Tsunaina was raised on a hill overlooking a holy river in Nepal. The musician and visual artist credits this with having instilled in her a deep appreciation of the environment, and for ultimately inspiring her sound – music that envelops the listener, weaving stories that draw parallels between human emotion and the natural world. She performs these stirring melodies in waterfalls and historic caves for her self-directed music videos. Today though, Tsunaina is worlds away from all that as she warmly welcomes us into her sunlight-filled north London home. Looking out from her flat over the leafy green of the neighbouring park, she has a compelling calmness to her. In order to stay grounded and breathe new life into herself, Tsunaina places great importance on time spent alone. It’s what helps her regenerate in our modern landscape of constant distraction.
Tsunaina, we’re sitting here in your home studio. Do you do your best work first thing in the morning or last thing at night?
It’s probably actually when I'm in the midst of doing other things, like going to watch a film with friends or see a show. Ideas sort of run to you when you're not trying to chase them.
So you have to keep yourself busy?
Yes! I’ve done the thing where I just sit for hours and hours, trying to coax it out of me. It works but I feel like, because the intentions aren't pure, I can almost hear that in the music. Whereas now, because so much of it is organic, it doesn't feel like I have to fight what I'm making at all.
Can you tell us what you’re working on at the moment?
I’m wrapping up my EP, which is the first big project that I've got coming up. We’re in the process of doing a lot of the visuals.
An exciting place to be in!
A scary place! But an affirming place as well.
Your previous music connects human emotion and nature. Is that something that carries over to this new project?
The motif that I tend to have of nature reflecting my feelings, I don't think it's relegated to just nature, but there’s definitely a thread of the internal becoming external. For me, it’s often my way of communicating. The feelings are so big that they sort of crossed that boundary. Like natural feelings becoming so big that they become supernatural.
Can you describe your personal connection to nature?
I think a lot of my connection to nature comes from the fact that I grew up in a place where it wasn't very urbanised. In Nepal, I grew up on the outskirts of a small town – we didn't have internet and I didn't grow up with my parents around, so I ended up playing around in the fields or collecting jars of ladybugs. When you live in big cities, I think it kind of detaches you from what you can't see. It's also difficult to survive in cities, so when people are just trying to survive, it's difficult to ask them to also think of the land and the seas and the air. Back home though, it doesn't really matter whether you live in a village or a city – you can be in the middle of Kathmandu and you’ll still see all the mountain ranges all around because they're so high. So it's not like you can opt out of nature there, you know? I think my early exposure to nature gave me a natural appreciation for it.
And let’s revisit your earliest musical memory.
It’s back home in Nepal, when me and my cousins would gather around for this very South Asian game called Antakshari. It's where you sing a song, then the next person has to start another song with the final phonetic syllable as the last one. So you end up with everyone in the community knowing the same songs because you pick them up as you go. Also, my mother just reminded me that I had a theme tune I made for myself when I was younger – I was uncontrollable and I used to just run around singing it. It translates to: “little Tsunaina, I’ve got charisma, carrying sweeties, running around.” I guess that was my first song!
What do you think has had the biggest influence on your music?
Growing up in South Asia. Music is so omnipresent there, whether it's communal things with your family and friends or the fact that Bollywood is so huge. But also the internet – I didn't grow up in a metropolitan city so when I got access to the internet, it gave me access to communities, worlds and resources that I wouldn't have had otherwise.
The jacket you’re wearing has been made with artificial fiber called Brewed Protein™. When you hear the word artificial, what are your general thoughts or feelings?
The word can have a lot of negative connotations – obviously there's a resistance to or a fear of anything that can be seen as man-made and synthetic. I think it's interesting because so many things that surround us are artificial – a lot of humanity's greatest achievements, whether in medicine or agriculture. I think it's just a case of us living in a pivotal time when a lot of technologies are coming up and people are hesitant to hop onto the wagon because no one really likes change.
What do you think of when you hear the word Regeneration? And how do you personally regenerate?
I guess, at its essence, regeneration is trying to take things that have outlived their purpose or come to be seen as not being beautiful, and trying to breathe into it some new interest; to make sure that it's not just going to waste and being forgotten. Trying to breathe new life into all things. Personally, to breathe life into this old thing [Tsunaina points to herself, laughing], I like to spend a lot of time alone or with a few close friends. I find that doing things alone has really helped balance myself in a landscape where everyone feels the need to constantly distract themselves. I think my way of recuperating has been to learn to be comfortable with myself.
Finally, when it seems like the world is falling apart, what makes you feel positive about the future?
Just looking at my younger brother gives me a lot of reasons to be positive. Also young people’s ability to articulate their emotional needs, which I think is incredible; and even in the older generations, I see my mother and her friends being a lot more open to things that they weren't open to in their youth because of changes to the social climate. There are also a lot of environmental initiatives like the great ocean clean-up. Ultimately, I feel like we're handing things over to a kinder, more informed generation and I think that’s a great thing.
Songstress and storyteller, Tsunaina lures us into her universe with riveting vocals and visceral lyricism. Merging electronic and orchestral sounds with soulful intimacy to carve a landscape of raw emotion, she braces us for an immersive, tempestuous, soul-stirring ride. Beginning with her debut single "Waterways" in 2020, a year of undeniable change, the British Nepali musician has today collaborated with cultural icons in fashion and art, alongside landmark performances.