“KIANA will never be a singer” – the words fester in the air around them, ruthless and terse. The sheer naked gall of the edict sends a wave of resentment crashing around the room. She knows in her mind that this was not intended to be cruel or mocking, but it stings all the same.

It’s parents’ night and 17-year-old Kiana Kalantar-Hormozi is being told that her dream of being a performer is out of reach. Forever.

She has heard it before, and she will hear it again. The worst part is that it has nothing to do with her talent.

Kiana has spinal muscular atrophy, type 2. It is a genetic condition which means she has less SMN protein than most people. As a result, her muscles are weaker. She requires 24/7 support and uses an electric wheelchair.

This is her condition; it is not who she is.

Armed with an indefatigable resolve, Kiana refuses to accept limitations levied on her by others. Where they see struggle, she sees opportunity. The insurmountable becomes the vanquished.

Indeed, it is a tenet that has typified her artistic endeavours. She is a talented filmmaker and an avid campaigner. She was named as one of the “30 under 30” most inspirational women in Scotland and was crowned MDUK campaigner of the year. Yet, despite those accomplishments, there was a sense of unfinished business that persisted… making music.

A decade on from being told she can’t – that she could never be a singer – Kiana released her debut single in the form of the darkly compelling Sirens. She might have taken a great deal of inspiration from being written off, and that certainly served as fuel for the fire, but she insists it is her love of music that will sustain her as she embarks on another creative journey.

She tells The Weekender: “I was definitely driven by that angry feeling – of wanting to prove people wrong. That has helped me a lot at times. I remember my music teacher telling my parents: ‘She’s not bad, but Kiana will never be a singer – she just won’t’.

“Most of my teachers probably meant well; they just couldn’t see it. No one [in my position] had ever done it before, so, in their mind, it couldn’t be done. But, in my mind, I don’t understand how being in a wheelchair should necessarily impact my ability to sing. I do have breathing issues and issue with my jaw as well, but I can handle those things with the right support

“[Being told that] really bothered me, and it made me try a lot harder. Now, ten years later, I have finally worked how to do it – how to succeed. And Sirens is definitely a success, and I am really proud of it.”

Kiana continues: “Anger can be a good motivator. But these days I don’t often speak to people who think like that, so it is a little different. And I think it’s healthier to be driven by joy and a desire to sing and be creative. That’s what I want to bring to my career – whether it’s music or anything else – I’m just doing it because it makes me happy, and not because I am just trying to prove people wrong.”

Sirens is intentionally disquieting. Kiana went to great lengths to make sure the listener could experience the song, and not just hear it. Tone, dynamics, structure – all finely-tuned throughout the writing process. Sirens is also the benchmark. While the creator’s love for the track is palpable, there is a feeling that it is only a first step.

She adds: “I wanted to create a song that didn’t sound like anything else. The way I write music, I start with emotion or stories – I’ll ask what am I trying to say? Or, how do I feel? And how do I represent that in music?

“For Sirens, I knew I wanted to use dissonance – some people don’t like to hear that but, for me, that is a representation of emotional pain. Siren is a bit quirky and has some unusual elements but it’s all about the emotion behind it.

“It was the song I wanted to use to introduce myself to the industry. Before that, I had always been in my own bubble. When I have tried to contact industry professionals, I’ve always felt they couldn't hear or understand what I was capable of.

“I am really proud of Sirens, but I also think I can do better. With my singing, especially, I feel I have the ability to be a lot better. So, proud, yes, but I want to move forwards and upwards as well.”

Kiana is under no illusions as to the barriers she will face time and time again. The industry, indeed the performing arts, lacks accessibility. Getting noticed can be the hardest part for the vast majority of emerging artists, and playing live shows remains the method of choice. But even that throws up another obstacle for Kiana.

She says: “For music, there are various practical challenges in terms of how our society is built. Music venues rarely have wheelchair access for disabled audience members, never mind wheelchair access for stages and green rooms. Most are just not accessible at all.

“That’s a huge barrier within the industry. Usually, the route to being a musician or singer-songwriter is getting out there, on stage and performing live and getting that audience. I very much cannot do that at the moment. More than half of the venues in Glasgow will be, for me, not accessible at all – whether to attend or to perform.”

Kiana notes that Drygate, the Royal Concert Hall and the Glad Café are among the better venues in Glasgow for disabled access, but neither are fully accessible for wheelchairs. She has never performed at either, however, having only attended as an audience member.

She adds: “I do feel shut out sometimes. Especially for jazz. The Blue Arrow is such a popular venue for jazz and soul and a lot of amazing artists often perform there – that’s where that whole ‘scene’ is at, but it’s totally inaccessible for me and for others who use wheelchairs. I think it’s important to remind artists and performers to choose venues that have disabled access every now and then.

“There is technology that would allow for wheelchairs to get up and down stairs. Campaigning for technology like that makes life easier for all of us, because we don’t then need to consider tearing down parts of buildings or adapting buildings we are used to and comfortable with to make them accessible. So, it’s an argument we don’t need to have; it would give wheelchair users a lot more freedom and choice, and we wouldn’t have to change these venues."

The debate over infrastructure will continue but it is not the only front for Kiana. As with most disabled people, the battle will often come down to attitude barriers. Much like her schoolteachers, too many focus on the limitations and not the potential.

It is an area Kiana seeks to address and is not only based around the music industry. Ensuring everyone is able to grasp the same opportunities is fundamental. For the time being, as she navigates the hurdles of the music business, she will undoubtedly draw upon the unyielding defiance that has gotten her to this point. Her love for the craft will provide all the ammunition she needs.

She reflects: “Some people will look at me and make assumptions on what I can and can’t do. And that will be based on the fact that I am in a wheelchair, which is just ridiculous in 2022. That attitude, I think, comes from a lack of representation in the industry at the moment.

“Throughout high school, I faced a lot of discrimination. The strangest part was that the stage was actually accessible – they had a lift they would take me up. But they kept saying it was a safety hazard to have someone in a wheelchair up on stage. So, even when there is access, there are still those attitudes barriers. And, at school? That’s really bad – school is where children are learning about society and how to work together.

“There are some wider systemic issues that disabled people face, including a lack of funding and support to help us live independently and live a healthy life. All of this will impact on my ability to perform.

“But when you face barriers, you have two options,” the singer continues. “You can either give up and live the rest of your life accepting that this barrier was too much…or you can be stubborn. I think that’s the thing that makes me succeed – I am just really stubborn when I want something.

“I love music. I’ve always loved music and I’ve always wanted to be a singer-songwriter. And it has taken me around a decade away from music to realise that I can’t live the rest of my life without giving this a shot.

"And I’m finding that it takes a lot of self-confidence to do it – when the whole world is telling you that can’t do it, you have to tell yourself that you can.”

Kiana – Sirens is available to stream online now.