By Aidan Kahn
It’s only been a year and a half since Tiny Habits—made up of members Cinya Khan, Judah Mayowa, and Vancouver’s own Maya Rae—began sharing their exquisite harmonies on social media. From the stairwells of their dormitory at Berklee College of Music in Boston, Tiny Habits quickly earned a following on TikTok and Instagram, with their videos racking up views into the millions. Now, just a short time later, they find themselves touring the world—including recently playing the Vancouver Folk Music Festival.
“It’s been kind of wild, but luckily we have each other, because I think otherwise it would feel a little bit too crazy,” said Khan in an interview at Jericho Beach Park, where the festival has been held since 1978.
The band started with soft and emotive covers of popular songs, which they began arranging in the spring of 2021 as the Covid pandemic raged outside their dorm. But now Tiny Habits writes and performs their own songs (from April’s EP Tiny Things), and have opened for the likes of Ingrid Michaelson and Gracie Abrams.
Khan’s softly-finger-picked guitar is typically their only accompaniment, but their harmonies are complex and clearly informed by their music education at Berklee. Mayowa has since dropped out of school, Khan has graduated, and Rae has one more year—but with a busy touring schedule and a storied tradition of major musicians failing to complete their courses of study at Berklee (John Mayer, Melissa Etheridge, and Betty Who dropped out; pianist Keith Jarrett was reportedly expelled), Rae faces an uphill battle.
“It just feels like this is what we're supposed to be doing,” said Rae, who grew up playing in the Vancouver jazz scene and at community events like the Vancouver Mural Festival. “Literally last year I played Khatsahlano,” Rae said. “So it’s pretty full circle to come back home and play with these guys.”
Rae was one of several Canadian artists at this year’s Folk Festival who have found success on the larger American stage, including headliner William Prince, who took his distinctive baritone voice and heartfelt songwriting to Nashville; and Ruth Moody of the Wailin’ Jennys, who are from Manitoba’s Peguis First Nation and Winnipeg, respectively.
At Folk Fest, Tiny Habits played to a much older crowd than the legions of Gen-Z fans that make up their online following. “It’s definitely beautiful to see it resonating with people of all ages—we love it,” said Khan. And whereas younger fans might compare Tiny Habits to contemporary supergroup Boygenius (comprising Phoebe Bridgers, Julien Baker, and Lucy Dacus), older fans could be reminded of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.
“It means a lot when older people come to us and talk about how we’ve brought them back to their childhood memories,” said Khan. “It’s kind of beautiful.”
With more tour dates lined up, the three look to be acting out the refrain from their heart-melting single “Hemenway” by saying “goodbye to Boston.” But whatever comes next, they exude the gratitude and comfort of close friends who love what they’re doing together.
“This is kind of the dream,” said Mayowa. At this rate, who knows what stage they’ll be on next time they play Vancouver.