Artist Spotlight: Biawanna
As a queer woman of colour, Ash Weis wants to keep her art both progressive and personal
Columns / February 25, 2019
It wasn’t until Ash Weis found herself watching Janelle Monae in concert that she knew she wanted to start Biawanna, a project informed by her identity as a queer woman of colour with Indigenous Fijian and German heritage.
Equal parts neo-soul, synth pop, and R&B, Biawanna’s sound is at once soft and provocative, recognizable by Weis’s smooth tone and her simmering electronic melodies that ascend to tranquil, sugary refrains.
Monae, a pop sensation known for her advocacy as a Black pansexual woman, gave Weis the opportunity to see parts of herself reflected on stage—an experience that she says is hard to come by in Vancouver’s predominantly white, male, heteronormative music scene.
“She’s fearless. She does everything. She’s representing people of colour, and being in that crowd was electric,” says Weis, about the Monae show. “I found hope. I was really hopeful for the future when I was in that crowd, and I found acceptance.”
Weis overcame her anxiety and introversion to present herself to the world as Biawanna, an artist firmly rooted in confidence, culture, and community. Her mother’s Indigenous Fijian background is what inspired the title of the project, as Biawanna is the name of “a very strong woman in the South Pacific” who gave birth to the chief that Weis and her mother are descendants of. Through that figure, she taps into the strength she uses to thrive as a performer.
“When I say Biawanna can say and do things I can’t on an everyday basis, it’s like I’m kind of using my ancestral spirit to be able to release these things to the world, harnessing that energy,” she says.
Her goal as a musician is to use the positive energy behind Biawanna to create waves in the various communities she belongs to. As a songwriter, she’s open in her exploration of queer love, sex, and experience and has already had fans reach out for support with issues like coming out to unsupportive parents. Being there to hold a mirror up to her audience, and to be there for them as best she can, is important to Weis, who says her future releases will have “more specific lyrics about queer relationships” than what she has put out in the past.
Two of those tracks will be out soon, and each is a collaboration between Biawanna and well-liked local acts from similar genres. On March 8, she’s dropping a song she wrote with electronic artist Des Hume, and in the late spring she’ll be releasing a single with the frontwoman of R&B pop band I M U R—marking the first time she’s written alongside another queer woman.
She’s also breaking new ground with the Des Hume track, which she says dives into intimate subject matter she has never shared publicly before. Themes like living in a broken home, mimicking toxic behaviours learned in youth, and struggling with mental health issues will all be covered through the lyrics on the Des Hume collaboration.
Biawanna is performing on March 16 with Kimmortal, JB the Firstlady, Missy D, and Tempest as part of a charity benefit at The Rio Theatre. For more information, stay tuned to Biawanna’s social media on Facebook and Instagram.