Bob Perfect sits down for an exclusive interview with music star Kaien Cruz to discuss navigating the come up as a young South African artist.

Kaien Cruz is a 19-year-old musician from Durban who you’ve probably 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 years old, which means she has eleven years of music making under her belt. She currently has two albums to her name, and her career is just beginning to blossom.

“I remember the first time one of my songs played on radio,” says Kaien. “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.” This was back in 2016.

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.”

Regardless of her expert guidance, being a young artist on the come up still has its struggles. “Being on the come up is a constant grind and trying to build your brand and team around you can be difficult, but that is expected. It’s been mostly smooth sailing but there’s always bumps in the road. I think those struggles build character and make you more grateful when you reach your goals.”

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. “I think the best part is that there are a lot more platforms to release music on now than ever before. There’s also a lot more styles and genres in music now which is really cool. The South African music industry is growing a lot which means more opportunities. I’m looking forward to the future.”

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