By Reshma Kirpalani
In June 2010, Jai Malano sent a group text to everyone she loved. It contained a home address where she was trying out for a band that she found on Craigslist. “The Craigslist killer was still kind of out,” said Malano in her Round Rock apartment. “I was like, ‘Hey, if I don’t come back, this is where I’m at — send in reinforcements.”
Three weeks later, Malano stepped onto a stage for her first live music performance. “Nobody knew what to expect, not even me,” she recalls.
Music had always been a part of Malano’s life. As a child, she used it to get through physical and sexual abuse at home and a temporary move to foster care. “I don’t know what inside me woke up in me and said, if you’re going to survive this, you’ve got to sing,” she says.
Years later, a friend suggested that she do more with her voice than sing in the shower and entertain her nieces and nephews. Her intrepid foray into music in 2010 led to a homecoming. “The moment I got on stage,” she says, “I was like, ‘This is what I’m supposed to be doing.’”
Four years later, Malano struck out on her own as a singer-songwriter, hustling between local gigs, international tours and substitute teaching at Round Rock ISD when money was tight. This year, she played both South by Southwest and the first weekend of Austin City Limits. She’s also part of the 2016 Project ATX6 musical collective that traveled to a festival in France last month.
Malano says she’s grateful for her all of her life experiences, including the pain that she writes into her blues music. “I’m not afraid of anything that’s ever happened to me. I’m not ashamed of any of my scars,” she says. “If people welcome it, you can sit down and take some more. If not, you’ve just got to step aside, because I’m not changing.”