Mi-Kaisha Masella, proud Darumbal Tongan woman, born and raised in Sydney is a social justice advocate, performance entrepreneur, and first and foremost, singer/songwriter. She is one of Australia’s most talented young emerging artists with experience and musical capabilities beyond her years. Mi-Kaisha uses music as a powerful tool to engage, inform and incite debate surrounding issues affecting Indigenous Australians, and what it’s like to be a young blak woman in Australia (AAA, 2020).
“I’m a singer/songwriter, and I’ve been performing my whole life. I think it’s been something that’s been in my blood. I think it’s come out of my culture, my family, the people who surround me, and obviously growing up in Sydney there are so many strong black women who’ve inspired me, and who have shaped the woman that I’m growing into. I think music and songwriting is my way of expressing myself and getting that message of empowerment for young black women, empowerment for young Indigenous people; the message of love and self-love.” - Mi-Kaisha, 2018.
Music has always been a part of Mi-Kaisha’s life, and the musical environment she grew up in has definitely played a role in shaping her ‘sound.’ Her ‘sound’ fuses together hip-hop, soul, reggae, RnB and Islander tunes. She explains this in an interview with Advocate for Children and Young People (ACYP) NSW’s Zoё Robinson (2020):
“Both my Indigenous side and my Tongan side...are so heavily involved in music. Growing up, my dad worked at Koori Radio, he had like a hip-hop show [Island Hopping] on a Friday night and...I would go in the studio...and soak up all this music..then also going to church with my grandma on a Sunday and listening to gospel music.”
“Singing side by side with Jessica Mauboy and many other powerful women was an amazing, eye-opening experience, and sparked a passion for music that I never thought possible.”
“I had this crazy cool thing happen to me, where I was working so hard and learning songs and performing them in a day, I was on a high. But when I went back to school after everything was over I felt like I had nothing to do. So I made sure I was still working on my songs, to keep that spark alive."
Check out Mi-Kaisha’s blind audition on The Voice Kids Australia in 2014 here:
Indeed she did keep that spark alive, as she made it to the Top 12 position on Australia’s X-Factor in 2016, has released an impressive repertoire of original numbers released on triple j Unearthed in 2019, and received the NAIDOC Youth of the Year award in 2019 at the age of 18. Mi-Kaisha received this significant award for her melding of creativity and advocacy into a passionate voice for Indigenous youth across Australia. In an interview with NITV (2019) Mi-Kaisha expressed how she uses music to break down barriers:
“Music just has this quality of breaking down barriers. People maybe don’t want to hear a message about issues facing Aboriginal people; our history and our stories, and our strength and resilience that we have. But when I put that into a song, it might sound different to what they expect a message to sound like and so they receive that and they...get a new perspective or learn about Indigenous stories.”
You could say her ‘activism style’ consists of resilience and breaking down boundaries. You may have seen Mi-Kaisha on ABC, SBS, or NITV speaking up against racism, as well as encouraging discussions on the significance of Indigenous youth financial security. As a social justice advocate, Mi-Kaisha became involved in several non-profit organisations which speak up and provide an impetus for change for the Indigenous community (NITV, 2019). She is a Youth Ambassador for Culture is Life, a non-profit organisation which collaborates with First Nations leaders and youth, other like-minded non-profits and the government to sustain Indigenous culture and prevent youth suicide (Culture is Life, 2021). Mi-Kaisha is also a Youth Ambassador for Justice Reinvestment, an organisation that focuses on reducing domestic violence and incarceration rates amongst the Indigenous community (Justice Reinvestment, 2021).
Her social justice work doesn’t stop there. In the latter interview with ACYP, she explains that the Black Lives Matter movement has had so much traction around it in terms of talking about the issues of racial injustice (ACYP, 2020). She believes that now is a critical time for the broader Australian community to reach out to Indigenous communities and form:
“...a collective kind of responsibility; a shared responsibility; a shared sense of community, like, this is our home and we are on stolen Aboriginal land. Acknowledging that, and seeing the beauty in the fact that we now have the opportunity to continue to preserve culture, to help Aboriginal people have a voice.”
Mi-Kaisha accepting the 2019 NAIDOC Youth of the Year award at the age of 18. Courtesy of Culture Is Life, 2021.
Mi-Kaisha is aware that she has this platform and freedom of choice with her career and aspirations that her family members before her weren’t able to wield. In the acceptance of her NAIDOC Youth of the Year award she expressed her gratitude towards the women and mob in her life:
“My nan was a singer but she never had that freedom or opportunity to pursue her career and here I am pursuing my dream of moving to New York...to study at NYU…and I can definitely say that it takes a village to raise a child...and that everything I’ve done in my life is because of the women who’ve supported me, the mob who’ve taken a chance on a young black girl who just had a heart and a dream.”
In September 2019, Mi-Kaisha moved to New York City to complete a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Recorded Music at the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music at NYU, which was supported through her Nomad Two Worlds Indigenous Arts Scholarship from the non-profit organisation, the American Australian Association (AAA, 2020). Mi-Kaisha can proudly say that she is the first Indigenous Australian to be accepted into an undergraduate degree at NYU. This experience has been a massive eye-opener for her. To be taken out of her community and family, in which she didn’t realise how much she relied on, and put in a completely foreign space and country, where there are no Australians in her course let alone any Indigenous Australians, has really made her appreciate and want to carry her culture into her music even more (ACYP, 2020).
19 year old Aboriginal R&B singer Mi-Kaisha wearing a black dress with an Indigenous-inspired train (Michelle Woody, Tiwi Islands) at the AAA Arts Awards Gala to support the Australian Bushfire Relief, on January, 30, 2020. Courtesy of Getty Images, 2021.
Through her scholarship with the AAA, Mi-Kaisha was able to perform her new single Brand New for their awards night in New York in February 2020 via the Virtual Gala:
Mi-Kaisha’s strong social activism, musical talent and entrepreneurship suggests a bright future ahead of her, and that there’s nothing she cannot do!
Check out Mi-Kaisha’s website here for her bio, events, social media handles and music.
Listen to Mi-Kaisha Masella’s music on:
At Yarn, we are all for supporting and sharing the accomplishments of all kinds of emerging artists, from musicians to fashion designers to visual artists. We would love to see more Indigenous musicians become known within the Australian mainstream music space, as they have such a rich, musical culture to showcase to the world!