The music star discusses navigating the come up as a young South African artist
Words: Bob Perfect | Photography: Paige Furness
Kaien Cruz is a 19-year-old musician from Durban who you may have heard on the radio or seen on TV by now. If you haven't, you will soon (or you actually have and you're just unaware). Every artist needs a big break, and Kaien got hers in the most millennial way possible, getting discovered on Instagram by Aewon Wolf. Of course she'd been working hard towards her goals before that: Kaien has been playing the guitar since she was eight. With two albums to her name, and a career that's just beginning to blossom, we caught up with the bright new star to find out what it means to be a break-out musician on the come up.
"I remember the first time one of my songs played on radio," says Kaien, referring back to 2016. "I had just gotten back from hockey practice and was about to go shower when I got a message saying my song was going to be playing in the next few minutes on East Coast Radio. So my sister and I, who I was living with at the time, ran to the car and put on the radio. It was definitely a special moment that I'll never forget."
According to her YouTube vlog, Kaien only figured out she could sing because her sister, who walked by her room when she was playing the guitar and singing along, told her she had a great voice. Before that her focus was mostly on guitar. Now she's known for her voice, having gone from singing in her bedroom to performing on stages across the country.
"I was seventeen or eighteen at the time and it's crazy how far I've come since then. Not only musically but also just as a person and how fast I've grown up. It was weird for me – especially seeing myself on TV, but it was definitely something I hoped for and dreamed about."
Since following each other on Instagram, Kaien has been working closely with Aewon Wolf and the Wolfpack, and it's helped accelerate her industry education. "Working with the Wolfpack has definitely taught me a lot about the industry in a short amount of time, which I'm really grateful for. It's been an amazing journey so far." Is it intimidating working with such a prolific team of musicians? "Maybe, in the beginning a bit – but very quickly I learned that everyone is just a person working on their dreams and goals just like me."
Kaien's latest single 'Proud' is easily interpreted as her dealing with the struggles of people thinking she's been changed by her fame. "'Proud', for me, talks about important issues and topics not only in my life, but also generally. I think it's easy for people to relate to. Everyone has that thing that they're scared to be open about in fear of being judged or criticised and this song, hopefully, will let people know that they shouldn't be scared and they should take risks and also just be proud of themselves."
Kaien is taking success in her stride with a level head, surrounding herself with experienced and talented artists and learning from them. The people close to her support her. "I don't consider myself famous, but yeah, it's been a bit tough in some areas with the changes in my lifestyle. Overall I think I've handled it okay so far. My family has been supportive. Some friends have fallen away, which I expected, but other than that it's been pretty chilled."
She's aware that this game isn't easy, but she's also aware that there's never been a better time to be a young artist on the come up in South Africa.