The KTNA: “We push against the narrative that female artists need to be perfect and positive”

“It was too personal, too deep – too dark.” This is one of the reactions that Mancunian-raised, Kenyan-born sisters Millie and Hope Katana received from industry heads on their 2019 EP Life Under Siege. With thick Lancashire accents and bold humour, the twins, who perform as The KTNA, represent a wave of artists from the city who aren’t afraid to be themselves.

I spoke to Millie and Hope about their upcoming EP Resurgence, their UK tour, and how bravery in their songwriting has provided a safe space for fans throughout the pandemic.

Photo: Kenny Ogunneye

Infused with hip hop, punk and rock, The KTNA call their sound ‘cosmic soul’. Their lyrics are emotional and authentic, lifting the façade of the perfectionist ‘girl boss’ industry standard. When it comes to songwriting, they say simplicity is key: “We just like to be open and free and see what comes out and if we like it, we rock with it. If we don’t, we just throw it in the trash and move onto the next one. Life is too short for overthinking: just get your mic turned on and spill out your soul.”

The twins are proud of their Mancunian identity – it’s “fucking top mate,” they laugh – and take inspiration from the city. Manchester’s often ignored R’n’B and soul scene is going from strength to strength: “We’re lucky to have some incredibly talented musicians from manny. At the moment, we’re listening to KinKai, Children of Zeus, Pip Millet and Victoria Jayne. All sensational Manchester talent.”

Your guide to arts, music and culture in Greater Manchester.

Success! You're on the list.

Their debut EP was born in the midst of the pandemic and it acknowledges the effect lockdowns had on mental health. “When we first started writing Life Under Siege, we didn’t really think about it as writing about mental health, until we started playing it for other people and they would be immediately concerned or turned off by the subject matter,” they say. “But for us, we were just being honest. Every single one of us on this planet has been through something that has significantly changed us and that’s part of the human experience.”

The KTNA’s willingness to speak on and sit with emotions that others may bury and share their inner-world with fans is a brave feat. “It felt like we were pushing against this narrative that, especially, female artists, have to be perfect and positive, constantly smiling, putting on this facade all the time,” they explain.

“It’s an unrealistic standard to expect from anyone. We don’t live in a perfect world, so why should we pretend to in our music. Although sometimes it feels daunting telling the world our secrets through song, it’s incredibly rewarding knowing lots of people feel the same way as we do.”

Each release represents a new season of the twin’s journey. Their latest EP, Resurgence, is the second instalment in a trilogy of EPs. “This chapter is about strength, not giving up, it’s about moving forward when you feel as though the world is trying to hold you back,” they say. “It’s about expecting that there are elements of ourselves that need to change. It’s about growth, turning the page to something better, something new. Finding the strength to keep moving forward.”

Support thoughtful, independent arts and culture journalism for just £3.

Millie and Hope hit the road on their UK tour next year, kicking off at Headrow House in Leeds on 30 March and have a homecoming performance planned in Manchester’s iconic YES (The Pink Room) on 2 April. Having previously supported fellow Manchester soulstress Pip Millet, I ask what it means for them to be back on tour:

“We are so excited! We’re going to be in Leeds, Manchester, London and Bristol and, of course, I’m most looking forward to the Manchester show. The home love is always crazy, but it will be our first gig back in London in a while, so I’m proper excited to get out to a London crowd because you lot are madness.”

Resurgence by The KTNA is self-released and available to stream wherever you get your music. Tickets for their upcoming tour dates in Leeds, Bristol, London and Manchester are available to purchase now.