Soulful singer-songwriter Kai Mata is Indonesia’s only openly LGBTQ+ musician. Her dream-like acoustics and laid-back lyricism have lit up stages worldwide, from Sonic Bloom Festival in Colorado to BaliSpirit in, well, Bali. We caught up with Kai to talk all things queerness, wellness and wonder.
Q – Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your work?
I’m an Indonesian singer-songwriter and LGBTQ+ activist. My music is all about reminding listeners that they’re loved, valued and cherished for who they intrinsically are.
My shows and my music are all about truthful storytelling. A show with me is always queer-friendly, you could say even queer-encouraged.
Last year I became an activist for the LGBTQ+ community in Indonesia with my Pride Anthem, ‘So Hard’. The song encourages respect for LGBTQ+ relationships. You can check it out here.
The song and the music video sparked national controversy in my home country, including threats and personal information leaks. However, with the support from the international media – along with participating in WorldPride 2019 –
I’ve kept motivated to carry on speaking out.
In 2020, I’m taking action against Indonesia’s new proposed bill that would define LGBTQ+ folks as ‘sexual deviants’ and require government-mandated conversion therapy.
I’m raising awareness at an international level with the hope of creating a choir of support, and am astonished how far and wide my message has travelled so far.
Q – Sounds like you’re quite busy. Have you managed to find the time to make more music?
Actually I’m working on my second album right now! It aims to humanise our marginalised group and to show Indonesians who fear their physical and emotional safety that they’re not alone.
Photo by Ryan Mcginley
Q – How important do you feel queerness in arts and culture is?
Queerness is a culture that impacts everyone
from every gender and sexual orientation, to every ethnic background and socio-economic status.
Showcasing queerness in arts allows for that fundamental inclusivity and diversity – it’s all about highlighting acceptance in a visible way.
Queer values benefit everyone as they reveal the variances in gender expression and celebrate the individuality of each person in a way united in the mission to share love.
Q – What do you hope people take away from your music?
When people listen to my music, I hope it brings them to a place of self-reflection on who they are and whether or not that is aligned with who they desire to grow into.
My music exists as a way to explore my emotional landscape
and I think communities would feel better if self-reflection and self-awareness was more commonplace.
I hope the stories I write about in my songs remind listeners of their own experiences, as I believe my music doesn’t stay mine once it’s heard by someone else.
All of our lives and experiences are different, yet we can connect and relate to the shared emotions of those said experiences.
Q – Our third issue is all about wellness. What does wellness mean to you as an artist?
Wellness, to me, is the holistic mix of our physical, mental, emotional and interpersonal states. In my personal experience, those states all interlock in a way where one affects the others. They just can’t be compartmentalised.
Plus, the wellness of one person impacts the wellbeing of those around them.
I often need to remind myself how pertinent it is to take care of my wellbeing if I am to help care for others.
Q – Health and happiness are clear themes in your work (‘Within You is a Light’ had us feeling *SO* wholesome). Can you tell us how you incorporate wellness within your creative process?
With each song I write, I feel like I deepen my understanding of who I am. Often, my feelings and emotional state are revealed at the time my pen meets the paper and when my fingers meet my guitar’s fretboard.
With chords ringing and melodies swirling through the air, the cacophony in the mind subsides.
When others hear my music, that’s when I feel they can truly understand the emotions I’m feeling. This makes me feel seen and heard for who I am, while also hoping my music makes my listeners feel seen and heard too.
Whether songwriting or performing, I am learning about myself and cultivating relationships of empathy.
To me, that is the reason I live.
Q – You’ve spoken out about being targeted by online abusers. What steps do you take to protect your wellbeing in the face of such spineless trolls?
I’ve put myself in a position where being vocal means being vulnerable to verbal lashings, both online and in person.
I have physical safeguards in place, such as plans prepared in case my physical wellbeing is in danger. I’m mindful of the information I share with others and protecting the privacy of the people I love.
What keeps me rooted is remembering the importance of my words.
When it comes to my emotional wellbeing, an important part has been the verbal support I’ve received both from within Indonesia and internationally. Being recognised and told ‘thank you for speaking out when I can’t’ has kept me motivated and reminds me of the significance of my visibility.
I have to remind myself that my message isn’t for those who believe we LGBTQ+ folk are meant to be excluded, ‘cured’, or harmed.
My message speaks to those in the LGBTQ+ community, to showcase they are not alone and they have someone speaking up and out. Doing this brings back balance into my life.
Q – If you had to sum up the wonder that is the bi community in one sentence, what would it be?
The bi community is beautifully diverse and bountiful beyond the pre-existing barriers that attempt to confine who and how we are ‘meant’ to love.
Kai’s latest album is in post-production and will be released later this year. Keep an eye on her socials for release dates.
She / Her | Indonesia | Singer / Songwriter
Kai is Indoensia’s only LGBT musician.
She’s a singer songwriter and Pride activist.
Kai was interviewed by Emily Kemp