Tash Sultana pushes boundaries of 1-person show at Outside Lands

Ryan Tuozzolo/Staff
Ryan Tuozzolo / Staff

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In surveying the crowd gathered at Outside Lands’ Sutro stage in anticipation for Tash Sultana, it was clear that the Australia-based reggae/psychedelic rock star doesn’t just have casual fans. As demonstrated by the Sultana paraphernalia on view, they have a devoted following. Two young women in the front row even showed off their matching Sultana-inspired tattoos: the sombrero-donning skull on the cover of Sultana’s popular single “Jungle.” “They’re my role model,” one of the women, Sarah Ladd, declared. “They turned their difficult experiences into something beautiful.”

Sultana, indeed, made lemons from lemonade, so to speak. Sultana’s music career is hard-earned, with the artist having taught themselves to play 20 instruments and having started out by busking on the streets to make ends meet. In 2016, however, they posted a recording of their original song “Jungle” to YouTube. The video went viral, and Sultana’s life prospects skyrocketed.

Witnessing Sultana perform live, it was clear that they’ve devoted countless hours to their musical practice. Sultana’s high-energy appearance redefined the limitations of a one-person show. Viewers looked on, slack-jawed with awe, as Sultana mixed their own jams onstage without missing a beat. The musician seamlessly moved between manning a guitar, keyboard, pan flute, mandolin and synthesizer. On top of all this, Sultana sang and beatboxed, at times using a wooden wind pipe to do so. It was a sight to behold.

Though such nonstop concentration and intense playing may sound taxing, Sultana seemed to relish the process. Even while frantically hopping about or switching instruments, they beamed, head flung back in joy.

Though fully invested in their live performance, Sultana also did not shy away from cultivating the type of supportive audience for which they hoped. Homophobes, racists and transphobes, they said, should leave — Sultana does not play for such individuals.

Sultana’s invigorating and awe-inspiring performance seemed to end as quickly as it began. After all, the singer informed the audience that they had a flight back to Australia to catch in only a few hours.

After Sultana left the stage, Ladd sighed. Throughout the set, she had been trying to attract Sultana’s attention in order to show off the tattoo, but with no success. Nonetheless, a satisfied smile played across her lips — she would now associate the tattoo with a new and wonderful memory, a breathless experience remarkable enough to stay with her forever.

Ryan Tuozzolo covers music. Contact her at [email protected]. Tweet her at @_rtuo.