Spotlight: Tash Sultana
By Paige Hawkins
Good music can become a time machine: guiding you through foggy memories and dusting them off to breathe new life into them again. It can remind you of what you’ve once forgotten, and bring even the best moment to new heights. Great music though, can cut through you like water does a canyon, exposing layers of yourself you never even knew were there. It can shift angry tides to soothing currents, create connections between strangers, and become a universal language. Tash Sultana’s music is great; simultaneously pioneering new perspectives while inspiring feelings of familiarity and nostalgia. She’s a walking contradiction: both joyous and melancholy, an old soul in a New World.
Tash, short for Natasha, was born in Melbourne, Australia in 1995. After picking up her first guitar at age three, she practiced relentlessly and eventually became proficient at 20 instruments, a few examples being trumpet, piano, bass, pan flute (on which she can beatbox), saxophone and guitar. She spent time as a vocalist for the local Australian band Mindpilot until they split up in 2012, after which she perfected her unique sound by busking on the streets of Melbourne and creating YouTube videos in her bedroom.
Her hard work earned her worldwide fame once the video of her now-hit song “Jungle” reached more than 1.7 million views in 2016. Not only did this instigate a sold-out, worldwide tour for her hit EP Notion, but she also won Triple J’s Artist of the Year Award that same year, described by Triple J as, “tacitly impactful” with a voice like, “rich gravy spooned over Christmas lunch.”
A one-man show, she employs up to 39 looping pedals to engineer the foundations of her songs with multitudes of instruments on hand. Whether stunning crowds with her magnetic voice or delighting them with her unbridled joy as she effortlessly showcases the complexity of her musicianship, the style of constructing musical masterpieces layer by layer, instrument by instrument, is distinctly her own.
Her raw talent isn’t the only reasons her fans adore her though; Tash’s openness about personal matters such as her gender fluidity, past drug abuse, toxic relationships and mental health all shape her fans’ perspective of her because she lets them in in a deeply personal way. In a Billboard interview in March 2017 she says, “I think it’s really important to have a journey and talk about your healing process, because people are looking for answers and if you [have any] then you should share that knowledge. You only have one thing in your mind and that is your mind; once that’s gone, your whole reality is distorted.”
"You only have one thing in your mind and that is your mind: once that's gone, your whole reality is distorted."
- Tash Sultana
This point of view shaped the creation of the hit that launched her to fame almost overnight. “Jungle” was written as a therapeutic release: a way to work out, “an inner conflict between the head and the heart” after the deterioration of a relationship. In fact, Notion displays that conflict beautifully throughout its six tracks, managing to be both extraordinarily vulnerable and self-assured, another example of the contradictions Tash offers.
Feeling like a mix between a rant and a confession, the lyrics of “Jungle” describe the helplessness of loving someone who’s hurting you, and being worried about hurting her right back. In an interview with The Aware Project in April 2016 Sultana describes her song “Higher” as being about “rising above and still claiming your independence within a relationship,” and her single “Murder to the Mind” touches on her struggles with mental health, sobriety and the importance of getting help. Billboard pointed out that, “rerouting a negative situation so that the outcome is positive proves her most impressive,” and it seems that she has turned her resiliency into her greatest strength.
The heart-wrenching honesty Tash effortlessly offers both in her music and in interviews is part who she is. She doesn’t just talk the talk, she walks the walk. She became a health ambassador for Beyond Blue, a nonprofit working to promote support, advice and action to people suffering from anxiety and depression and is unflinchingly honest when describing her own struggles with mental health.
"Your gender is your anatomy, it's nothing to do with who you are as a person."
- Tash Sultana
In an interview with The Feed SBS VICELAND, Tash describes being pushed into a 9-month “drug-induced psychosis” while she was 17 after eating a slice of pizza with magic mushrooms on it. After realizing she was having a bad trip she reportedly called her father and asked for help, with his suggestion being to have her watch a “David Attenborough documentary” on sea life that subsequently had her questioning her reality. She reflected on the incident while chatting with triple j’s Veronica and Lewis in 2016, saying that the film caused her to question why, “tortoises lived for so long and whales lived for so long when there was no purpose of life.”
This question and the bad trip led to a period of time that saw her living in a self-described state “between life and death,” but she was drawn out of it by her feeling of “complete peace of mind” while creating music. This epiphany became the inspiration for her advocating for people seeking out help and an active support system during mental health struggles, while also being uncompromisingly yourself.
But Tash is not only an ambassador for those struggling with mental health, she is also an outspoken advocate for the LGBTQ community and is vocal about her own gender fluidity. While sitting down with The Aware Project in 2016 she explains, “Like, that is just my anatomy, that is anyone’s anatomy. Your gender is your anatomy, it’s nothing to do with who you are as a person.”
Her candor doesn’t just extend to her interviews though, I was able to personally see and feel the appreciation from the crowd at her set at California Roots 2018; her openness beforehand moved many of us as she passionately connected to her audience and expressed her gender fluidity. Tash begins many shows with a rallying cry: proclaiming any to be racist, homophobic, or transphobic to, “Get the fuck out!” refusing to be in the presence of those who don’t support her and her fans. Her support is not shown quiet loyalty; like I mentioned before when Tash talks the talk, she walks the walk. She uses her platform and her voice to scream to the world, not whisper, and she makes sure she is heard.
Tash Sultana is a walking contradiction with limitless possibilities. Her ingenuity and grit has shoved her into stratospheric heights and the ambiguity of her music allows pretty much everyone and anyone to connect with her. Charismatic and unquestionably brilliant, I’d be willing to bet her rise isn’t over yet.