By most definitions, Kaiit has surpassed the label of ‘One to Watch’, selling out shows and earning both shout-outs and glowing comparisons from idols-cum-contemporaries like Jill Scott. For a lot of people, the secret is out: the Papua New Guinea born, Melbourne based 21-year-old singer embodies the individualism and emotional honestly that makes stars out of soul singers.
“Live From Her Room”, her first proper body of work, is a laidback and sunny showcase of her talent. Like a lot of great debuts, the five-song EP delves into personal experience, exploring the relationships and struggles with racial identity that accompanied her into young adulthood.
The release is built around previous single “OG Luv Kush Pt. 2”, a fan favourite that joins a long lineage of songs that compare lovers to drugs. This one’s about moving on, and giving up on relationships that have become as stale as your stoner lover’s breath. The silky verses paint a picture of a boy who leaves his “menthol cigarettes on the kitchen floor,” even though his “asthma always acting up” and he knows full well she hates smoking. It’s a scene of self-affliction that can hit close to home, and it gives way to a beautiful chorus. Kaiit’s vocals and eye for relatable imagery are on full display; it’s easily one of the best local songs of the year.
“Luv Kush Pt.1” opens the EP, and introduces the smooth tempo and production that will run through all five tracks. Kaiit immediately jumps into her bag of soul tricks, with harmonization reminiscent of Badu, a vocoder solo straight out of the 80s, and vocal runs good enough to hang with the best of them.
“Duffman” carries the same vibe while taking a sharp turn lyrically, and Kaiit describes the racial displacement of growing up dark in a whitewashed city (“I just want to fit in – be the girl that I wanna be, like the girls in the magazines”). It’s squeezed between her two singles, but it’s a telling sign that Kaiit has a lot to say, and her eventual full-length would cover provoking topics, like great soul releases have done in the past.
The best is saved for last, and the EP concludes with Kaiit’s still jaw-dropping debut song, “Natural Woman”, where the comparisons to soul legends are probably most warranted, as she riffs in a half-sung, almost-rapped flow through images of her adolescence (“I’ve never kissed a guy, like held a hand a maybe kissed a cheek a couple times but none of that lip,lip tongue shit”) and a genuinely moving, irresistible chorus. Her attitude is palpable and she has the urban story telling that would make her idol, Amy Winehouse, proud. Reinterpreting a legendary chorus as your debut single could seem presumptuous, but this EP shows Kaiit is well up to the task of keeping the soul alive.