Image courtesy of Tsunaina

Watch Tsunaina sing the emotional story of all women beneath a waterfall

Wearing custom ASAI, the London-based Nepali model and musician is bewitching in the self-directed video for her debut single ‘Waterways’.

by Frankie Dunn
18 February 2021, 3:57pm

Image courtesy of Tsunaina

Growing up first in Kathmandu, Nepal, then in the English countryside, Tsunaina has always yearned for a sense of belonging. “I think being between worlds, being an immigrant and a woman, forced me to create my own world and become uncompromising,” she says. “Anything else wouldn't have been fair to me.”

While you might recognise the multidisciplinary artist from her successful modelling career, it’s her music -- a sort of “organic opera” -- that she’d rather you paid attention to. It’s here you’ll find a true representation of Tsunaina, told from her perspective. 

“I try to make something that’s intimate and honest and universal,” she says. “Something in between where I grew up and where I’m going.” By harnessing her natural talent for storytelling and collaborating with musicians specialising in the harp, sarangi and gamelan, this certainly comes across on her otherworldly debut single “Waterways”. “I think you can hear the slight human touches and it’s what I love about the track,” she adds. “There’s nothing synthetic or sterile.” Tsunaina self-released the song almost a year ago, followed by the self-reflective “Unearth” and tension-laden “A Dam on the Eve of Breaking”, each as beautiful as the last. 

“Waterways” began as a song about Tsunaina’s struggle with identity and love, but somewhere along the way things shifted. “I realised it was the story of my mother, my friends, it was the story of all women. It’s really about visualising a woman as a river — how much of ourselves women are constantly giving away, nurturing others, sacrificing dreams, desires, until we become unrecognisable,” she says. “I grew up on a hill overlooking a holy river in Nepal that was completely polluted and the similarities struck me. ‘Waterways’ is a song of realisation and resolution.”

To celebrate the composition’s one year anniversary, Tsunaina has self-directed a performance video, “born out of the love and patience my friends have for me”. In it, we find her — like Botticelli's Venus or a much-worshipped water goddess — with her long hair flowing, beneath a waterfall in the English Lake District. “I wanted something small and personal and sincere.”

Watch Tsunaina’s beautiful performance below and get to know her better via these 10 facts.

1. Tsunaina has been making music for years in secret
“My friends have been frustrated and begging me to release something for years. I just knew it was time. I became comfortable in myself.”

2. She has a v successful modelling career but felt like now was the time for music
“I became tired of being ornamental, forever being the muse and not the artist when I have so much inside just waiting.”

3. She handpicks musicians to play on her songs
“I write by myself, then compose with collaborators, and I always try to have live instrumentalists for every song. I feel like you can hear the human behind the instrument and it makes the project so much more raw and full of life.” 

4. She calls her music ‘organic opera’, but some say otherwise
“All the theatrics and emotion [of opera] without the rigidity. But it’s really up to the listener; I’ve heard [it described as] cinematic, alt pop, electronic, silk pop, ballad. It goes on and on.”

5. Her earliest musical memory is a vivid one
“I’m maybe six. I’m trying to follow along as my older cousin teaches me origami and my mother is playing an old Bollywood classic (‘Ajeeb Dastan Hai Yeh’) in the kitchen.”

6. For Tsunaina, writing music is an essential emotional outlet
“Lyrics are both storytelling and catharsis, I think. There’s so much healing in sharing and being vulnerable. I think we could all do with a little healing.” 

7. She tracked down the perfect waterfall for the video herself
“I explore terrain a lot and I’d found this beautiful waterfall hidden away in the middle of nowhere. A tiny team of five of us all headed there and managed to capture me performing there from morning until we lost all daylight.” 

8. She collaborated with her friend (and one of i-D’s favourite designers) ASAI, on her look for the music video
“I asked the generous, beautiful ASAI if he would create something for me to perform in there. We gathered all these old wedding dresses that I’d collected and took them apart to create what I’m wearing.” 

9. In fact, ASAI might just be her biggest fan
“I remember ASAI cried when he first heard me singing in Nepali. That makes me want to cry sometimes.”

10. This year has a lot in store for Tsunaina
“2021 will be me finally unfurling. Everything I’ve been silently working on for the past few years. Finally a full body of work — my first full EP in the summer — more videos, more performances.”

Follow i-D on Instagram and TikTok for more music. 

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