Virtual Reality Just Helped Vashtie Kola Pick Up Yet Another Incredible Talent

Arturo Holmes/Getty Images for Meta

If you’ve ever wanted to learn how to play the piano, but felt the opportunity to do so was out of your reach, perhaps due to a lack of time, financial constraints or a concern that you won’t retain the lessons being shared with you at your big age, VR is changing the game. Tech lovers got the chance to see how when the Meta brand recently hosted a Sonic Listening Party as part of their new multi-year campaign, “It’s Your World.” The idea behind that campaign, the brand says, is to help the next generation pave their own path on their own terms. Their products are helping them do so in innovative ways, from capturing one-of-a-kind content with their Ray Ban Meta smart glasses to helping you learn new skills through the popular VR headset, the Meta Quest 3.

During Miami Art Week, creatives came together in front of a live keyboard, strapped themselves into the Meta Quest 3 and learned practices to play the piano from scratch. One of those individuals, in addition to Grammy-award nominee and of the ESSENCE star Victoria Monet, stylist Ugo Mozie and more, was Vashtie Kola, a multitalented creative who is everything from a DJ to a designer (strollers, Jordan sneakers, you name it!)

“It’s one of those things you have to experience,” she tells ESSENCE about her experience at the Sonic Listening Party. “When they explained it to me that I was going to be learning how to play a song using PianoVision, I don’t have a background of playing keys, I cannot read music, but it was so much fun. And it really is the most fun and immersive way to learn.”

While she’s not ready to put on a virtual recital anytime soon, she does feel inspired to learn and do more through immersive technology, which is the whole point of the ‘It’s Your World’ campaign. We talked with Vashtie about women of color in tech, being a renaissance woman and mother, and the skills she hopes to learn next, from a new language to the drums, courtesy of virtual reality.

ESSENCE: You are a woman who wears many hats! Designer, video director, DJ, the list goes on. With the Meta ‘It’s Your World’ campaign in mind, what motivates you as a creative to never be afraid to try new things and pursue your passions? 

Vashtie Kola: I feel like I owe a lot of my career to tech and to social tech especially because I feel like I grew my brand very largely using the internet as we know it, having a blog and then transitioning into Instagram. And so I feel like it’s been a way for me to really connect with others and to share my work, which has definitely grown my following and allowed me to connect with other creatives.

It was funny because I actually met Victoria Monet on Instagram first, so meeting her in IRL was really, really nice. So I feel like naturally, I embrace tech. I love being IRL but tech allows me to have those moments very authentically, which is really nice. And so I feel like all around, it’s fascinating. Tech allows me to thrive as a creative.

Nice. I love that. With that in mind, knowing that social tech and everything is so integral to just your ability to express yourself, what was it about the opportunity to take part in the Meta Sonic Listening Party and learning to play the piano using the Meta Quest 3 that drew you in? That’s a really cool opportunity.

Yeah. I feel like I’m fortunate at this stage in my career where I’m able to partner with brands who really understand who I am and what it is that I do, and Meta definitely understands me as a creative and as an artist. And when I heard of the lineup, I was just thrilled. I mean, I had been following So Trill here and there, and then Victoria Monet obviously. And then I felt also, I mean, I don’t know if this is worth mentioning, but as a woman of color, knowing that there are other creatives from the community that were also being a part of this project was really exciting. And I had the opportunity to DJ, which I love to do. They brought me in in a very authentic way, so it didn’t feel like this partnership was in any way, shape or form, not something that felt natural to me. So that was important.

I think the idea of testing out VR PianoVision for the very first time in front of a crowd was a little bit daunting, but very exciting at the same time, I have to say.

Virtual Reality Just Helped Vashtie Kola Pick Up Yet Another Incredible Talent
MIAMI, FLORIDA – DECEMBER 09: Vashtie and Austin Millz playing on PianoVision with Meta Quest 3 at the Meta Sonic Listening Party during Miami Art Week on December 09, 2023 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Arturo Holmes/Getty Images for Meta)

Okay. So you feel like you can do some Tchaikovsky on the keys? Are you on that level yet?


Okay! Okay! [laughs] That’s still top tier. Top tier. Nice. And I love that you said that though about the inclusion of women of color into this presentation that Meta had because do you feel like you’ve had other experiences where with tech opportunities and things, it’s just like you’re not seeing women who look like you in that space?

Absolutely. And I know that this is maybe not the topic of questioning, but I definitely feel that. I feel like when I think about tech, I don’t necessarily even feel like I’m part of the conversation because I feel like I don’t see myself or my counterparts. I don’t see it. Not to say that it doesn’t exist, but I think for this, it was very beautiful because I felt like this was just, I didn’t feel as though I was walking into a culture or a world that I didn’t feel comfortable in. Because I could see myself in the room, but also because it felt like an extension of what it is that I do. So it didn’t feel like this overwhelming … And I say that as someone who is new to the world of VR and immersive tech. I feel like I’m a newbie, even though I’m fascinated by it and want to learn more. So I didn’t feel like an amateur coming into this.

Okay, cool. And that’s funny that you said that ’cause that was one of my questions, if you’ve been a fan of VR in the past. I’m kind of new to all of it too. I think I’m very open-minded, but also an old head. I’m like, “Oh, what’s all this other reality? It’s so Gen Z.”

Girl, you’re preaching to the choir. I feel like I’m such an old head that I didn’t know what to expect with VR. So you’re talking to someone again who had no history or experience with VR. And I was scared, a little bit scared ’cause I was like, I don’t know what I’m walking into. And then I tried it and I swear it felt natural and it felt easy. It didn’t feel like this foreign strange concept that I had made it out to be. Before we got onto this call to do this interview, I was sitting there thinking about the experience, and I remember the keys I was playing. I remember it’s G, A, G, A. Again, I don’t play keys, I don’t know notes, but I remember exactly what I was doing because it’s so visual.

You had to visualize it. That’s cool.

I feel like this, you actually retain the information in a way that is, it’s more professional than it is a game, but it has the ease and the fun of a video game.

And it’s so interesting because they talk about how VR is used in so many different facets of teaching, even in the armed forces and things like that, just teaching people how to do things. I think, like you said, the visualization opportunities just make it so much easier for you to retain what you’re learning. So I think it’s cool that they’re now integrating that through VR with things like learning the piano and all these different skills that everyday people can really embrace. I hope they have something in there for learning languages and stuff ’cause I’m trying to get on that and get better at that.

Me too! I would love that. My husband’s Danish, he speaks Danish. It is one of the most challenging languages I’ve ever heard and ever tried to repeat, but I would love that. That would be amazing.

What’s something outside of the box that you would love to learn how to do next?

I feel like I’m going to take your idea. Learning a language from VR would be great, or immersive tech. The event really inspired me. I am not even joking because I feel like, again, I felt like learning to play piano was something that most of us feel like, oh, we want to try learning that. And then we never get to it. We never feel like it’s really accessible. And now it’s really gotten my wheels turning about what else could I do? What else could I do if I really just took the time to figure out or to find a solution for it? And honestly, piano has been an instrument that I’ve always wanted to learn. And drums, actually, I will say drums. But yeah, I feel like now I’m thinking of, okay, how do I implement that into the work that I’ve been doing as a DJ? And maybe even also make the jump into producing.

Come on then! You’re going to be on FruityLoops in a minute, or whatever they use now. It’s been so many years. But yeah, that’s really cool. Like you said though, it takes time, and time as a mom is a complicated thing. So as a mom of two, how do you balance the passions that you have and wanting to learn and do these things with your role as a mom?

I think every day is a new day and it’s a new opportunity to figure that out. I don’t think I’ve quite figured it out, but I will say that, yeah, I don’t know, I’m very fortunate that I’m in a position that I have help. I’m kind of a stay-at-home working mom. So it’s kind of like I’m here, but then I’m working, but then often I’m running around. But having support is really great, and I’m very fortunate for that.

But I think what’s really nice, is utilizing tech to do it all. It’s realizing that being able to be on my phone and do work is such a gift. I mean, I don’t even know how people did it before all of these gadgets we’ve had. And I think it’s really nice that I can be holding the baby and then answering an email here and there, or doing social posts on Instagram. So I feel like it’s nice I have pockets where I can squeeze it in, but finding the balance is important because I also want to be connected.

My husband and I have this, it’s kind of a spoken rule, but it’s really unspoken. It’s like neither of us can both be on our phones in front of the kids. If you’re on your phone or I’m on my phone, one of us has to put it down so that our kids aren’t surrounded by us just glued to a gadget. But yeah, I feel like there are pockets of squeezing in work when I’m with the kids, because I’m mostly with the kids.

And how do those little ones inspire you?

I feel like, well, my three-year-old specifically is inspiring me ’cause it’s just fascinating to see how much she’s learning and retaining and how much she’s a sponge. I mean, all of them are, seeing what they can learn in just a day. And it’s giving me this perspective of how powerful our brains are, obviously. But just as a parent, to see a child be born into the world and then to not have language, not have motor skills, but as we evolve, you see those things happen at those stages, and when it happens, you’re like, “Oh my gosh, you’re crawling and now you’re walking!” I feel like it gives me real inspiration to savor really simple moments and simple things; spend more time with them and take moments to just savor it. And I think also as a working mom, it makes me want to continue my career. I have two girls, and so I want them to be inspired by their mom. I want them to know that I’m present, that I’m here, but I’m also working, succeeding and thriving.

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