Ruth B on filming in her hometown and fighting racism with music

September 3, 2020
Ruth B on filming in her hometown and fighting racism with music

Singer Ruth Berhe, who performs as Ruth B, rose to stardom after her six-second recordings — shot in her Edmonton bedroom — went viral on the video-sharing app Vine.

For the first time in years, the 25-year-old songwriter has returned to her hometown, where she is spending the COVID-19 pandemic with family and friends. Once again she is making music the way she used to, alone in a room with a keyboard.

“There are definitely a lot of stories unfolding, so I’ve just been trying to put that into music,” the singer said Thursday in an interview with CBC Edmonton’s Radio Active.

We check in with Edmonton’s-own Ruth B. We find out how she’s been making it through the pandemic, and talk about her new music. 9:23

Thanks to the pandemic, Edmonton became the setting for the music video of her song Dirty Nikes, which was released last Friday.

The video, directed by Vancouver’s Gabriel Adelman, features shots of the Rocky Mountains (taken during the small crew’s drive east), a canola field, a skate park and rows upon rows of used tire rims.

“It ended up being probably my favourite video shoot just because everyone had to work so smartly and closely together,” she said. 

“It ended up being such a memorable experience.”

The singer said the song, which features the lyric, “I don’t hate you/I just gotta learn to,” is an honest reflection of trying to let go of someone.

The song didn’t always revolve around shoes, she said.

They slipped in during the writing process in the studio, after the singer glanced down at her own dirty Nikes.

The music video shows her discarding her ex’s pair. By the end of the song, the same shoes are in flames on a skateboard.

Ruth B’s latest single explores the struggle of moving on after a breakup. (Supplied by Damien Nelson)

Fighting racism with music

About two weeks after George Floyd was killed by a police officer in Minneapolis, Ruth B released If I Have a Son, a song that addresses anti-Black racism in many forms.

“No matter what you say, no matter what you do/This world will never be as friendly to you,” she sings on the track, which has since been streamed more than 350,000 times on YouTube.

The singer said she faced racism growing up in Edmonton and continues to encounter it in adulthood.

For many people, racism is an everyday reality, she said.

“It’s there and it’s kind of a part of your life, even from a young age.”

She said she wrote If I Have a Son for people who don’t see the world through that lens — people for whom videos of police brutality can seem like isolated events. 

All of the proceeds from the song are going to organizations that help Black youth and communities in Canada and abroad.

The singer said as she has grown older, she has felt more compelled to use her music and influence to “make a difference” and “say things that matter.”

“It’s definitely become like a core part of what I want to do with my life and my music,” she said.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of.

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