Vancouver-born dream-soul r&b babe Meiwa is taking Melbourne by storm with her ethereally beautiful new single, Wonder. The songwriting for her new track comes from a deeply emotional and spiritual place. “This is the first track I released as Meiwa. It was written this past Valentine’s day when I was feeling particularly blue. Instead of eating chocolate and drinking wine in bed, I dragged myself to a yoga class. During a heart opening posture, I had wave of emotion surge through me and began to weep and my mind went to a place I had been once before. I was approaching what I thought was a deserted island when I saw a little girl climb out of the trees. It was me as a child. She asked, ‘Where have you been? I’ve been waiting for you.’ And we walked along the beach together, getting to know each other again. What I interpreted from this was that my inner child had been abandoned for nearly 25 years, and stuck at this specific age from a traumatic experience that was never addressed. The song is illustrated through the eyes of my inner child, asking adult-me, ‘Did you forget? Did you care for me?”
Meiwa officially launched her new single on June 29th at Some Velvet Morning in her newly adopted home of Melbourne. “The launch will be my first performance with a full band; Michael Cooper on keys, Jamie Stroud on bass, Ryan Haus on drums, and Helena Leijon Eriksson and Nic Duqe on backing vocals. The rehearsals are sounding amazing and our energy together is beautiful and magnetic, I look forward to many more shows with these legends!”
Meiwa was born to be a musician and has been supported all the way by her musical family members. “Mum says I was singing when I was born and attributes my vocal abilities to being colic as a baby. Ha! Some of my earliest memories are singing karaoke at family parties, ‘Somewhere Out There’ from the movie An American Tail was my jam… closely followed by ‘Country Road’ and anything by the Bee Gees. My grandparents on both sides were very musical and creative; on my mum’s side, my gung gung played many classical Chinese instruments and my poh poh was a beautiful classical singer. My grandma on my dad’s side was a school teacher and played the organ and accordion. Both my parents can sing (they might argue!) though neither of them pursued music. We grew up listening to Bob Dylan, Neil Young, The, Rod Stewart, Bee Gees. My parents have always been incredibly supportive of my brother and I in pursuing music.
The first song I wrote was on the piano around age 4 or 5. First song on the guitar at age 10. I was in choir and band in elementary school; in grade 7 I played bass guitar in jazz band, that was a real highlight. My first performing band started in 2001; an all girl 4-piece band called Stained Glass. We had 1 song and 2 dance routines. It brings me joy reliving these memories – I’m currently laughing out loud!”
Kristie’s first real performance as a solo artist was in 2007 at the Media Club in Vancouver. “It was Aaron Nazrul’s (The Boom Booms) album launch party. You can still find the Youtube videos floating around. That’s where I met my singing soul mate, Janette King. The moment we sang together, we burst into tears, it was magic. At our first jam in August 2008, we recorded 3 songs and created our band The Ponderosas.”
The Ponderosa’s quickly became a hit on the Vancouver music scene, attracting the attention of both local artists and travelling musicians: “We attended an open mic at Calabash Bistro, where we met Patrick Watson Quine and Jonny Holisko of Natural Flavas. After our performance they invited us to join them on their Bob Marley birthday bash tour. We continued to sing backing vocals for Natural Flavas and got to support iconic artists including ‘Mr. Rocksteady’ Ken Boothe and Leroy ‘Heptones’ Sibbles. I’d say opening for Toots and the Maytals at The Commodore was a real highlight.”
Building on this early success, The Ponderosas became a well-known name here in Vancouver over the course of 6 years; playing festivals like Shambhala and Victoria Ska & Reggae Fest, and opening for international artists like Shaggy and Barrington Levy. “We were coined ‘world pop party band’”
I ask Meiwa about her experiences growing up as a female musician in Vancouver: “Fronting a band from the age 20-26 with another young woman of colour was an incredible experience. I think that the love and support we had for each other as bandmates and friends had a massively positive influence on how we experienced being in The Ponderosas and in our interactions with others in the music industry. We built Pondies from the ground up and were shown a lot of love along the way.”
But this incredibly powerful formative experience of female solidarity was not without it’s hardships: “Sure, I cried during sound check a few times in the past as a result of being disrespected by a sound technician. I think that stuff will continue to happen regardless of who we are, and it’s not okay, and we need to be comfortable standing up for ourselves. I have since had many opportunities to stand up for myself in an assertive and graceful manner.”
Having said this, Meiwa is able to recall many times where she has felt respected and valued by musicians and music professionals of all genders: “As a backing vocalist, I have had many positive experience. In 2012 at a rehearsal for Victoria Ska and Reggae Festival, Leroy Sibbles of The Heptones requested we do a live video of “I Shall Be Released” acapella (check it on YouTube). And I’ll never forget at Surrey Reggae Festival in 2016 when Luciano the Messenjah took the time to introduce every band member by our first name, and he also called me empress. You can imagine, I squealed! To be clear; not all artists know or remember their backing bands on a first name basis. In many cases, we meet for one rehearsal before the gig and then we play. Overall, I have felt a lot of support and have had positive experiences as a woman in the Vancouver music industry.”
Meiwa is an inspiration for women and girls who love music – she is a fiercely independent woman who is passionately following her dream, wherever it may take her. Her advice? – “Surround yourself with people that care about you and that inspire you to be the best version of yourself. It’s all about building community. My top three pieces of wisdom are:
- Try new things! I’m always trying new things however big or small; sometimes it doesn’t work and then I try something different. At the end of the day it’s all working towards growing as a musician. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard “I wish I could play (insert instrument)”. Try it! Try every instrument and give it a solid effort. You never know until you try.
- Ask for help when you need it. We can’t do everything on our own. And asking someone for help builds trust and strengthens relationships. Offering your help is important too. The music scene isn’t about sizing each other up, it’s about building each other up. We’re all in this together.
- Speak up and stand up for what you believe in. You can start a movement!”
The reality of being a musician is that you’ve got to be prepared to put the work in. “It involves a lot of sitting in front a computer. On average per week, I spend around 30 hours doing administrative work and 1 hour performing. Set up a good work space, stay organized, and be prepared to hustle! Being accountable and professional is huge! Also, learn how to properly wrap a cable! Surprisingly, it is a skill that not many people have, and my goodness is it valuable, especially when you’re working with other musicians, technicians, and engineers.”
Inspired by her success here in Vancouver, and encouraged by a whole host of awesome musicians, Meiwa relocated to Melbourne in 2017 to pursue her music career. “In spring 2017, I joined Vancouver band Buckman Coe on tour as backing vocalist and support act in Australia for a month. We had such an amazing time and I met so many wonderful people that I knew I’d be back. Later that summer in Vancouver, I met some really lovely musicians from Australia who were planning to tour BC and Alberta. The same night we met, I decided to help organize and join them on tour, and we had an epic few weeks of shows and adventures. In an attempt to lessen the heartache of having to say goodbye on our last day together, we sat around my kitchen table and I booked a flight to visit them in December. And what do you know, I’m still here! I’ve since rebranded from Kristie McCracken to Meiwa, released a single, got together a band of phenomenal musicians and all-round legendary friends, and have plans to tour and play festivals over the next year. I’ve also had the honour of joining Australia’s first lady of R&B, Thando, on backing vocals. It’s all been an incredible experience and I am so very grateful!”
For me, Meiwa’s story is a reminder that hard work and determination are all you really need to make your dreams work. Yes, it’s going to take time. No, it ain’t going to be easy. But if you love something enough, it’s worth your time and energy. Act from a place of love, badass babes.
Any last pieces of advice from this musical powerhouse?
“Your music is valuable and there is space for it in this world, whatever genre it is, or whatever box anyone tries to put it in. Keep doing you! Put your music out there, set up a Soundcloud account and share your music.”