Some good tidings finally – we’ll all be seeing and hearing more of Naarm (Melbourne) neo-soul queen Kaiit in 2023. The singer-songwriter is newly independent and will soon present her first material since 2019’s ARIA-winning ‘Miss Shiney’.
The internationally-acclaimed Kaiit Waup – who identifies as non-binary – was born in Papua New Guinea to a Papua New Guinean father and Gunditjmara and Torres Strait Islander mother. Kaiit grew up between PNG and Australia listening to Lauryn Hill, Amy Winehouse and her parents’ rock collection. Kaiit briefly pursued make-up artistry but was determined to perform.
Breaking out in 2017 with the single ‘Natural Woman’, the then 19-year-old was part of a fresh wave of Australian soul, R&B and hip hop. Kaiit found a famous fan in “The” Jill Scott, as she calls her, who shared the single ‘OG Luv Kush p.2’ on her Instagram.
Kaiit – ‘OG Luv Kush p.2’
In 2018, Kaiit issued her debut EP, Live From Her Room, and showcased at BIGSOUND. The following year, she embarked on a European tour, playing the UK’s Great Escape Festival, and opened for SZA back home.
Kaiit was the first act to win an ARIA in the nascent Best Soul/R&B Release category with ‘Miss Shiney’, produced by homegrown hotshots 18YOMAN and UNO Stereo. Along the way, she collaborated with Melbourne funk collective Cookin’ On 3 Burners, Sydney G-funk revivalist MXXWLL, and Brooklyn rapper Kota The Friend.
Yet, amid the pandemic, Kaiit faced her biggest challenge yet: label drama. She turned to crowdfunding, launching a GoFundMe and explaining that she needed to raise funds to “recover my independence as an artist, for me to share this music with all of you, and to let go. To release. I don’t want to carry this shit anymore, I just want it up and out.”
Kaiit will preview upcoming music at Nocturnal x Midsumma at Melbourne Museum on Friday, 10th February. She’ll appear alongside a seven-piece band that includes REMI’s Sensible J on drums. “It’s gonna be beautiful,” Kaiit says.
Music Feeds caught up with Kaiit over Zoom, the musician “chillin'” in the morning, joking and sharing anecdotes – much as she does on stage.
Kaiit – ‘Miss Shiney’
Music Feeds: I was working out when I last saw you perform, and it was at FLOW Festival, headlined by New York hip-hoppers Digable Planets, just before the pandemic.
Kaiit: Oh my gosh. That was a really beautiful vibe. People always talk to me about that show as well. It was really special. Just the people around, just always good vibes. I’m so thankful for that.
MF: The same year as FLOW you won a historic ARIA. I wondered what that meant for you, winning an ARIA in the soul/R&B category?
Kaiit: Yes, I mean, I didn’t realise until a little bit later that it was the first year that that was ever a category. So that was already incredible. But I think, more than anything, it was just a beautiful reminder that I’m doing my thing and there’s acknowledgement of it – which I can appreciate. And I’m so thankful for it.
It’s up in my little studio set-up. It’s got a little space now. It’s not as clean and shiny as it looked when I got it. But, yeah, thankful.
MF: You launched a GoFundMe in 2021. It seemed like there was a label situation and you wanted a release. How much do you feel comfortable saying about that, and has there been any progress?
Kaiit: 100 per cent. First, I need to start by saying I’m so thankful for our community. I will scream that to the rooftops: I’m so thankful for our community. I felt so held and loved and supported by each and every one. But, yeah, it’s just crazy how things happen and move. Honestly, I am not allowed to talk much about it. But I really have had to stop myself from just, like, screaming it out, honestly, because it’s been so hard.
But I’m so thankful I am independent. I’m officially independent. It’s been hectic, but I wanna figure out the beautiful way to express that as well and give my thanks to my community. I hope that one of those ways is expressing my music out – and I’m so excited for my music to come out. It’s gonna be really beautiful and exactly how my vision sees it and needs it to be.
MF: It sounds like you’ve been busy in your studio. What can you tell us about what you’ve been up to there? Will you be previewing any songs in this show?
Kaiit: Oh, 100 per cent, 100 per cent. They need to be expressed and just sung out. I wish we could just release it straightaway, but I’m learning a lot of the process of how things are done in this industry – a lot of unlearning and learning. But, definitely new music. I always know that shows are the place to be able to do that, when it’s not released yet. So, super keen for that.
Kaiit – ‘Natural Woman’
MF: You had Jill Scott give you a shout-out. Has your audience grown beyond your expectations? Do you get any feedback from unlikely countries, even?
Kaiit: Oh, 100 per cent – like, it’s literally crazy. Our music and our art travels to places we haven’t even seen or spoken of. It’s bloody wild. I get hit up from people from Japan about my music. Belgium, Portugal, Spain – lots of people from Spain, which is so crazy. The Netherlands, like, Brazil… It’s wild. It’s crazy.
MF: Hopefully you’ll get to go to some of these places.
Kaiit: Oh my gosh, that would be insane. I remember when, thankfully, we went out to Paris to do a show and we were walking around. Oh my gosh, I won’t get started on the macarons! There was this one place – oooh, so good. But we went to some op shops and we walked into one of them and literally one of my songs was playing as we walked in. I’m like, “How does that happen?” You know, just so perfectly timed.
MF: Younger artists are now citing you as an inspiration. I talked to PANIA recently and she was saying, when she saw you on stage, she knew she could do it.
Kaiit: You need to stop! She’s so sweet. Oh, that’s really melted my heart, too. Thank you so much for telling me that.
MF: Do you do feel a connection with any local artists in Naarm? Who are you inspired by?
Kaiit: Honestly, there’s so many creative people in Naarm – like, whether it’s music or not, so bloody creative. But I think what really inspires me and just, like, gets me to keep pushing and going is seeing my friends pushing through. It’s hard doing music, and this industry is wild. But it just makes me so happy when we continue to keep pushing, despite the odds, despite not getting the recognition we feel we deserve.
You know, just talking to my friends and just hearing their struggle and yet they’re continuing to do it – I’m so thankful for that. Adrian Eagle, my beautiful partner, he continues to push through. He inspires me and motivates me so much.
PANIA as well. I will say that I saw her when she was supporting Kehlani the other night [at Melbourne’s Sidney Myer Music Bowl] and the outfit, the dancers, the energy, the make-up – it was all just such a beautiful creation. I’m so excited for her as well.
MF: It’s amazing there’s an event like Nocturnal x Midsumma at Melbourne Museum. I know museums are problematic and sometimes contested spaces, especially for First Nations and non-Western people. What sort of symbolism does this represent for you, given that you are in control and you’re invited into that space and your fans are welcomed into that space?
Kaiit: To me, I feel like I’ll be taking up space. 100 per cent – I’m gonna be taking up space. So, my voice will be echoing down those halls and I’ll be creating the space in it. So all I wanna do is create a safe space, especially for mob and Blak people that are coming through to that.
Yeah, those spaces – museums, period – hold a lot of things that probably don’t belong there. But I’m just really excited to be talking to everyone in there and singing to the spirits and just saying, “Thank you. Thank you to the spirits, thank you to the ancestors that have come before and the traditional owners of the lands.”
MF: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Kaiit: I’m just so excited to be able to release music again, and it’ll definitely be coming over the next couple of months. I’m really, really excited. This project overall is such a conceptualised piece and very visual to me. So I’m really excited to bring the visual aspect of that to life as well – like, oh, I’m so excited! I’m ready to release her.
Nocturnal x Midsumma presents Kaiit – Friday, 10th February @ Melbourne Museum. Tickets here.