TEDxSydney 2017 Performers – Ngaiire

Sarah Smythe

TEDxSydney 2017 · 16 June 2017

“By the time I was five, I was very much aware of what was going on. I knew I needed to be strong: couldn’t sulk, couldn’t feel sorry for myself. I just had to deal with it.”  That’s Ngaiire, talking about adrenal cancer, with which she was diagnosed at age 3.

Called Blastoma, it is also the name of her second album, which explores the shocking impact and threat on her young life. “Cancer left its physical and emotional mark. I’ve got a massive scar across my stomach. I got teased a lot at school, for having no hair, and for being smaller than the other kids. The treatment stunted my growth,” she told The Guardian.

The albums first single, Once, with help from the legendary Paul Mac and emotive lyricist Megan Washington, sets the pace with a simple rhythm that supports her haunting vocals. “Time as an entity lurks and creeps around within most of the songs,” said Pop Matters in their album review. “Cruel, which traverses expectations and reality around love; and “I Wear Black, matching colours to emotions and life experiences, within one narrative.”

Born in Papua New Guinea, Ngaiire’s beginnings are as dramatic as her extraordinary music. She moved to New Zealand when she was barely a few months old, which was where she began her battle with cancer. It was six-years before she got the all clear, which was after the family had returned to their homeland.

They were living in the impact zone of Mt Tarvurvur when it erupted in 1994. “My dad was like: “We’ve got to get out of here. So we went to my grandmother’s house overnight, woke up, and there was ash coming out of the sky,” she recalls. “We borrowed a car and drove out of the city. There were loads of people getting out, carrying what they could. Two hours later, the volcano mushroomed.”

In an interview with Tone Deaf, she spoke about her need for a creative outlet. “Music gave me the ability to talk about and feel all the things that were going on in my world. That seemed like the natural option for me because music is a big part of our culture.”

Music became a profession following the families 2002 relocation to Lismore. She studied a Bachelor of Jazz in Mackay, her incredible voice quickly landing her on Australian Idol. The 2013 Lamentations, her first solo album, with its dynamic cover of Tame Impala, was well received and before too long she had an invitation to perform at Glastonbury with the likes of John Legend and Alicia Keys. But Blastoma, Ngaiire’s most ambitious project to date, is taking her career to a whole new level.

It’s nomination for the Best Independent Album or EP at this year’s Australian Independent Record Labels Association Awards is just the beginning. “When you’ve been doing it for about ten years, and then all of a sudden things start happening,” she said in The AU Review. “You’re just so used to being on the hustle and then it seems like things are starting to align.”

Not one to rest on laurels the future soul diva’s next project is already underway. “It’s been both challenging and incredibly rewarding, but this is just the beginning of a very big and all encompassing project which we hope you’ll continue to follow,” she wrote to her fans from PNG. She was there to mourn the passing of her grandmother and light the flame of what will be her third album. “Our hearts are full to the brim with things we don’t yet have words to express.”

Book now to see Ngaiire at TEDxSydney on Friday 16 June 2017.

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