Heartlines and Gospel Choirs: The Rise of Miiesha

From the open streets of Fortitude Valley to cramped back-alley bars, Twitter and beyond, there was one name that fell from the lips of more people than any other this round of BIGSOUND: Miiesha.

Every so often, an artist comes along who has such a distinct identity that it’s damn near impossible to avoid being sucked into a whirlwind of hype. Curiosity peaks and, if you’re lucky, you’ll find the hype pays off. When it comes to this artist, it’s not hard to see why The Industry had all eyes on her.

The first glimpse we saw of Miiesha was only a few months ago, when a soulful down-tempo track by the name of ‘Black Privilege’ made ripples on triple j Unearthed. The debut subtly addresses rumours about “minorities,” particularly communities of colour, that circulate in the mainly white-dominated media and trickle down to the public – a bold first offering, but that’s just Miiesha in her most authentic form.

As a proud Pitjantjatjara/Torres Strait Islander woman, many of her songs (both released and unreleased) come from experiences in her home of Woorabinda, Central Queensland and tend to reflect the struggles and the beauty within Indigenous communities. Her unique way of spinning stories in both English and her native tongue is captivating and for a few minutes, listeners are welcomed into another world. For Miiesha especially, the appeal of her music is deeply rooted in her culture.

“I guess it’s the stories and maybe the language. For me, when I listen to songs that have language in it, it’s special in its own way and I get really into it. There’s a beauty in that.

I come from a small community and we’re very isolated from everything, it’s definitely not like this. I guess [the appeal is] just being able to listen to a different side of things.

I love telling stories and I think that people can definitely connect with that. Someone else in the crowd might [have similar experiences], and at the end of the day, someone’s always going to have a connection to that.”

Unsurprisingly, Miiesha’s live show is just as strong as her words. Her sound is a bubbling cauldron of neo-soul and R&B with gospel touches, something that sits comfortably in contemporary Australian rap but definitely nods to the past. Her influences: Drake, Nao, Summer Walker and Tink, swirl amongst her church upbringing, lending itself to wispy, ambient melodies paired with uplifting moments of euphoria.

And, despite being new to the game, both ‘Black Privilege’ and secondary single ‘Drowning’ are polished and primed, ready to be heard by the masses.

When on stage, she balances a fine line between being raw and endearing, like so many artists start off as, but maintaining a confidence in both her presence and performance. Shameless plugging of her Instagram (“that’s M-I-I-E-S-H-A, Miiesha”) flows into songs about unfair youth incarceration and missing her younger cousin. She even pauses to teach the audience a sentence or two in her language, so they too can join in singing; all part of a big, inclusive community vibe.

Between tracks there’s the occasional interlude, a booming voice acting as the glue between all these stories of heartache and triumph.

“My grandmother does the interludes and kind of ties everything together. It’s just stories about me and my community, how we live out there. It’s looking at a different side of things. I feel like it’s normal for me to write about these things.

The way that I look at the world is because of her. She’s a very humble woman, never hated anyone and, you know, she’s part of the Stolen Generation and all that but she’s so humble. Always about moving forward and moving on, but together. The way that I look at things is definitely because of her, so I had to get her in it.”

Unashamed and proudly Indigenous, Miiesha offers a gut-punching pushback in response to the Stolen Generation, crooning “survival ain’t that beautiful” in ‘Black Privilege.’ The real beauty, she stresses, is found in the people.

Her confidence, building since first taking to the stage at 8-years-old, hits a stride in these brutal lines, really bringing home the depth and importance of her messages.

‘Drowning’ proudly proclaims “your survival is not your sin,” in a poignant song combatting the words of none other than Tony Abbott. The opening sample hears the ex-politican say it’s “not the job of the taxpayer to subsidise lifestyle choices” in response to lack of jobs, money and resources in small communities, such as her own.

“I don’t have anything to say, Tony in the beginning says it all. I let that song speak for itself… but it’s not just Aboriginal communities, it’s anyone that’s not him.”

The Australian music scene has had a powerful resurgence lately of artists reviving ways to comment on politics and societal issues of today through song, and Miiesha does this with ease.

No stone is left unturned and she’s generous with exactly who and what each chapter of her music relates to.

“Black Privilege is technically about rumours and things that aren’t true that have been said about my community and my people; information on different minorities that isn’t actually true, and they’re getting their information from somewhere that’s not Blak.

It’s like who told you that? ‘Oh, just my mate.’ You have no idea – but whatever, spread those rumours, they’re really not true.

They will come to our community and capture the bad things but never the beauty of the community.”

As for the future, Miiesha is determined to continue fostering education of her Woorabinda community through her music. And, armed with the wisdom of her grandmother, the blossoming singer-songwriter is ready to address injustice with compassion and self-assurance.

“I definitely want to incorporate my family more; I think they have a lot to say about the things they’ve been through. Maybe I’ll want to write a song about a certain thing, but it’s about what they’ve been through.

It’s really important that I get to share that story plus it’ll help other people, as well as them.”

Fresh off the back of not only Bigsound but a nation-wide tour with Thelma Plum, Miiesha is gearing up to release her debut EP early next year.