I want to begin with a confession. Before last night I had never heard of the Australian singer Tash Sultana. Though after Saturdays's performance at White Oak Music Hall I immediately rushed home (okay, perhaps there was a quick detour at Tacos Tierra Caliente for some barbacoa tacos) and began scouring through YouTube; jumping between her one person Tiny Desk concert and the raw GoPro footage of her performing “Jungle” in her bedroom, which was the first video she recorded that went on to garner one million views in five days and launch her into stardom.
My first indication that something was different about Tash Sultana should have been the fact that her show was moved due to popular demand. Initially the show was supposed to take place at the House of Blues, but it sold out so quickly that promoters moved the show to the more spacious lawn at White Oak Music Hall. It wasn’t until I arrived at the venue that I realized this night would be something special, as the sight of a line stretching for two blocks quickly attested to.
In speaking with fans and asking what brought them to the concert I quickly learned how far many of them had traveled, with locations as far flung as Brownsville and New Orleans. One group of friends I spoke with had driven down from Nashville, a 14-hour drive, and stood in line only to learn that the tickets they had purchased were fake. Sultana’s kind hearted photographer, Dara Munnis, heard the story and rescued the diehard fans from what could have quickly become a disappointing night for them.
I spoke with Kat Metcalfe and Derrick Medrano, fans for more than a year, who both cited Sultana’s performance on NPR’s Tiny Desk as the catalyst that sparked their love for her music. Both were surprised to see the turnout for the event, yet were incredibly excited at the opportunity to finally share one of their favorite artists with so many others. The two described Sultana as a visceral performer perfectly in tune with the moment, who’s live performance electrifies as she extends an invitation to the listener with a smile and a headbang.
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After Reuben Stone’s opening performance there was a warm energy of anticipation that bubbled throughout the crowd. I enjoyed small conversations with fans who quickly shared their favorite song in hopes that I might be able to pass Tash the message. As neon pink and blue fog filled the stage I felt a rare sense of excitement, and when Tash stepped on stage with a wide smile on her face I couldn’t help but smile with her.
Despite being the only person on stage surrounded by her instruments, Sultana demonstrated a power and maturity to her presence that is rare for an artist so young (22 years old). For a self-taught artist who began playing at the age of three and plays more than 20 instruments, Sultana possesses a mastery that demands one's attention.
As an artist who struggled with drug addiction in her early years along with a drug induced psychosis, there was a mesmerizing quality to her performance that seemed otherworldly. You could see it in the smile that stretched across her face, the calm meditative bliss as she bounced between instruments, and the electricity that lit up her eyes.
As I stumbled out of the concert I made a wish that I could one day achieve such a blissful energy within my own work as a photojournalist, but until then I’ll stick to watching Tash Sultana perform. She heads to Dallas on the next leg of her first American tour and if you get the chance to buy tickets, I’d highly recommend it! Give her song “Jungle” a listen and I’m sure you’ll be hooked.