Kiash Arjun comes from Durban, KwaZulu-Natal. He is a third-year dentistry student and he is also one of the Vice Chairpersons of House Olympus. Aside from his studies and chairperson duties, he also happens to be taking on the South African music industry in full force. PDBY had the opportunity to catch up with Kiash and talk about his music.
Tell us about the sound and style of your music. Is it influenced by anything or anyone in particular?
My music fluctuates from being as personal as a love poem with a simple melody and an acoustic guitar, or it can be a really groovy tune with a dirty guitar solo and some catchy lyrics. Lyrically and vocally I am definitely inspired by Ed Sheeran, Lewis Capaldi, Harry Styles and more iconic figures like Stevie Wonder and Paul McCartney. Regarding the guitar, I’m deeply inspired by Rock and Blues legends – Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, B.B. King – and also some modern talents like John Mayer and Gary Clark Jr. I also draw a lot of inspiration from artists and bands in the local scene, such as Phlo, be sure to check them out.
“Lyrically and vocally I am definitely inspired by Ed Sheeran, Lewis Capaldi, Harry Styles…“
You perform live across Pretoria. Could you tell us about a few places you’ve performed?
So, it’s actually been wide over Gauteng for the last few months. I have performed twice at Capital Craft Centurion, at The Grind Bar & Eatery, and I’ve performed at the lovely The Linden Market at Emmarentia Dam. I’m definitely looking to perform more locally though, like doing more Open Mic nights at Aandklas and so on.
Your most recent song “Human” was released at the end of February this year and is your most streamed song on Spotify. Can you walk us through the track and tell us a bit more about it?
“Human” is a really personal song I wrote for a very pretty girl I liked at the time. I had written a lot of love songs at that point, but I needed to make something that would literally move people and make them emotional from the get-go. So, with some strong lyrics, the song floats on the harmonies from beginning to end, while being complimented by a delicate fingerpicking pattern on the guitar. The end of the song involves me crying out my affection for this insanely wonderful girl that gave my heart feelings and essentially made me feel ‘human’. Fun fact, I released it on 29 February – a very special day, for a very special song about a very special person (it’s the small things that count).
“I’m definitely looking to perform more locally though, like doing more Open Mic nights at Aandklas and so on.“
Your songs are deeply personal, what are your feelings towards putting that kind of vulnerability out into the public?
Stevie Ray Vaughan once spoke about how listeners get so entrapped in an artist’s talent that they lose sight of the fact that behind the guitar is a living, breathing person. This was more in reference to the hardships he suffered as a musician, and although I am in no way comparing myself to such a well-renowned icon, his words resonate with me in the sense that the more ‘human’ (pun intended) you are with your songs, the easier it is to tell your story. I mean that’s what a song is – your response to some everlasting experience in your life – why not make it personal?
Looking back to the beginning of your musical journey, what have been some of your highlights and lowlights?
I can say that the highlights are definitely every performance I’ve delivered – from small talent shows to all the recent gigs I’ve been asked to play. The joy I get when I’m strumming my guitar and belting out notes is incomparable to any other feeling. It’s euphoria on steroids. A significant highlight was releasing my first original songs –a much-extended deliberation which eventually turned out to be a success. The growth in musicianship is also a highlight – I’ve matured a lot in my 13 years of my playing. There was a point where self-doubt was a massive issue that held me back from being the best musician I could be. It just traps you. However, the phrase “practice makes perfect” couldn’t be truer. The more you perform, the better your entertainment becomes. Laziness is also toxic – if you want to get better you have to fight through the complacency and learn that solo you’ve been struggling to learn. Push your vocal range while you’re at it.
“…behind the guitar is a living, breathing person.“
What role does the guitar play in your musical process?
All my songs start with an acoustic guitar when I’m writing them, so the instrument is inherently incorporated into my music. Ideally, I’d like to think of it as a paintbrush. You may have heard of the concept about music being different colours (e.g. happy songs are yellow and sad songs are blue), so when you’re playing you need to add a lighter or darker shade to make the end picture all the more aesthetic. I don’t actually write any of the guitar solos in my songs, I just play what I feel at the time.
As someone who has accomplished producing their own original music and releasing it on major platforms, what advice do you have for budding local musicians who want to do the same?
Everyone will tell you this, but do not take it for granted – BE YOURSELF. Yes, it’s really good to get inspiration from different artists, and even pay tribute to your favourite singer once in a while, however, remember that your talent belongs to you and nobody else. Don’t let your gift go to waste by trying to be another artist. Remember how I spoke about songs being a beautiful picture? Well, music is this massive rainbow and by being your own artist, you are introducing a new, unique colour to refine the blend in that rainbow. And don’t establish a comfort zone – push your voice, your playing, your production. Own it too.
“All my songs start with an acoustic guitar when I’m writing them, so the instrument is inherently incorporated into my music.“
Can we expect any new music or projects in the future?
Well, on 8 April I [released] my debut EP Fire & Ice on all major music platforms (Apple Music, Spotify, Deezer, YouTube). It has 7 songs that I recorded in the small time that I’ve been at home ever since varsity closed down for the pandemic. A lot of new sounds to my repertoire and surprisingly, not a lot of love songs. It has a very upbeat, funky vibe to it. I think people will really enjoy it. I’d definitely be excited to release some more mellow, acoustic songs towards the end of the year and even make a music video or two. We’ll see how life pans out.
With live performances being impossible at the moment due to the lockdown amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, is this affecting you as a musician in any way?
Definitely. Gigging is probably the most pivotal thing in your career as a young musician. It’s a source of income, but more importantly it’s a chance for some good exposure. It’s part of the moulding process in becoming the next big thing. However, with all that’s been ‘taken’ away, I’ve also been given an extremely rare opportunity. With life on a very surreal pause, I’m allowed to just reflect on my skills as a musician. I’ve been given a chance to improve my talent, write some new songs and fall in love with music all over again. Musicians are fortunate to have social media, where we can expand our fanbase, sing for our followers on Instagram live sessions, and just find any way to entertain the world. As a musician, I’ve realised the true power of music (or entertainment) in a time such as this.