IF YOU WEREN’T PAYING ATTENTION EARLY ON, TASH SULTANA SEEMED TO COME CRASHING INTO THE MUSIC SCENE – a fully formed guitar god, a musical prodigy who plays 20 instruments, a searing singer-songwriter who seems to channel music through their entire body.
But the 23-year-old Australian, who commands stages solo using a phalanx of guitar pedals and loop stations, has put in work. Their grandfather gave Sultana a guitar when they were 3 years old (Sultana uses the non-binary they/them/their); they’ve played gigs since age 12 or 13; they street busked through their teen years.
“For me, [busking] was the best way to go out and play to people every day,” Sultana writes via email from somewhere on the road.
They’re currently on a world tour that traverses the U.S., Canada, England, Spain, Switzerland, Japan, Germany and more. Touring can be notoriously strenuous on bands and performers – Sultana had to cancel dates in the past due to laryngitis – but they have learned survival methods.
“I try my best to eat well, get into my zone before a gig, and just enjoy it,” Sultana says.
Their music and reputation really blew up on Bandcamp and YouTube. Sporting a backwards baseball hat, tattoos and nose ring, they’ve kept the hype stoked with virtuoso one-person-band performances that have won converts to the belief that Sultana is channeling Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and Bob Marley all at once.
Sultana looks ecstatic when playing, their face and body a conduit for the sound, technically in command of their instruments and emotionally lost in the moment. They use diverse singing styles: soaring, cooing, lulling, vibrato, wailing, unleashed with dramatic dynamics. They use technology to layer their live playing with the fullness of a jam band. While performing, Sultana dances; their audiences does too. But Sultana isn’t coasting on the accolades.
“I’ve been writing and playing with other musicians a lot,” they say. “Also always practicing my drumming and guitar.”
Sultana was the breakout act of Cali Roots last year, where at one point they played a pan flute while beatboxing at the same time – who does that? Their closing song from that daytime set, “Jungle,” has garnered more than 5 million views on YouTube and comments like “instant goosebumps,” “I love your soul” and “I can’t help but cry EVERY single time I hear this.”
Sultana recalls that day: “Hanging out with friends and crew and just preparing for the show. The crowd was great that day. [I’m] excited to be back. Me and my crew have been working extremely hard on a new rig that allows me to do a ton of new things.”
They already do a lot of musical manipulation on the stage (offstage, they just announced the launch of a booking agency to promote other artists), so it’s boggling to imagine how much more show Sultana can deliver.
“People will just have to come out and see it for themselves,” Sultana says. No doubt they will. With talent like this, you have to hear it to believe it.
TASH SULTANA plays 6:50pm Saturday, May 25, at The Bowl Stage.
CALI ROOTS FESTIVAL happens 11am-11pm Friday-Sunday, May 23-26, at Monterey County Fair and Event Center. $115/single day; $125/three-day pass. californiarootsfestival.com