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  • Carola Kolbeck

In Conversation with: The KTNA

© Photography by The KTNA

Child stardom, abusive managers, and life under siege gave rise to The Sisterz of Darkness. Emancipation, hard work, and soundscapes brought them into the spotlight.

Twin sisters Millie and Hope Katana are the heart and soul of The KTNA, rising, bright stars on the horizon of music, often compared to the likes of Alicia Keys and Lauryn Hill. As I sit in awe of their talent and boundless creativity, the sisters greet me with enthusiasm, and we talk about our dogs before I can even ask them about their last gig.

Millie and Hope were born in Kenya but raised in Manchester, where they also live. At the tender age of 26, the twins are already veterans of show business, having made their first TV appearance aged 12. Well-versed in singing and acting, Millie and Hope released their first EP, Life under Siege, in 2019, followed by Resurgence in 2021. Since lockdown, they have racked up hundreds of thousands of streams on each of their songs and are building a loyal fanbase. INJECTION spoke to The KTNA about childhood in the spotlight, the power of their music, their upcoming tour, and what it means to be an artist in today’s music industry.

You were very young when you first appeared on TV in the CBBC show Clash in 2010. How did it feel as a 12-year-old to perform on national TV?

Millie: It was unbelievable. I remember being very nervous before we went on stage at Radio 1’s Big Weekend, and when you’re 12 years old, you’re not quite sure of yourself, you’re not as confident as you are as an adult. At least we had each other, but I remember feeling quite terrified, to be honest.

Hope: When you’re so young, you have to be really hungry to do well. Yes, we were frightened back then, but singing was all we wanted to do, so we were incredibly determined. Clash was a competition, so each week we could win or lose, and we lost the first week! And it upset us so much that we won every single week afterward because we were so determined not to lose again. We wanted to win, we wanted to be the best, and I think we've taken that on as a life lesson: If you really want something, just push harder; if you want to win, try really hard.

You were subsequently cast in Waterloo Road’s 7th series and got exposed to acting. How was that experience, and would you like to do some more acting in the future?

Millie: I find it really difficult to talk about his period of our lives, and sometimes I'm not really sure what to say about it. I have quite a lot of different feelings and opinions on what it was really like being thrust into the public eye at such a young age, and having to do the job of an adult at 14 years old was really tough.

It taught us a lot of lessons about being professional and saving face. So, even if you're having a bad day, you just have to slap a smile on your face and keep going. When you’re on set with hundreds of people, you've got nowhere to go and have a paddy, so you just have to kind of fight through that. I found that really tough and I can’t say that I’ve enjoyed it all the time because I didn’t.

I don’t want to be flippant or sound ungrateful. But when you listen to child stars or child actors talking about their experiences, I really do relate to it. It can be quite an alien experience for a young person to have – some great things have come from it, but I also feel a little bit strange talking about it sometimes.

Hope: I think my biggest takeaway from Waterloo Road is that it taught me discipline, and it made me work hard. I now understand film and TV, and that helps me so much in our music videos, which we create ourselves. I’m also glad to know what it's like to work 10-hour days from being a kid and know what it's like to have expectations and to be polite to people and to always be in a good mood and treat everybody the same. Would I act again? Yeah, I'd love to act; I'd love to write something, something juicy, I'd love to direct it, star in it, shoot it, score it, that's what I'd love to do, and I think that's what Waterloo Road gave us. It gave us the ability to be able to do all these things later in life, in our 20s, so I’m grateful for it in that way.

Tell us about your journey from those early days until your EP Life under Siege came out in 2019.

Hope: After we left Waterloo Road, we continued to pursue music. We had signed a 360 deal in America with a management company in Atlanta. Our manager was abusive and horrible and didn’t like who we were, and wanted us to change everything about ourselves. Whilst we were in this situation, we used to say: ‘We’re living life under siege.’ When we left and came back to England, nobody really wanted to make music with us because we'd been away for so long, and everybody was like: ‘Oh hey superstar, you’ve been to America you think you’re this, that, and the other!’ They didn’t know that the reality had been a terrible situation for us.

So, we started to learn to produce, and we just took the bull by the horns and said: ‘No more men bossing us around, telling us what to do, how to be, how to look, how to feel, how to sing, what to say, whether we’re ‘black enough,’ ‘white enough’ - all of these things have got to stop!’ And they did. Life under Siege is an ode to that strange period of our time.

Millie: We made lemonade out of lemons. There were times when I thought I couldn’t get up, where I didn’t think I’d have the strength to carry on, but Life under Siege really changed our life so I'm grateful for that. We wouldn’t be the people we are today without these experiences.

You’re tackling some really gritty, thought-provoking, and important issues in your music, but you do it with such beauty and stunning music and vocals. All this is a shining bright light for listeners. Therefore, why do you call yourselves The Sisterz of Darkness?

Millie: Because we would wear black all the time, everywhere we went. We’d wear black raincoats and big black boots, and our friends started calling us The Sisterz of Darkness. But it’s more than that. When we started putting out music, some people would say: ‘What, so you worship the devil? Is this some spooky kooky devil work?’ We have to be honest and tell them that we talk about very dark situations and topics.

It's not about being consumed by darkness but understanding it and not being shackled by it. It’s about taking the darkness and making it more of a force to be reckoned with rather than something to be ashamed of. I'm not ashamed of my darkness, I'm not ashamed of the trials we had to overcome, so I'm OK with being called The Sisterz of Darkness, and I'm proud of it.

Hope: You’d be so surprised how many people come to us when they're in their darkest places. We got so many DMs when we first brought out Life under Siege. People just said: ‘Thank you so much, I don't know you, and you don't know me, but this is happening in my life right now, and you’ve pulled me out of a dark hour. I feel less alone in the darkness, knowing that we're all together in the darkness at a point.’ I'm proud of it, I really love The Sisterz of Darkness. I feel like it was meant to be. And those that think all this weird stuff about worshipping the devil, I’d say to them: ‘Maybe you're not coming from a place of darkness to understand.’

Millie: And good things come from the dark. Life under Siege was birthed when it was pitch black! We always say The Sisterz of Darkness are on a voyage for light, and we probably won’t be The Sisterz of Darkness forever, but right now, that’s where we are.

Lockdown was a pretty tough time for many, and lots of people turned to Life under Siege during those strange times. Were you expecting that?

Hope: During lockdown and still now, people say to us: ‘How did you predict this? How have you written an EP literally about being locked down and living life under siege?’ I think people were just trying to cling to things that made them feel better, which was Life under Siege. It also made us realise that we weren't alone, that so many people were struggling with mental health, anxiety, and depression, but through our music, they weren’t alone, and that’s beautiful.

Millie: Lockdown did really push our streams through the roof, and I think it’s because Life under Siege was so real to the time we were living through and even still to this day. The other day a young girl in a shop thanked me for our song One Way Ticket because it makes her feel less lonely. It nearly made me cry.

Your latest album, Resurgence, has been out since late last year. What can new listeners expect from this album?

Hope: I’d say it's lighter than Life under Siege, and it has a bit more of a hopeful message throughout it. There’s still a continuation of The KTNA music; we have a very specific brand of music. I think me and Millie have homed in on being individual and not doing what everybody else does, but it's kind of the next chapter for us. I’d definitely say that, if you’re a new listener, then start with Life under Siege and move on to Resurgence - it's a story that's been told throughout both of them, and Resurgence is about not losing hope, about keeping going because that’s how it felt when we were writing it.

Millie: You can expect beautiful harmonies and soundscapes with our vocals. We’re very much into scores, and our biggest dream would be to be in films and movies and score our own things for them. I would say that if you enjoy big soundscapes, the ups and downs of music, and if you want to feel something, come and listen to us!

Don’t you have a dream (from the album Resurgence) speaks to a lot of people right now. What was your motivation or trigger behind writing this song?

Hope: The exact story behind that song is that at the time, I had no equipment to record music on. I didn't have a microphone; I only had a headphone when I first demoed the song. I was so sad, and I was all alone at my house in London when I wrote this song. I recorded about 100 or 150 harmonies and sent them to Millie. My mum told me later that Millie came to her crying, saying: ’Mum, you need to listen to this. Hope just recorded this with no microphone.’ We always cry when we hear one of the other’s songs. I just wanted to make something that was as sad as I was but equally as beautiful as it could be in that sadness. It was like my soul cried, and I’m really proud of how it turned out.

© Photography by The KTNA

Not having money for a microphone to record songs seems to capture the reality of working in the arts. Why do you think that is?

Millie: It still feels like trying to push water up a hill. If you want to be honest and different and not like everybody else, then it feels very tough for people like us and a lot of other musicians. If you’re someone who doesn’t just want to stand on stage and shake your arse for money, if you really want to say something and be different, it feels like you’re the least supported in the industry. You get muted all the time, and you get the crumbs of what everybody else gets. We are moving up the ladder very slowly at the moment, but sometimes I think: ‘I don't know why I do it;’ it's so painful.

Many people feel that the world is full of pain right now. Your songs are influenced by politics and issues in modern society and therefore speak to people. Are there any events in particular that inspired your music on Resurgence?

Millie: The Black Lives Matter movement had a big impact on and influenced songs like B.S. or Don’t you have a dream. There are a lot of things going on in the world, and that's why we express ourselves in music the way we do. We’re not the most eloquent speakers or are politically charged, but in music, we can say what we want to say, what we’re feeling, and people will understand it. So, a lot of what goes on in the world ends up in our music because I'm not trying to pretend that we live in a different world.

Hope: Society is so strange at the moment, and it doesn't help with social media, the news, and constant streams of live images of terrible things happening throughout the day. We’re so conditioned with crazy things like immigrants drowning in the middle of the sea, and Priti Patel said, ‘No more immigrants!’ This shit’s so crazy to live in, and in our music, we try to represent the truthfulness of what it’s like to be a young person in this day and age because it’s tough.

What’s next for The KTNA, and what’s your ultimate dream for yourself and your career?

Hope: We’re going to be putting out some new music and some new visuals, and I'd really like to direct the visuals. As female artists, we want artists to be independent and self-sufficient in the future. It's our mission in this life to try and show people that you can do it yourself. That you can be independent and don’t have to sign a deal, you can still be authentic and don’t have to give up 80% of your hard work to these labels. It’s so old-fashioned. You don’t have to be signed to have a good distribution and publishing deal. There are ways around that. I think that's our legacy, and we just want to be able to continue to do what we want to do, be the artist that we want to be, and make money off our music, our own money, not having to send 80% of it away. And hopefully, do a world tour one day, perform all over the world, because we love live shows.

Millie: I think for me, my long-term goal is that I want to be 80 years old, be still booked for Montreux Jazz Festival, be able to pull in thousands of people, and still give a great show. I want to do this till I die. I want to be a musician that stands the test of time, like Stevie Wonder. That’s my passion. I don’t want to be a flash in the pan, I don’t want to be successful for five minutes and disappear. I want to do this for as long as I possibly can. I want to spread joy and understanding and kindness and that's what I really want in the end.

Hope: I’d also really like to raise awareness of the pitfalls of the music industry. We want to show young musicians how to avoid a bad deal, to understand royalties and what’s really going on in the music industry because, you know, most people come from working-class backgrounds; we don't have uncles and brothers that are lawyers or businessmen and can read the contracts and ask the right questions. When you’re offered some money as a working-class, you think: ‘Yeah, I’ve never had that amount of money before!’ But what does it mean for you, for your art, and your mental health? It’s my goal to educate young musicians and all people.

Millie: People consume music all day long, but they don't really know what it means for the musician. Listeners need to understand that what they are consuming is damaging artists’ well-being, their self-esteem, their mental health, and their lives because they’re broke. It’s breaking people’s dreams and spirits. It’s killing people. I think we just need to be honest about that.

© Photography by The KTNA

It’s clear that The Sisterz of Darkness will continue to challenge prior perceptions of stardom, categorising music and fitting the mold of the entertainment industry.

Emotions have run high during this interview, with all of us acutely aware of the realities of life in this day and age. The KTNA are able to capture those emotions skilfully and with such conviction in their music that it takes the listener’s breath away. Their talent is immense. Their determination and grit are otherworldly. They don’t mince their words to tell the reality of life in a world on the brink of being under siege again for all the wrong reasons.

Millie and Hope’s music, their voices, and their ability to tell stories that get under your skin will ensure that their rise to stardom will continue. And thank goodness for that. The world needs them.

Book tickets to their upcoming tour in November - Manchester/ Leeds/ London/ Birmingham: The KTNA | YouTube, Spotify, Facebook | Linktree


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