Blitz Interviews | Mi-Kaisha

Giving A Voice To The Youth

By Richard Xu-Austen

Earlier this month, I had the chance to speak with Mi-Kaisha, an R&B soul artist from the Sydney music scene whose empowering music explores contemporary Indigenous themes. She recently released her single, 'Brand New', so I spoke with her about her music, her time in America, and the importance of creative expression as a means for giving a voice to young people.

Could you tell us a bit about your music and what it means to you?

Music has always been a massive part of my life. When I grew up my dad had a radio show on Koorie radio and I would go with him every Friday night into the studio and help him host the show. I am Tongan and Indigenous Australian, so both of those cultures are deeply rooted in music and singing and dance. I think growing up my whole life, music has always been second-nature and kind of in every facet of my life. In that sense, I was really lucky to have a rich upbringing in terms of music which has influenced the stuff I’m writing and releasing today. 

After high school, you went on to NYU to do a Bachelors in Recording Music. What were the biggest challenges you faced moving over there?

I guess moving to the other side of the world isn’t an easy thing to do. I’m super close to my family and tight with my community in Sydney. Moving away from home in itself was a massive thing for me because I cherish and love my family and community so much. That was probably the biggest thing. When I got over there, there were also silly little things like people having a hard time understanding my accent.

On that kind of thread, are the people in the US aware of First nations people and their history?

I think yes and no. There were some people who I had met, who I’d have conversations with about my background, trying to explain to them that I was Indigenous Australian and Polynesian, which is just a whole kind of area in the world that American’s aren’t aware of. In general, some people had stereotypical ideas of who Indigenous people were in their mind, other people had no clue whatsoever. I think that was one of the biggest challenges, navigating the cultural space and the assumptions people placed on me based on my looks. A lot of people assumed I was Hispanic or from South America. For me it was nice in a way because it felt like I was accepted into a community even though it was based on something that was superficial. I found some sense of community and safeness in that aspect but at the same time it was also challenging because I’m not part of that community. I am not Latina, I’m Australian. In that sense it was hard because I didn’t have that kind of community or home-base over there.

Can you speak about how important creative expression is in helping young Indigenous people have a voice?

I love this question. I don’t get this asked often. Music in every part of history has always reflected the times, and has always been used as a tool, whether political, creative, spiritual. It has always been used to kind of create a culture or bring people together for a purpose. During the Civil Rights Movement, music was the one thing that kind of fired people up and gave access to a community outside of their own world, that believed the same things as them, that wanted to fight for things that they wanted to fight for. So I think music is such a powerful thing in reaching people who maybe don’t even want to be reached. I think back to the times where I’ve played my own music that has a message about prejudice against young Aboriginal people in Australia and the audiences that I’ve been able to play those songs to. They didn’t necessarily come to that performance to receive that message, but at the end of the day they did, and they received it in a way that was beautifully presented in this format of music and sound and harmony. It presents itself beautifully but carries with it a significant, sometimes ugly message. I think that’s why I love music so much. Sure I love creating simple pop music like ‘Brand New’, but there’s also this other side of me that loves using music as a tool… a weapon to spread messages that I believe in and to empower young people, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, to rise up and speak what they believe in. 

Music in every part of history has always reflected the times, and has always been used as a tool, whether political, creative, spiritual. It has always been used to kind of create a culture or bring people together for a purpose.

What are you most proud of in your life so far?

At this point in time, I think I’m proud of the growth that I’ve made. But I’m actually looking forward to the day where I can help other people out. I’m looking forward to finishing my degree and being able to bring all of that knowledge and all those skills back home and equipping the young local kids with those tools. Ultimately, the music industry is about access. It’s not about what you know, it’s about who you know. So if I can bring back small little skills and the connections I have made in the US, then I’m looking forward to being proud of that moment. But up until now, I guess I’m just proud of my community, I’m proud of the people who have helped me get to where I am, and I’m proud that I didn't have to do it on my own. I’m just proud that I have a community of people who really believe in me, love me, and cherish me. And I’m looking forward to being able to do that for the young people. To empower them and make them feel proud of where they come from. 

The Blitz Radio Show: Mi-Kaisha

If you want to hear more about Mi-Kaisha, check out our episode of The Blitz Radio Show where Richard speaks to her about local musicians, the influence of African-American music, and her career. Click here to listen!

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