Energetic, empowered and undeniably talented, 18-year-old Mi-Kaisha Masella uses music as a storytelling platform.
The singer-songwriter is the 2019 NAIDOC Youth of the Year recipient for melding advocacy and creativity into a passionate voice for young people across Australia.
Mi-Kaisha is a proud Murri girl, with Tongan roots, who is part of the Darumbal community in Queensland. Born and raised in Sydney, she frequently performs gigs around the Redfern area. She grew up surrounded by music: her dad was a presenter for community Koori radio station and her Grandmother took her to gospel church every Sunday.
She is inspired by hip-hop, reggae, RnB and Islander tunes, with a love of pop music, which allows her to enlighten, educate and start conversations about the concerns and experiences of Indigenous groups.
“Music just has this quality of breaking down barriers," she said in an interview with NITV. "People maybe don’t want to hear a message about issues facing Aboriginal people; our history and our stories, and our strength and resilience that we have.
“But when I put that into a song, it might sound different to what they expect a message to sound like and so they receive that and they [...] get a new perspective or learn about Indigenous stories.”
Her music isn’t just about telling stories that need to be heard, but equally about giving people a voice — especially on behalf of the voiceless. In moments of doubt or setback, she reminds herself that she has a platform that family members before her weren’t able to wield.
Mi-Kaisha is uncompromising in her belief that young Indigenous people, especially women, have unique perspectives and fresh ideas that can resolve the complex struggles experienced currently and in the future.
“It will always be [a] part of my life to have to fight for a seat at the table. It’s always been [a] part of my life to prove myself to people,” she says.
As such, you might have seen her on NITV, SBS or the ABC encouraging discussions on the importance of youth financial security, as well as speaking up against racism. In her free time, Masella involves herself in political campaigns aimed at giving Sydney’s Inner West teens the tools to speak up and provide an impetus for change.
Mi-Kaisha is a Youth Ambassador for Just Reinvest, an organisation focused on reducing domestic violence and incarceration rates. She also volunteers at preschools and is involved in children's’ education programs, and was a founding member of the Steering Committee for Kimberwalli (“shooting star” in Darawal language), the recently opened Western Sydney Indigenous Centre of Excellence.
Her musical achievements and community involvement have pinned her as a trailblazer; a fair title after her successes as Head Girl at high school, a Top 12 position on Australia’s X-Factor and an impressive repertoire of original numbers.
However, she reminds us that there are countless young Indigenous Australians behind-the-scenes who inspire and teach her as well.
“Our culture is a culture of leadership. You can’t be a young Aboriginal person without being a leader because that’s just in our blood. That’s just part of who we are.”
Mi-Kaisha is an inspiration for young people nationally. Towards the end of the year, she will commence a four-year degree at New York University’s Clive Davis Institute.
With strong social entrepreneurship, activism and musical talent, it seems there is nothing Masella can’t do and suggests a bright future ahead of her.
See Mi-Kaisha's acceptance speech at the 2019 NAIDOC Awards:
The SBS network is celebrating Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and recognising the achievements of our First Peoples throughout National NAIDOC Week (7-14 July).
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