Culture / Music

Wafia on returning to Australian soil, empowering fans and performing at Mardi Gras

wafia mardi gras

“I think visibility is so important and I get to be in this position as a woman of colour – a queer woman of colour – on this stage and it’s a dream come true,” explains singer-songwriter Wafia when asked what it means to be part of Mardi Gras on the TikTok float, performing a live rendition of her song 'I'm Good,' a viral hit already soundtracking more than 44,000 videos on the platform. A proud queer woman of colour, she waxes lyrical about the event and what it means to her as an artist and a person.

“It's the best party, it's such a dream. I've never even been to Mardi Gras – it's something that I've always wanted to attend, but I've always been out of the country when its happened.”

Like many of us, Wafia has had a big last two years, the pandemic sending unexpected curveballs her way. Having only returned to Australia a matter of days ago, she had spent much of 2020-2021 in Los Angeles, a period she admits forced her to do some growing up.

“It was definitely a situation that I was thrust into, given in normal years, I spend half of the year in Australia and half overseas,” she explains. “With the pandemic, I kind of just got stuck in LA. With the borders being closed, I made a game decision to stick it out in LA. What I did not anticipate, like all of us, it's just how long that would take.”

“I think it was the right decision for me because I got to do a lot of work – a lot of songs – but, I really missed my family and that was a hard part of it.”

Wafia’s journey into music began a world away from Los Angeles, rather in Brisbane, as something that had always been present in her life and as an inherent part of her as a person. Prior to going into a biomedicine degree at university, she had always been singing; school choirs, church choirs, and the like. Once she started to share her music on Tumblr and posting covers, things began to amp up.

“I started singing in random cafes around Brisbane and from there, I realised people would pay me money to go sing at their weddings,” she says of her journey after sharing her artistry on Tumblr. “I ended up saving all the money that I made from singing at weddings, and I was like ‘I'm going to release original music and all the money that I make from weddings is going to go into back into my music; I'm going to invest that into myself’”

@wafiaaaa I’m so excited to be performing on the @TikTok Australia float for #MardiGras ♬ I'm Good - Wafia

Perhaps one of the most pivotal points in Wafia’s career becoming what it has, was on the way to an exam in 2011, during a conversation with her father reassuring her to chase her goals in the pursuit of happiness.

“I was on the way to my last exam during the 2011 Brisbane floods and my dad was driving me and it was raining so intense,” she begins, recalling the day. ”I was prepared to get there for the exam and it be cancelled, and my dad stops the car and he says ‘I think you're making a big mistake, I think that you should be like working on your music full time. I think that it's all you do with your spare time. It's where your passion lies – I can't remember the last time you picked up a textbook and I think that's what you should be doing.’”

Wafia went into the exam and “didn’t think about it,” a weight lifted and a level of clarity provided to her. From there, she tells us it was challenging for a year and a half as many of her friends from university were working in their field or pursuing further study and she was “still singing in cafes and didn’t really know what to do.”

Not knowing how to galvanise her Tumblr audience, one day she uploaded a cover of Let Me Love You by Mario to SoundCloud and cites this as the point where her life took a turn. Her work since has taken her across the globe, most recently to Los Angeles, yet being in Australia once again – where she has ready access to beloved bakery goods at the Yatala Pies near Brisbane – is both inspiring and heartening to her.

“It's very inspiring to me – I get to play to these hometown audiences,” she says, a smile on her face. “This is my country and I'm so excited to play my headline shows, a couple of intimate ones, and then honestly, aside from that, [be with] family.”

Playing at Mardi Gras this weekend ties into Wafia’s ability to remain her authentic self and celebrate her community. When asked how she hopes to inspire others to embrace themselves, the crux of her answer is simple: remaining true to her authenticity.

“What I've learned through my life and my career is being my most authentic self is the thing that's inspirational to other people. It's not really a thing that I feel like I need to put on, or a hat I need to wear and then take off at certain times.”

“This is such an honour [to play at Mardi Gras] and I'm so excited to get to celebrate my queerness and the queerness of other people.”

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