L-Fresh The Lion is an Australian hip hop artist whose work focuses on social activism and issues of racism and prejudice. Cat Pagani spoke with L-Fresh the Lion ahead of his performance at the Perth International Arts Festival.

Cat Pagani: You’ve worked extensively as a volunteer and are involved with social activism, can you tell me about how music, and specifically your music, can act as a way of encouraging greater social awareness and bring about constructive change?

L-Fresh the Lion: My music is rooted in that activist space – for me that stems from the way in which my parents raised me – I was brought up in a Sikh family, with Sikh values and Sikh history at the forefront. Sikh history is littered with countless examples of human rights action and dialogue, so it’s always been about human rights and about service to community for the betterment of everybody, not just yourself.  That’s without a doubt the foundation of who I am, and music to me operates in that same space. It’s a communication of my stories and values, and to me the two are quite connected, so the message in my music can come across as a call to action.

Both ‘Panjab: an Introduction’ and ‘Never Alone’ talk about histories being changed and edited. Can you tell me about the importance of retaining and retelling histories and stories?

I come from a strong oral storytelling tradition. It’s always been about sharing stories, particularly through poetry and music. To me, they’re central to life, and through them I learn about myself and how I can make sense of my place in the world today. How do we keep those stories, that aren’t told so often for whatever reason, alive? I suppose that it’s rooted in who is telling the story, and the purpose of telling the story.

If we remove the context of the individual now and move it to a national space, as Australians we can learn so much from Australia’s long, long history. Before 1788, there’s 60 000 years of history to learn from, and there’s a strong storytelling tradition amongst Indigenous people too, and I think that’s something we need to dive into. Modern politics is also a storytelling space – it’s a communication of stories and an establishment of frameworks, a creation of narratives to inform the future.

In 2016 you undertook a pretty extensive Australian tour for your album Become. What were your personal highlights on the tour?

I think for me it was being able to perform in new spaces that I hadn’t been to before. For example going to a place like Darwin, I’d never been to Darwin before, and to be able to go there through music was pretty special and the show was so memorable. In those places the music is growing and it’s reaching new people, and there’s nothing better than to be able to travel the country with your passion at the forefront, so that’s probably the biggest highlight for me.

Elefant Traks boasts a pretty amazing group of artists. Can we look forward to more collaborations with other artists on the label?

Possibly! I have no idea. For me, music is sometimes such a spontaneous thing, but I think it’s inevitable at some point that we will work more and more together. I’m a fan of everyone on the label, I’d love to keep doing things with them. I guess it’s just a matter of timing, everybody’s doing their own thing and living life.

What records are you listening to at the moment?

I’m actually not listening to any music at the moment! I’ve switched off. I was listening to the new Childish Gambino album, the A Tribe Called Quest album, and J. Cole’s new album a few weeks ago, and a lot of Rapsody and Anderson .Paak. I was listening to a lot of stuff, and then I was like okay, time to switch off now, and see what comes out of my creativity.

You’re one of the ambassadors for All Together Now, can you tell me a bit more about your community work?

Yeah, All Together Now is Australia’s only national not-for-profit that works to actively and positively address racism. They do a lot of work in schools, in primary schools, so it’s about what’s in the minds of young people and how are they engaging in the conversation. For me it’s all about trying to learn how I can be of service to address the issue in a positive way – they’re working on projects, which I’m super excited about, to get kids and teachers to integrate this conversation about racism and address it more positively by being aware of our own actions or inactions that contribute to race and race politics.

You have an increasing UK following, is there an international tour you’re looking forward to?

I’d love to get back to the UK, that’s still in the works – we’re still ironing out the details, but it’s looking like there will be at least one international trip this year, in the first half of the year.

So I guess to finish up I wanted to ask about what you’ve got planned ahead. Does 2017 have any exciting plans and projects in the works for you, or are you going to play it as it comes?

I’m playing a lot of shows up until mid May so I’ll be across the country quite frequently for the first part of the year. At the moment nothing’s really set in stone, but there’s a lot of ideas and planning for the second half of the year and looking towards 2018. We’ll see what comes and we’ll play it as it comes.

L-Fresh the Lion is performing in Perth as part of PIAF 2017, on a double bill alongside Taiwanese rap and hip hop artist Aristophanes, with special guest Kucka, on 24 February at the Chevron Festival Gardens.