Named as one of the best rappers under 25 by Red Bull Music (alongside Joey Bada$$ + Chance the Rapper), over five million streams on Spotify and supporting international acts on national tours - it’s no surprise that KAIIT is attracting some serious attention. With her powerful voice, emotive lyrics and infectious, sunny personality, the Melbourne-based, Papua New Guinea-born artist is making big moves in the soul and RnB world - and we can’t wait to see what’s next.
We took some time before her stint at this weekend’s WOMADelaide festival to chat mentors, songwriting and the biggest influences on her sound.
BNKR: Hi Kaiit, congratulations on your song being shortlisted at the APRA Awards!
KAIIT: You’re so sweet, thank you so much!
That must be super exciting for you!
It is, it is – it’s crazy, so crazy.
Could tell me about the first time you realised you wanted to be an artist?
I didn’t even really view myself as an artist before, I just loved singing and I loved writing and you know, performing for people. It was at a point – this was before I had any music released, and I was performing at this spot in Melbourne – it’s a bar and there’s all these really curated events . . . I was performing every week and just practiced really, doing my thing, and then people would rock up and it really felt like I started packing out this performance by the end of it, which was really really cool… and I’m like, I want to do this! And I remember the next day, I was about to cross the road and I called up Momo, my mentor [of Diafrix] – and he’s my manager now! – and I called him up and I was just like, “Mo, I want to do it. I want to create and I want to put things out there”. And he said, “I’ve been just patiently waiting for you to tell me this” – and here we are!
For a lot of people, even finding a mentor can be difficult – how did you find yours to start with?
So how I found Momo, I was actually part of a hip-hop mentoring program called Dig Deep, which was run through Arts Centre Melbourne, and it’s just a whole bunch of amazing mentors out there, they’ve probably changed a bit now but . . . that’s how I met Momo and he’s now my manager and he also does the majority of my production… he’s like a big brother really, he’s the best!
Your first EP was released to critical acclaim, and you’ve racked up, a casual couple million streams on Spotify – what was it like experiencing that degree of success on your first release?
Honestly, I just wanted it to be out! I was just happy for it to be out and you know, people can look at my music and hold my music without having to be at my gigs and I think that’s what I was most excited about. But the response and the love was definitely not expected in um, how much love I have been given for just my little creative things and I am thankful, so thankful.
What is it about soul music that first attracted you to it?
I think soul music meshes with a whole bunch of other genres that I love. The kind of music that I’m into – I love stories, I love love and emotion and not beating around the bush about it, just saying it how it is… I feel like when I read my lyrics it’s like how I would say it, but it rhymes and it sounds cool but… I think there’s something so vulnerable and magical about being able to say exactly how you feel and whatever situation you’re in – I love that.
Does that feed into your songwriting process as well? Do you have a particular kind of environment or I guess, state of mind, that you like to be in when you’re writing your music?
I feel like I can’t be writing – or I don’t feel like I can write – proper lyrics if I’m not being emotive or I’m not speaking from the experience that I’m feeling in the exact moment. I don’t feel like there’s ever really a bad time to write, like headspace-wise, because those are just like, me, and emotions that I’m feeling and actually that just helps make my sound sound more real. And then sometimes I listen back to it and I say like yo, that’s trash! But you know, even just the process of creating can help me get through something, whether other people are listening to it or not.
Who would you consider the biggest influences on your music?
Definitely Amy Winehouse, I’ve got this picture framed [of her] in my room and I’m looking right at it. Even honestly, Salaam Remi, and his creations – he worked a lot with Amy too and just how he is, and his process. I haven’t met or worked with him – yet – but I’ve seen his interviews and I just love it so much. And the music is so fire! Lauryn Hill – I love Lauryn! Again, the same kind of thing in all the artists that I listen to, just like storytelling, and being vulnerable and authentic – just honestly saying how it is. I’m very attracted to those sounds and their language.
That brings me to my next question as well – is there anyone you’d like to collaborate with? Like bucket list.
Definitely Salaam Remi – I’d love to do a track with him. Or multiple – that’d be cool!
We’re really excited to have you on the lineup for WOMAD this year!
I’m so excited!
Is there anyone on the lineup this year that you’re looking forward to seeing?
Yes I am! I can’t believe the lineup! It’s just insane! But I’m gonna say Adrian Eagle of course, Fat Freddy[‘s Drop], Thelma Plum, Momo Juju, Thando – it’s so good, it’s just like all the homies coming through. Who else? Angelique Kidjo, definitely want to see that. Dona Onete, she looks like such a gangsta – I’m very keen for that.
What can we expect from your performance at the festival – will there be any new material, anything you’re working on at the moment?
Ooooh – possibly I’ll be playing a new track just to see if ya’ll are vibing. But honestly, I’m just so excited and thankful to be out there.
Just one last question – what does the rest of 2019 hold for you?
What it holds for me is just love, more love with myself and not feeling comfortable with situations that I’m in. Just like, walk hard and create and you know, step into my power – as we all will. I feel like all those things are just a reflection of how everyone should be.
You can catch KAIIT at WOMADelaide on Friday 8 March, tickets here.
Feature image via Triple J Unearthed.
Words: Lucy Ahern