have to be proud of myself. 

Because I’ve been here for nearly 10 years deep when I was a kid everyone my age was talking about Berna. And now I’m older it’s still kids saying, ‘oh yeah Berna, Berna’. 

People describe you as underrated, would you say that?

I feel like underrated isn’t the term to describe me because everyone that has heard Berna rates Berna, you get it. So, it’s not even about being underrated. I think it’s just more… I hold myself accountable for a lot of things. So, I just feel like the word underrated isn’t the word I’d say, I’ve been inconsistent. So, the word would be underexposed. 

I feel like everyone that has heard Berna, will say Berna is hard but not everyone has heard me yet. And I don’t feel like I’m in their face enough for everyone to sit there and say, ‘Berna is actually the best’. Or for me to hold a title like that. I feel like people want to give you your flowers when they feel like you deserve them and I feel like I don’t deserve them because there are people that have put in more work than me. They might not be as talented as me but because they’re in your face they’ll take them in more. So, until I pull up my socks and give it my all, I’ll always be given that underrated title.

Is there a reason you’ve been so inconsistent? Especially going back to you saying that you weren’t ready when you got your recognition at 16.

I was never really ready to be an artist, so when it happened, I just had to learn a lot very quickly. And in that time, I’m still this and that, still making illegal money, still at school. There was just a lot going on. Everyone saw me as Berna and I didn’t see myself as Berna yet, I just had to adapt to it very quickly. And throughout that, wrong decisions were made, things were stooled, and opportunities weren’t taken. It’s been a big learning curve, and only for the past year, I can say I’ve been ready.

How did you get into music then, especially being in a space where you weren’t really ready for it? How were you introduced to your own talent?

Through school, I used to rap in the playground, freestyling with the mandem was always the hardest. And before that I had never been booth or anything like that, the first thing I ever put onto a mic was my [email protected]

Do you remember your first studio session?

I remember a few of them, I remember the early days and it was fun. I just had to learn a lot in that booth like how to project my voice. It was weird as well because, in my [email protected], my voice was very deep because I was ill that day, I shouldn’t have even done it because I was so ill. But I just went for it, and my voice sounded sick because of that. So, when I went into the booth when I was better, my voice sounded different. And finding my voice after was a lot but it was a sick experience. I knew it was for me as soon as.

There are a lot of misconceptions about rappers as well, what do you think the biggest one is?

I think that we’ve all got bare money and all of that. I feel like I can say first-hand that I’ve been through some hard times where I’m juggin’ and I need to pay for different things, like video shoots. And it’s a lot of money, people on the outside would think that that’s nothing to me. but we don’t live a lavish lifestyle 24/7, they alienate rappers a little bit. People think you get thousands from rapping but it’s not that, it’s very normal. Of course, the big artists that’s what their life is, but even they are normal humans.

Talking about the tape that’s coming, East2Essex, why is now the perfect time to drop this project?

I feel like it’s the perfect time because the scene has had a very big refresh, the scene right now is nothing about what you knew. I think it’s the perfect time to reintroduce myself. I have the chance to paint the picture for everyone again, in my head I’m coming to you as a whole new artist because I’m very comfortable with the music I’m making. Now is perfect for me, the project is going to do what it needs to do to understand who Berna is. 

So, the main takeaway from the tape is for us to have a clear standpoint of who Berna is now.

First, for those who haven’t heard me before I want them to know who Berna is. For those who have, I want them to see how much I’ve grown. Because the tape goes from an old sound, how I used to make music to me now, where I do some new stuff. Slower rap, and melodies, I can make music now. There are two sides, an introduction and a reintroduction.

Where do you see yourself in five years’ time? When we’re both going to be touching 30!

Yeah, mad. That’s brazy. I feel like I’m going to be really enjoying the fruits of my labour, the project is going to drop this year and feel like 2023 is going to set a new foundation, next year I’m big Berna and I’m going to be living big Berna from then onwards. I’m going to be at my peak in five years, I’ve been here for nearly 10 years and if I can say in five years’ time, I’ve stopped doing music. That means I’ve had a 15-year-long music career, and I’m calm with that. Obviously, I don’t do music for monetary reasons, it’s my passion so I’ll never stop but I’ll be living my best life in five years’ time.