The past 12 months have been eventful for Pania. Thanks to her powerful lyrics and eclectic R&B sounds stringing inspiration from the early 2000s, the musician from West Melbourne has garnered an ever-growing fanbase. But being a woman of colour in the music industry can come with its challenges, as Pania learnt late last year.
After attending the 2022 ARIA Awards, some media outlets misidentified her as First Nations artist Barkaa, when she was incorrectly named by a photo agency. From comedians Lizzy Hoo and Ali Wong, to politicians Sally Sitou and Tu Le, women of colour in virtually every industry often get mistaken for one another. While these microaggressions are sadly a reality, Pania is passionate about advocating for more diversity in the music biz.
"I think representation, especially for people that look like me and look like other people of colour that are coming up [in the industry], is so important," she tells Refinery29 Australia.
Pania believes you can't be what you can't see, and younger people will feel "motivated and driven" to pursue a career in the arts if they see themselves represented.
"There's always going to be stuff to work on," she says, but also acknowledges that there's a burst of diverse young talent coming through the music industry at the moment.
"I feel like artists like myself and a lot of other artists coming up in West Melbourne and Western Sydney... there are so many young artists of different ethnicities," she says. "I think we're all pushing for that change. I feel like it will definitely progress, slowly but surely."
Growing up in West Melbourne and proudly shaped by her Māori and Indian heritage, Pania shares that she's the first in her family to pursue a professional music career.
"I've always kind of been like a black sheep in my family," she explains. "Anything I do is always just so different from anything anyone's ever done in my family, so I feel like it wasn't that surprising that I wanted to do music."
However, her family and culture has had some influence on her sense of identity and the music she creates.
"The music I grew up on was mainly what all Islanders listen to, which is like 'fresh off the boat' tapes from my Māori side," she says. "I definitely get some inspiration from that and try and incorporate my culture into my music when it comes naturally."
Earlier this month Pania released her latest single, All Mine, which explores the balance between pursuing a demanding career and longing for a deep relationship. The singer turned to her personal experiences as the core inspiration behind her tracks, and says it's the reason her work resonates with fans.
"It's genuinely everything I'm thinking and feeling, and I always say the purpose of my music is for people to feel seen and heard."
Pania admires artists whose releases are "completely unfiltered", and says that's her approach as well.
"I feel like people, especially young women, can really relate to that and feel heard and seen."
With sellout shows in Sydney and Melbourne, being a supporting act for American artist Kehlani, and having two songs featured in Netflix's Heartbreak High series, it's been a mammoth 12 months for the musician. But she's only getting started. After a performance at VIVID Sydney on May 27, she'll be heading to the UK in June.
"I just want to keep growing a really, really strong fan base all around the world — not only just in Australia, but in every city around the world," she says. "I'll keep making new merch and just branch out around the world. I think that's my my next move."
As she promises to make her mark globally, we can be assured that Pania is a name we won't forget.