Tash Sultana has quickly become one of Australia’s most-loved artists, taking out the triple j Unearthed Artist of the Year, while her hit song Jungle entered the Australia Day Hottest 100 countdown at No.3.
And a nine-to-five was never going to cut it for the Melbourne musician.
“My mum pushed me to get a normal job when I finished school and I just wasn’t into that at all,” she said.
“So I hit the street and started busking and making my own way.”
Soon after, she was stopping crowds on Bourke Street, many surprised to see only one person making the music.
Sultana taught herself how to play about 10 instruments including guitar, percussion and piano, as well as saxophone, Arabic oud, and American pan pipes.
She plays solo, looping and layering her sounds.
“I just go into one, I don’t feel like I’m me and an instrument or instruments, I’m just one,” Sultana said.
The 21-year-old, who is now selling out shows across Australia and overseas, was one of the most distinctive contenders in this year’s Triple J Hottest 100.
“When you listen to her music it feels like there’s a full genre-bending melting pot of different influences, but it’s uniquely Tash and that’s what’s so beautiful about it,” Triple J Good Nights host Linda Marigliano said.
“She plays everything and just goes wild.”
Sultana says passion, not talent behind her rise
Sultana’s Live Bedroom Recording sessions on YouTube have garnered a massive audience, with her Jungle video clocking up more than a million views.
“She’s created this cult ground-swell following of people that are so dedicated to her, and it’s so wonderful to see because she’s still so humble,” Marigliano said.
Humble is a fitting word, given Sultana does not attribute the fast rise to fame to her talent, but to her pure love for what she does.
“I think it might just be like, when you look at someone that really loves something … you just admire that,” she said.
“Kind of like when you look at someone who’s just had a child and they’re really in love with their child and you just feel something because you can see that love.
Watch Tash Sultana’s hit song Jungle below:
“I just have this real love and connection with what I’m doing when I play music.
“Not everyone is going to like my music, some people are going to f***ing hate it, but some people that don’t like my music appreciate how I play.”
Sultana trapped in a world inside her head
That profound connection to her craft once saved her from the depths of a drug-induced psychosis that lasted the better part of a year during her late teens.
“I was at my friend’s house one night and this guy pulled out a paper bag of magic mushrooms so we put them on a pizza and I just tripped the f*** out,” she recalled.
Sultana was trapped in a world inside her head that made no sense.
“I’d hear people say my name, ask me a question [but] no one was there,” she said.
“I couldn’t understand why we’re alive if we’re only alive temporarily. Why would you be alive if you’re just going to die? What’s the point?”
She missed school for three months and lost 17 kgs, but there was one thing that kept the endless and maddening stream of consciousness at bay.
“I kind of just got right into playing music because I could kind of stop thinking when I was concentrating on playing the guitar,” she said.
With music and the help of a therapist, she eventually found peace of mind again.
Sultana has recently returned home from playing in Singapore, as part of a bout of intense touring.
She said she will take time out to write music, something she has not had enough chance to do recently.
Music is all she knows how to do
The triple j Unearthed Artist of the Year was one of a record 66 Australian artists to make it into the 2016 countdown.
Sultana, who also appeared at No.32 with Notion, said she would be happy to see the countdown — and Australia Day — moved from January 26.
“It comes down to how many people it’s offending and the reasons why,” she said.
“I think that whole date should be something totally different anyway, because we’re ultimately celebrating genocide on that day and people don’t realise that.
“A lot of people don’t actually understand what Australia Day is and think it’s some big piss-up — and for most people it is — but it actually should be a reflection day on what happened.”
“I think the Hottest 100 — it’s music, there is no race in music.”
Watch Tash Sultana play live in Melbourne below:
Sultana’s success is unlikely to stop at Thursday’s countdown.
“I don’t really have music goals. It’s just a huge field I want to dedicate my life to,” she said.
“If I didn’t play music I’d be actually just a bit of a dropkick to be honest, because I can’t do anything else. I wish I was joking, but I’m not.”
With her fan base constantly growing, it is clear there are many who are glad Tash Sultana never took up a day job.