Tiana Khasi on playing WOMADelaide with her Samoan and Indian heritage
It’s rare that a musician makes such a mark with her first EP that Rolling Stone US magazine raves and international world music festivals beckon you to play.
But that’s exactly what has happened to Brisbane-born and Melbourne-based artist Tiana Khasi, whose distinctive and captivating music will grace the WOMADelaide stage this weekend.
“It [WOMADelaide] can be a once in a lifetime achievement in a sense,” Tiana said.
“So I feel really grateful that WOMAD is inviting me to be a part of this, even though I’m not necessarily on the scene with a fresh new album just yet.
“So I think I credit a lot of it to…there’s just been some really beautiful gigs I’ve done down in Adelaide, and I think just the smaller community, pockets of music lovers putting on great shows down there. I think that’s been a really awesome opportunity for people from WOMAD to see Melbourne musicians doing their thing.”
Her debut EP, Meghalaya—titled for Meghalaya, India, the land of the Khasi tribe whose name she proudly bears—is a testament to the power of her storytelling and ability to weave themes of family, self-empowerment and identity into the contemporary vernacular of Australian music.
And as Tiana tells us on Streets of Your Town, Tiana credits finding her voice at such a young age to her life’s journey honouring her Samoan and Indian heritage.
“I think WOMAD and beyond, I really want to start incorporating more Samoan music. If people aren’t familiar, Samoa is a couple of small islands in the South Pacific,” she said.
“That’s where my Mum’s family comes from. There’s a lot of gospel influence. And also just traditionally, it’s such a vocal singing culture, so it’s normal for everyone to just sing and everyone just chimes in with harmonies, and there’s no formal training or anything. It’s just actually about all singing together and having that really wholesome experience with your family or at church or whatever.
“So I think for me, I’m trying to bring a bit more of that into my live shows because there’s something about when you have a good stack of harmonies that you could be singing, Mary had a little lamb, and it’ll give you goosebumps. So I feel like that’s kind of what I’m going for with the WOMAD show—just lots of backing vocals and really showcasing the EP, the songs that came out on that, and also a few new ones as well.”
This combination of influences makes for a unique sound that was further honed from expert teaching at Brisbane’s Conservatorium.
“It’s a visual thing as well as a musical thing. My grandma—she was from Shalong, which is in Northeast India—but she also grew up listening to jazz,” she said.
“And she used to describe this sort of hill forest, super lush green region, there would still be big band nights where they would have a dance hall and they’d all get dressed up and drink gin and tonic and be dancing to jazz music in the jungle.
“And it’s like, that visual for me is so inspiring. And same with my nana and with my Samoan side of my family. There’s definitely a traditional side to it, which is very much…we call it Fa’a Samoa, which means that’s the traditional ways.
“But once you migrate and you have all this crossover of contemporary western culture influences, it’s ‘that was me growing up with my cousins listening to Destiny’s Child at my nana’s house as we’re all doing the chores cleaning up,’ or even just childhood memories of, like ‘all right, putting on a show, go on, do it like a talent show for the adults,’ whatever.
“So I think it’s nostalgic, I’m fully indulging in a nostalgia and trying to archive all these really precious memories that I have of my family, as well as trying to find my own contemporary identity as a person. And in the arts, because there’s so much diaspora, especially in Australia, of people that have migrated and kind of lost their culture.
“Definitely from a vocal perspective I learnt so much from Dr. Irene Bartlett, who’s the head of voice at the Conservatorium. She’s an incredible pedagogue, and just a real pioneer. And I love her sort of approach and her theories around the voice and performance.”