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Kaiit On Her Epic Tattoo Collection, Musical Inspirations And Love For 1920s Makeup

By Sophie Hart

At just 23 years of age, Naarm singer and artist Kaiit (she/they/he) is one of the most exciting talents to grace the Australian music scene and bless our ears with her sweet and honeyed vocals. 

Not only did Kaiit's first single ‘Natural Woman’ go viral, but she was also named one the best rappers under 25 by Red Bull Music, sharing the list with artists Joey Bad A$$ and Chance the Rapper. Not to mention Neo-Soul Queens Jill Scott and Erykah Badu have claimed her as their ‘musical love child from down under’. No biggie. 

Here, we team up with Sailor Jerry and sit down with the ARIA Music Award winner to chat about her refreshing ‘all in’ approach to life, her passion for 1920’s makeup, fave tattoo artists, and how she plans to celebrate this summer. 

Tell us about yourself—where did your journey in music begin?

I definitely believe my musical journey began in my mother’s womb. My parents taught at an on-campus arts university in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea. I remember my mum telling me that we lived right next to the jazz department and, well… it makes a lot of sense. I think a combination of that and the movies I grew up watching in PNG like Malcom X and Bugsy Malone also contributed.

What has been your biggest career challenge to date?

Reminding myself that I’m more than just a singer. I feel like when you're constantly being boxed into things from being a singer to being a neo-soul singer, to being a female singer, you almost start to feel like that’s all you should do and can do. It’s not. I’m ever-evolving, I have so many creative visions I want to bring to life beyond singing, my way. I have so many job titles and I want to continue to honour them and myself. A big thing to help with that is communication and expressing yourself—now that’s a whole other essay...

And on the flip side, what has been your biggest ‘f*** yeah’ moment?

When Jill Scott and Erykah Badu shared and appreciated my work, it was out of nowhere. They are musical inspirations to me and straight-up legends in music, period. It's an affirmation for the path I'm going down, Mama Jilly reposting it—that was a thankful moment. 

The past couple of years haven’t been great, especially for the music industry. How can we show our support? 

You can support musicians by listening to our music, featuring us on playlists, buying our merch, taking a second to send some positive vibes, sharing our content, not asking for free labour and, hopefully soon, buying tickets to our shows!

I read that you wrote ‘Miss Shiney’on your travels back to PNG. Do you often draw on your PNG and Aboriginal culture for inspiration?

Everybody has in one way or another been inspired by Indigenous people, period! From tattoos to piercings, right down to football that’s played in this country. How could I not be inspired? It’s in my blood. 

I’ve been getting a lot of inspiration lately with jewellery pieces, specifically dog and pig teeth necklaces from PNG. They leave me in awe looking at the crafting that went into making them. I feel so special when I wear them too, more than any designer brand could do for me. Dog teeth and pig tusks are used in my village to help you travel through spiritual realms and sing to the spirits as well as seen as being of high monetary value.

Not only is your music incredibly vibrant and soul-lifting, but you’re also a talented makeup artist and your personal style reflects this bright aesthetic. What or who inspires your looks?

Thank you! Lately, I’ve been inspired by 1920s energy, my plant babies in my room, my visions that spark new ideas and of course watch all my amazingly creative friends and peers.

Once things are back up and running with the warmer months approaching, how are you planning to go 'all in' and make the most of it?

I plan on continuing to remind myself of the lessons I’ve learnt over this whole lockdown. Honestly, I also just can’t wait to sing with my band for people again, I think we all need some live music. 

You penned some words in tribute to Amy Winehouse in her tenth year of passing, and you also have a tattoo of her on your arm. Can you tell us about how her legacy has impacted and inspired you?

I'm so thankful for her expressions, thankful that she allowed herself to share them with the world and me. I think Amy and all of the amazing musicians that she worked with created such a beautiful mix of classic and timelessness—yet the sound is still so relevant now. The balancing act these sounds made are something I'm definitely trying to master too. Her life was beautiful but also such a sad ending. It is a reminder to me that it's also a too familiar story for many that work in the industry and to keep mental health a priority. Thankful for all of her, she will always be an inspiration to me. 

Your tattoos are incredible, do you have a favourite? 

I love them all... it’s so hard to choose. Apart from my traditional piece, I would say even though it's the smallest and most simple, I love my mosquito tattoo. When I was younger, living in PNG, I got malaria a good couple of times—my sister was actually born with malaria. But also, they just love my blood. 

Where’s your fave tattoo parlour?

Hands down my new favourite studio is Crucible Tattoo Co in Kensington. I was tattooed there last by Mil Rose Tattoo. Most of my tattoos have been done by men and in male-dominated spaces, so going into Crucible was like a whole other experience. It's run by gender non-conforming angels. It's also the first studio I've walked into and they asked me for my pronouns as well, which felt so lovely. While choosing the design details, they made me feel very safe to express everything I was feeling and changing. Reflecting on it, it's kinda crazy that in past experiences I had felt less inclined to express myself, even though these art pieces will be on you forever. A clear message to always express yourself freely to your tattoo artists, you won't hurt their feelings, this is their job!

Any plans to get inked again once restrictions are lifted? 

Definitely keen, my last tattoo was right before the latest lockdown happened. Very excited to get another once we all can. I tend to get three or four tattoos each time, so I will most likely get a bunch of new things. But one of them will be a gramophone, which is something I've always wanted. 

Everyone’s HAS that one outrageous or special tatt tale, What’s yours?

One of my most special tattoos would be my adjoining chest and neckpiece that was traditionally done by Julia Mage’au Gray. All tapped in, no electric gun. The planning of the tattoo design is all felt out on the day through expressing life stories and being guided by the spirits.

My beautiful mum was there as my support that day and she captured a couple of photos and videos. When looking back at them, I noticed this natural little grin on my face during the tattooing, almost like I enjoyed the pain (laughs). I mean, it didn’t tickle but every place that she was tapping into just felt so right.

Any final thoughts you’d love to share?

Keep being gentle to yourself, for those in lockdown, and those starting to come out. Enjoy food that makes you feel happy, maybe try ordering from a small local or family restaurant and tread lightly on these sacred Indigenous lands. 

Image credit: Ian Laidlaw 

Arm yourself with a bold and smooth Sailor Jerry cocktail, paired perfectly with all your summer adventures. It’s finally time to get back out there, live large and support all those who need it most right now.  

Editor’s note: This article is sponsored by Sailor Jerry and proudly endorsed by Urban List. Thank you for supporting the sponsors who make Urban List possible. Click here for more information on our editorial policy.

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