MELODIE WAGNER from our Y&F team sits down for a conversation with MI-KAISHA MASELLA a young artist full of talent, wisdom and grace.
MELODIE: So, you’re a key part of the City Campus and are well-loved in our youth and young adults community. For anyone that hasn’t had the opportunity to meet you yet, would you tell us a bit about yourself and what you do?
MI-KAISHA: My name is Mi-kaisha Rose Masella, but my friends call me Kaisha or just Kaish. I am 20 years old. I am a Sydney girl, born and raised. My mum is Darumbal Aboriginal and South Sea Islander, and my dad is from Tonga. I am a singer-songwriter and love learning and studying. (I’m currently completing my undergrad degree majoring in Music & minoring in Indigenous Studies).
MELODIE: What has your creative journey been like and how did you come to be the promising young creative you are today?
MI-KAISHA: I stand on the shoulders of giants and can wholeheartedly say that without my community, both in church and in the Indigenous community, I wouldn’t have been afforded many of the opportunities I have had to explore, develop and have fun with my creativity. Ultimately, my creative journey is a result of others’ generosity.
MELODIE: In 2019 you moved to New York City to study at the prestigious Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music. Tell us what it was like uprooting life as you knew it and pursuing your dream?
MI-KAISHA: It was always my dream to study at Clive, but I’m a homebody and love my family and community in AUS so deeply, which made leaving a super bittersweet experience. Something about moving to the other side of the world is that you’re almost completely disconnected from everything you’ve ever known and it’s just you, God and a very big city with a lot of strangers. The most beautiful (and challenging) part about moving to NYC was having all the ‘things’ stripped away. I felt God constantly asking me, “Who are you without all of the labels? Without all of the worldly things that you often identify with?” It forced me to truly surrender and grow into a new level of dependence on God that I believe can only come from those deeply challenging seasons of struggle and being completely out of your depth. That being said, it was also the most exciting and fun season I’ve had yet!
MELODIE: As well as being a gifted artist, you’re a role model, in both church and the wider community. Has being an example always come naturally to you? When did you find your voice, when it came to advocating for others?
MI-KAISHA: I’ve always felt a responsibility to speak truth and seek justice in all the spaces I occupy, whether that be in school, university, church and even in my own home. Like I said before, everything I know has been taught to me by the many mentors and strong women in my life and God has taught me to always listen humbly when someone’s opinions and experiences differ from my own.
“I often remind myself that I didn’t always know what I know now, and it took someone having patience with me to help me learn.”
MELODIE: I’m personally inspired by the way Indigenous cultures honour their ancestors and all those who have gone before them. As a proud Aboriginal and Tongan woman, what does honouring your heritage and ancestors look like for you?
MI-KAISHA: Honouring my heritage and ancestors for me means always being unapologetically myself and stepping into who my community has raised me to be. I know many cultures in Australia, and all around the world, feel the pressure to blend in with the mainstream, to conform. I honour my ancestors by showing my pride and love for my culture and its traditions and sharing that with others. I honour my ancestors by reconnecting with the parts of culture that have been erased or shunned by Western colonial systems. We’ve survived as a people for over 80,000 years and we did that by caring for one another and by maintaining our cultural and social responsibilities to our Mob (our language group & community). I aspire to build up and speak life into the generations to come exactly as my ancestors have done for me.
MELODIE: In 2019 you were named National NAIDOC Week Youth of the Year! What does that honour mean to you today?
MI-KAISHA: NAIDOC week is a massive celebration in the Indigenous calendar & to have my community acknowledge me at the National NAIDOC Awards was just so special. It wasn’t so much the award itself that holds significance for me, but what that award represents. It means that my community, the very people who raised me and built me up, are proud of the young woman I am growing into. It was such a beautiful encouragement to receive and an honour to be in the room with so many important leaders who have helped shape Australian history.
MELODIE: Writer and poet Amiri Baraka once said, “The artist’s role is to raise the consciousness of the people. To make them understand life, the world and themselves more completely.” Do you have a memory of a ‘becoming conscious’ moment where an artwork, song, or person inspired you and made you see the world differently?
MI-KAISHA: Music has always informed my awareness of the world around me, but I think that awareness grew much deeper when I discovered Billie Holiday’s Strange Fruit. I think it is one thing to read about the atrocities of our history, but to be forced to feel it is something totally different. This song gave me a profound understanding of what injustice was and what it feels like at a very young age. The feeling I got when listening to this song was the same feeling I got when hearing about Australia’s history. It helped me channel my yearning for justice into my music and writing.
MELODIE: In closing, as someone who uses their art and platform to bring light to causes that you’re passionate about, what would you say about how creativity and justice can come together to be a force for social change?
MI-KAISHA: One of my most favourite things about music is that it is often centred around a feeling. It has the power to break chains and open hearts. Through my music, I am presented with an opportunity to deliver a message to people who don’t necessarily want to hear that message. It is an opportunity to interrogate peoples’ hearts and minds and give them a glimpse of my own. It is a challenge, and I often don’t have the right words to articulate the complex discourse I am having with myself in my head, but music is the tool I use to express that unrest and that yearning to see our country do better.
MELODIE: Thank you for taking the time to talk! Is there anything you’re currently working on and where can we keep up with everything you’re doing?
MI-KAISHA: I’m always writing and working on music…and also always struggling with that inner critique ha! But aren’t we all? I will be releasing my first single, Brand New, this year & now that I’ve said that it has to happen, so please help keep me accountable! Love you guys, the creative team, so much and am so grateful for the wonderful community and safe space you guys have created.