Ahead of her Cork gig, the Aussie singer tells Ed Power how her ‘overnight success’ was actually 11 years in the making
Seven minutes and 55 seconds was all it took for Tash Sultana’s life to change forever. That’s the running time of a live performance of her song Jungle which the Australian singer and multi-instrumentalist posted on YouTube in January 2016. Within five days it had notched up a million views. Currently the figure stands at 48 million. A star had been born.
Why the video would become such a sensation is no mystery. It starts with Sultana playing dreamy guitar loops which sounds like a languid cousin trice-removed from Ed Sheeran at at full experimental tilt.
Gradually, the rhythms become looser, speaking to the Australian artist’s love of reggae, hip hop and world music. Finally she steps up to the mic and begins to sing in a low, pitching voice that is mysterious and fascinating. Outside of Melbourne, where Sultana had built a cult following for her busking performances, nobody had ever heard anything like it.
But with success has come the unwelcome misapprehension Sultana — the family name is Maltese — was an overnight sensation plucked from obscurity. This is a cause of frustration, as the artist explains ahead Irish gig that includes the Marquee in Cork and Iveagh Gardens in Dublin.
“I’ve put in a lot of work over the past 11 years to get somewhere in this profession,” she says. “It definitely didn’t happen overnight. I didn’t get all this knowledge in one day. I’ve been doing gigs since I was really young. Playing wherever I could. After finishing school, I didn’t get a normal job. I went and busked on the streets and made my living that way.”
Sultana, aged 24, presents a no- nonsense face to the world and approaches the music industry with a healthy scepticism. It’s tempting to conclude that is partly due to the misinformation that sprang up after Jungle become a succession.
Especially upsetting were reports she had spent a chunk of her adolescence and early 20s homeless. There were echoes of the ‘Ed Sheeran was homeless’ headlines that followed the English singer’s confession to having occasionally slept on the London Underground.
Still, she was a bit of a tearaway in her adolescence and previously spoke of going through some dark times until music proved her salvation. But then the guitar, especially, was always a beacon for her, ever since she was given one by her grandfather when she was three.
She studied guitar until she was 13. In every other respect, however, she is self taught. Which is why her August 2018 debut album, Flow State, is so stunning. It incorporates trumps, piano and many other instruments — all played by the artist herself.
“It’s always a challenge trying to figure out how you’re going to play the studio stuff live,” she says. “There’s only one me. I don’t have 20 arms. I do my best. It’s been cool (touring the record).”
Success was not something she actively pursued. Now she has achieved it, she is acclimatising step by step. But she’s been through worse and she’s confident she can make peace with her status as a burgeoning star.
“I’ve figured out how to deal with myself. I took many, many years to get to a point of understanding. In many ways I’m still understanding (her inner workings). But it’s alright. There is good and bad (in life). And there is a balance you have to find to get through it. Playing music helps me restore the balance in myself.”
Tash Sultana plays the Marquee in Cork, July 3; Iveagh Gardens, Dublin, on July 4